With their flaky pastry casing, creamy custard filling and brulee topping, Macau’s Portuguese egg tarts are as much of a part of the Chinese enclave’s fabric as its casinos but their origin is surprisingly British.
Across the city it is not uncommon to see long lines of tourists patiently queuing for the sweet treats, a sight that might not seem all that surprising given the former Portuguese colony’s most famous desert is based on Lisbon’s equally renowned pastel de nata.
But the current craze for Portuguese-style egg tarts – which has spread across China and parts of Asia in recent years – owes much of its success to a Brit who blundered into the business.
The tale began three decades ago when Essex-born industrial pharmacist Andrew Stow opened Lord Stow’s bakery at the southern harbourside village of Coloane.
“In 1989, recognising there were no western street-side bakeries… he decided to do something for the local Portuguese community which was to create a pastel de nata for them,” said Eileen Stow, Andrew’s sister, who now manages the business.
With no original recipe for pastel de nata to use, Andrew experimented with a heavier British custard filling, based on a family recipe, and Portuguese pastry techniques.
The creation initially raised a few eyebrows among Andrew’s Portuguese friends in Macau, but the local Chinese community became hooked.
Courtesy of the British, Cantonese cuisine already had a version of an egg tart, made with shortcrust pastry and a more jelly-like filling.
“To differentiate it from what they recognised in dim sum, a ‘dan tart’ (egg tart in Cantonese), they call it a ‘po tart’… ‘Portuguese egg tart’,” Eileen told.
The creamier, flakier, richer versions were a roaring success.
“That’s how it grew before the days of likes online. It’s just word of mouth,” added Eileen, who took over the business after her brother’s death in 2006.
The business now churns out 21,000 handmade egg tarts per day from three bakeries in Macau, and it also boasts two franchises in Japan and Manila.
One of the best-regarded Macau competitors was set up by Andrew’s ex-wife Margaret Wong.
She sold her recipe to KFC, which now offers Portuguese egg tarts at outlets across China, a move that has introduced Macau’s Portuguese-British hybrid to hundreds of millions more hungry mouths.