Food & Drink

'Poor Things' Inspired Me to Search for the Best Egg Tarts in Seattle—Here's My Favorite

From Pastel de Nata to Dan Tat
March 14, 2024
A Portuguese egg tart from the Pike Place stand Lands of Origin. (Christine Li)

Emma Stone's role as the guileless baby-in-a-woman's-body Bella Baxter in the Yorgos Lanthimos picaresque Poor Things has everyone talking, especially as the star took home an Oscar for Best Actress for the role on Sunday.

But when I saw the film, there was another onscreen presence I couldn't tear my eyes away from: Portuguese egg tarts.

In the movie, the rakish Duncan Wedderburn (played by Mark Ruffalo) whisks Bella away for a sex spree in Lisbon, Portugal, where he introduces her to various worldly pleasures, including the regional delicacy known as Portuguese egg tarts or pastéis de nata. He instructs her that they should be eaten whole in one bite for optimal hedonism. After cramming her first tart into her mouth, Bella goes wide-eyed and exclaims mid-chew, "Who made these?  We need more!"

Wedderburn then tries to curb her unladylike appetite, admonishing her: "No more. One's enough. Any more is too much." But it's too late—after Wedderburn falls asleep, Bella absconds from their hotel room to binge on tarts until she vomits.

Though egg tarts play a relatively minor part in the film, it's a delightful scene that made me want to immediately seek one out for myself. Stone reportedly ate around 60 tarts during filming and said that the task was far more of a challenge than the film's much-discussed sex scenes: "The first bite is delicious, but by the end you really want to puke."

I didn't go quite that far, but I did set out to compare the pastry at several places across Seattle. First, let's get some history out of the way: Egg tarts come in multiple varieties. Bella's beloved pastel de nata hails from Portugal and dates back to the 18th century—it was originally invented as a clever way for monks at the Hieronymites Monastery to use up excess yolks, since they relied on egg whites for starching their habits. (See the Wikipedia page for pets de sœur for my other favorite pastry with an amusing religious backstory.)

Portugal's outsized colonial influence means that the egg tart eventually found its way into other cultures. The dessert became a popular restaurant special in Guangzhou in the early 20th century—the city was the only port accessible to European traders, which caused Cantonese baked goods to adopt numerous influences from European food. This version, which has a lard-based crust and a filling similar to Chinese steamed egg pudding, remains popular in Guangzhou. A variation called dan tat can often be found in Hong Kong, where it's often served as a trio of three smaller tarts. Macau, which was colonized by Portugal until 1999, offers yet another version, which features a caramelized brown top and was popularized by KFC (yes, that KFC).

The first egg tart I tried was from the French-Japanese gem Fuji Bakery, which operates locations in Chinatown-International District and Interbay and is one of the only places in Seattle where you can find a true Portuguese pastel de nata. Fuji's tart had a crisp, pleasingly crackly pastry shell and a creamy filling with warm vanilla flavor, cinnamon, and a toasty brown top. The custard was ever so slightly curdled, but it didn't impact my enjoyment of the textures.

Cake House's egg tart.

Next, I tried the tart at Homestyle Dim Sum List , a small spot in Chinatown. (I've previously raved about their football, a savory, deep-fried glutinous rice dumpling.) This offering was also respectable, with a golden caramelized custard and a soft, flaky crust. The Chinatown bakery Cake House List 's tart had a silky, sunny yellow custard, pure and undiluted by milk or cream, plus a gorgeous sheen and a shortbread crust. They're cash only, so be sure to come prepared.

After that, I headed to Pike Place Market. The dependable stalwart Mee Sum Pastry, which has locations in Pike Place and the University District, offers a solid example of the Hong Kong-style dan tat, with a thicker, scalloped shortbread crust and a bright, eggy custard that was almost savory.

The dan tat from Mee Sum Pastry.

Serendipitously, I happened upon a Mozambique-style pastel de nata at the Pike Place stand Lands of Origin List , which sells African food, pastries, spices, teas, and sauces. It turns out that egg tarts are also popular in Mozambique due to it being a former Portuguese colony. This ended up being my favorite of the bunch—still slightly warm, featuring a fragrant orange-zest-spiked custard with a burnished top, ensconced in perfectly tender, yielding pastry.

The winner: Lands of Origin's pastel de nata.

If you're looking for more Portuguese-style egg tarts, you may also be interested in checking out the local pop-up Nata, which is run by a a Taiwanese-American and Portuguese couple who lived in Lisboa for over a decade. I didn't get a chance to try their tarts, but they look extremely promising. In addition to classic pastéis de nata, they also offer flavors like dark cherry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, taro, red bean, matcha mochi, black sesame, and dark chocolate. You can try them yourself at Belltown Bites and Brews Past Event List at the Asian culinary shop Mixed Pantry List in Belltown from 11 am-2 pm this Saturday. Tarts are available for pre-order online, and a limited quantity will be available for walk-up purchase, though they're expected to sell out fast. 

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