There is this Portuguese pastry I would kill or die for, whichever comes first: pastel de nata.
The sound of it alone makes me want to catch a plane and leave for Portugal.
Natas are small tarts of fluffy pastry filled with a soft-melting pudding made of eggs, sugar and cream, topped off with a hint of cinnamon.
So when my auntie and I arrived in Lisbon, it went without saying that the first thing in the morning would be to find ourselves a café where we would get a galao (the Portuguese version of a latte) and natas.
We decided to keep our experience as authentic as possible, so we were looking for a café in the back alleys where all the locals would go. When we found one, it became clear that an authentic, local café in Portugal means there is no second thought wasted on interior design or coziness. Still, the customers that apparently came here every morning seemed to feel perfectly at home. So did the owners, an elderly long-time married couple with dark hairs and fierce looks. So much so that the following happened:
After we had gotten what we wanted, we sat down at one of the plain tables. Full of anticipation, I closed my eyes to entirely enjoy the first bite of my nata and the accompanying explosion of taste in my mouth – when all of a sudden I was cruelly interrupted by loud yelling. I reluctantly opened my eyes and saw the two hosts battling a marital disagreement.
I don’t speak any Portuguese, but sometimes my imagination gets the best of me (and it is full of clichés, I admit). So I heard the husband say, “How come you spoil this lazy dog of a son of yours so much?”
“And since when are you the parenting expert?” the wife replied with disregard, “I raised those kids with no help whatsoever while you were chasing short skirts, you old donkey!”
“I always only had eyes for you grumpy lady, though God alone knows why. I just want our son to finally leave home and provide for his own family like I do,” the husband defended himself.
“Like you do?” his wife snorted. “So how come I have to work like a horse when you provide for the family?!” And so forth…
I managed to take my eyes off the couple and looked around to see how everybody else would react to this harsh arguing. To my surprise nobody even seemed to notice. A newspaper page was flipped; a line of lipstick was corrected using a pocket mirror – business as usual. I exchanged an astonished look with my auntie and we silently agreed to be as local as possible. Hence I went back to minding my own business as well: the nata!
After we finished breakfast, I took three to four extra natas with me and off we went to explore Lisbon. (One of my favourite cities in the world and I am not a city girl at all, that’s why I ended up in the Yukon, but that’s a different story…)
Needless to say, we were back the next morning to our café. And like the sky after a big storm can appear all innocent like nothing has ever happened, our hosts behind the counter seemed to be in perfect harmony: a playful word to the husband; a friendly clap on the wife’s behind. On the other side of the counter nobody even seemed to notice. I decided to be as local as possible, so I shut off my imagination, closed my eyes, and opened my mouth to welcome the first bite of my personal piece of perfect harmony.
‘Tudo bem,’ the Portuguese say: It’s all good! Especially on a day with pastry like that!