Portugese Tarts In Vancouver
Last summer, when I was in the UK, I was staying with my friend Jeremy about an hour outside of London in Brighton.
I set aside one day to take the train in and explore my favourite places in London; I had lunch at Nopi (an Ottolenghi dream come true), I shopped on Oxford Street, I hit the Tate Modern. You can watch my vlog from that day here.
Later in the day, I had dinner with my friend Shae, who was from Vancouver, but had been living in London for about a year at that point. Shae and her friend had just arrived back in London from a quick trip to Portugal, and they brought back with them a sleeve of Portugese tarts. She gave me two; one for me, one for Jeremy.
I ate them both on the train on the way home.
I have no regrets.
(I did buy Jeremy a makeup tart the next day, though).
What is it about Pastel De Nata? If you’ve never had one, a Portugese Tart is ostensibly quite simple: a flaky tart pastry shell, filled with an egg-based custard. But in this case, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. They’re sweet, and flaky and creamy. They’re served traditionally with a sprinkle of cinnamon, which brings additional warmth to a pastry that is already incredibly comforting.
So, of course as soon as I came home, I made it my business to suss out the best Portugese Tarts in Vancouver. Turns out, they’re hard to find. It’s more likely you’ll find their Asian cousin, the Egg Tart at one of our many Asian bakeries around town. I know I have personally enjoyed the tarts at T&T, and pretty much whenever I go out for dim sum.
As it turns out, the Chinese Dan Tat is really more of a descendant of the Pastel De Nata. By all reports, Europeans introduced the egg-based tart to Hong Kong in the early 1900’s.
So, what’s the difference? First off, the crust of a Portugese Tart is more akin to a croissant than a pie crust. The Chinese version has two varieties of crust: one more like a pie crust, and the other more like a shortbread cookie. In addition, the Portugese version is sweeter, more vanilla-y, and the Chinese version tastes eggier. The Portugese version is also puffier, and will have dark caramelized spots on the top, which you would never see on the Chinese Egg tart. That’s the best way to tell the two apart.
Okay! Let’s get to the good stuff. If you want to partake in one of these goodies for yourself, where can you get your mitts on Portugese Tarts in Vancouver?
Michele Cake Shop, 6033 West Blvd
This one is kinda two-for-one, because they sell Pastel De Nata and egg tarts side-by-side, so this is really the best place to try them both and compare.
Fortuna Bakery Ltd, 4240 Hastings St
Tucked away way up in Burnaby Heights, Fortuna is an old-school Italian/Portugese bakery. They have deli, bread, the whole works. The tarts here will set you back a mere $1.50, but they were my least favourite of all the ones I’ve tried so far.
The Union Market, 810 Union St
Look, if you haven’t ever been the Union Market, well, you haven’t lived, my friend. The Union is the gem of Strathcona, part grocery store, part bodega/deli. They sell killer coffee, lots of tasty soups and sandwiches, and yes, some of the best Portugese Tarts in Vancouver. Be prepared to make friendly with the neighbourhood cats and dogs which will no doubt be hanging out there.
Natas Canada (seasonally, weekends outside 562 Granville St)
For my money, these guys are making the most authentic Portugese Tart in town. However, they can be a bit hard to track down, as they are an online business most of the time. In the summer, you can find them on weekends peddling tarts outside Urban Grill Sushi. Follow them on Instagram for info.
As a non-meat-eater, I don’t go to Nando’s very much, as the menu is very chicken-heavy, and there’s not much there for me to eat. My son, however, loves it there, so sometimes we do go. They serve Portugese chicken, so it seems like a no-brainer that they’d also have Portugese Tarts. Let me just say I was surprised by how good they did them. I think I had pretty low expectations, but they certainly exceeded them.
As it turns out, T&T sells both egg tarts and Portugese Tarts, and their Portugese Tarts are pretty fine! They don’t make as many as they do of the egg tarts, though, so be sure to get there early, as they sell out pretty quick.
First Avenue Bakery, 2800 E 1st Ave
This place is oooooold school. It looks like it hasn’t changed at all since the ’80’s. It’s not fancy, and in fact, it didn’t seem all that clean, either. It’s in the plaza with a T&T and lots of other small businesses, like ramen shops and the like. They sell both egg tarts and Portugese Tarts. The quality was not amazing.
Samesame. Egg tarts and Portugese Tarts, both.
For me, the clear winners were The Union Market and T&T, simply because they are the best quality, with the easiest access. Natas is the most authentic, if you can get them.
Have I missed any? I know there were a couple of other places that served them, but they seem to have shut down. Let me know in the comments below so I can add them to my list!