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Take a little bite of Portugal’s egg tart

by Robbie Swinnerton

Portugal has plenty to answer for when it comes to the way Japan eats. Tempura, castella sponge cake and even bread — paõ in Portuguese, pan in Japanese — were all assimilated following the arrival of the first trading ships in the mid-16th century.

But there was one food that was never adopted at that time. And surprisingly so, since it is Portugal’s iconic confection: pastel de nata. These delectable egg tarts, just big enough for two or three bites, were first made by the monks of the Jeronimós Monastery on the waterfront of Lisbon. From there they have spread around the world.

But not, until recently, to Tokyo. It was a situation that cried out to be rectified. And who better to do it than the city’s best little Portuguese restaurant? In January, Cristiano’s in the backstreets near Yoyogi-Hachiman Station, Shibuya Ward, opened a small artisan workshop a couple of blocks away, specializing in pastel de nata.

And it has really nailed the recipe. The puff-pastry cases are light but not too flaky. The filling of bright yellow, yolk-rich custard is a lovely consistency, as smooth as crème brûlée, with the perfect mottled-brown appearance on their surface.

So far, the only place you can buy them is at the bakery, which is simply called Nata de Cristiano’s. The small counter has a hatch looking into the workspace, a bell to get the staff’s attention and shakers so you can add extra sugar or cinnamon powder.

You can eat it on the spot — there’s a bench outside overlooking a handkerchief-sized garden — or else you’re just a short walk from the leafy expanse of Yoyogi Park. Pick up one of the bakery’s satisfying empada de frango chicken pies and a drink as well, and you’ll have all the makings of a light lunch picnic.

Meanwhile, in western Japan, a different style of egg tart has taken root, thanks to the Lord Stow’s Bakery brand. Founded in Macau in the late 1980s, this take on the classic Portuguese recipe was developed by a Briton, Andrew Stow, and has proved so popular that it’s spread through other parts of Asia.

Since opening in Osaka in 1999, the Japanese franchise has become a mini-chain, with five branches around Kansai. Last month, a sixth outlet opened in Kagoshima City.

Nata de Cristiano’s: 1-14-16 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6804-9723; www.cristianos.jp/nata Lord Stow’s Bakery Osaka head branch: 1-10-6 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka; 06-6214-3699; www.eggtart.jp Kagoshima branch: 14-27 Sennichi-cho, Kagoshima City; 099-295-3306.