This Portuguese Pastry Is About to Be Everywhere
After hundreds of years as a specifically Portuguese treat, the Pastel de Nata seems poised for a global audience.
In an age of unfettered culinary globalization, it’s rare to find a good food from around the world that isn’t ubiquitous and instantly available. For the longest time, Portugal’s famous pastel de nata was a notable holdout: if you wanted that flaky, custardy pastry, you’d have to book a flight to Lisbon. These days, however, it seems that the pastel de nata is reaching new corners of the globe thanks in part to some help from unexpected sources.
First, some history: the pastel de nata is a traditional Portuguese treat whose origins can allegedly be traced back to some monks operating out of a monastery in the Belém area of Lisbon. There they more or less stayed for a few hundred years, with a cafe fittingly called Pasteis de Belém serving as the go-to spot in Lisbon for people who want to eat (and Instagram) that delightfully crispy egg tart pastry lightly washed with cinnamon.
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The famously blue-tiled bakery isn’t going anywhere, but the pastry that made them famous sure will. According to Bloomberg, pasteis de nata have now been spotted in London bakeries, at least one Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan, and likely many destinations beyond in the near future.
How’s it all happening? For one, you can’t underestimate the Great British Bake Off bump. But what’s also interesting to note is that the Portuguese government seems to be playing a role in the pasteis’ cultural export. They’ve helped put on events like 2018’s Nata Festival in London, part of a broader €50 million effort over the past three years to increase the visibility and prestige of both Portugal and its exports.
That’s not to mention the role that a company like Nata Pura plays in pushing pasteis de nata. Though some Portuguese locals might lament the way that founder Mabilio de Albuquerque has tinkered with the traditional nata recipe, his efforts to regionalize the product to suit local tastes (one can find green tea nata in Japan, for example) has paid dividends. Albuquerque tells Bloomberg the company now sells nearly half a million natas a month across 5,000 global retailers, and a big new order from CVS will make natas available in 12,500 convenience stores across South Korea.
The global rise of the nata is likely just beginning. Its history implies that it’s far from a gimmick or a flash in the pan like the Cronut or any of its trendy contemporaries. Given the recent increase in tourism to Portugal (it’s this year’s Iceland, I guess), it’s also possible to see it as some sort of edible souvenir. Ultimately, this custardy treat just looks like it tastes pretty good. So with all that in mind, don’t be surprised if you find yourself saying bom dia to a pastel de nata sometime soon.