Why they all like ‘Uncle’ Chris

IMG_0841 Chris Wong with jiang bing at DaShu 13-03-2018 12-36-35

Chris Wong serves up a jian bing

THE Chinese students called him uncle, Da Shu, when they queued up for their egg tarts and jian bing – traditional Chinese filled pancakes – so Chris Wong reckoned that was a good enough name for his new café and bakery on Furnival Gate, Sheffield.

If you’ve missed your fix of pastéis de nata, those Portuguese egg tarts so loved by the Chinese on your visits to The Moor Market, you can find them at the new place. Chris closed his market stall a month ago to concentrate on the business.

DaShu has a bright, airy shop, 30-seater café upstairs and a bakery in the basement, making those those tarts and other pastries. “Not bad for a business which started out selling street food,” says Chris happily as he serves.

IMG_0846 Portuguese egg tart and coffee 13-03-2018 12-40-46

Portuguese egg tart and coffee

 

His trade so far is mostly from Chinese students. He points out how near he is to blocks of student flats and Sheffield Hallam University. They’re the ones who love the jian bing, Chinese for fried pancake, a traditional breakfast back home. Here Chris doesn’t open until 11am so they eat it for lunch and tea.

It’s a large crepe made with mung bean flour. “Chinese people recognise the smell,” he says as he breaks and spreads an egg over it. Then he flips the crepe to form a lacy omelette exterior. Traditionally the crepe is filled with a hot dog, crispy wanton, onion, herbs and lettuce. Chris liberally squirts his special sweet chiili sauce over then folds and wraps the crepe. The interest is as much between the contrasts in textures as the taste. A traditional crepe costs £3.50.

“English people like it with chicken so I do a jiang bing UK (£4.50) for them,” says Chris. There is a wide variety of other crepes on offer.

He’s an engineer by training but credits the inspiration to his wife, a baker, whom he won’t name because he says she is a very private person. It was she who suggested he make the Portuguese egg tart. Chinese people first came across it in the former colony of Macau, from where it spread to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

It is the reverse of an English egg custard. The pastry is flaky rather than short crust. Where an English custard is wobbly, rather like a crème caramel, the Portuguese version is stiffer, somewhat similar to a curd tart, flecked with characteristic caramelisation marks.

It’s his own special recipe which he and his wife spent three weeks getting right. Don’t expect it to be a dead ringer of the version eaten in Lisbon. “Chinese people don’t like things too sweet so there’s less sugar and the pastry is flakier,” he explains.

Chris is using the shop to sell other lines new to Sheffield but not to the students, such as Korean grilled noodles. I haven’t tried that yet – I was too full of egg tart and jian bing!

*DaShu, 30 Furnival Gate, Sheffield S1 4QP. Tel 07919 340 341.

IMG_0822 DaShu exterior 13-03-2018 12-24-48.JPG

Smitten by a Lisbon tart

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon pasteleria

The first time I knowingly ate a Portuguese egg tart, or pastel de nata, was in the Dim Sum Chinese restaurant on Sheffield’s London Road. As a life-long lover of the noble English custard tart I was intrigued. It was good but different.

The Chinese link is not an attempt to be jokey. The Portuguese, who are good at baking, took their tarts to Macau, an enclave on the coast of China which they once ruled. The Chinese, who had little tradition of baking , rather liked them. Macau is not far from Hong Kong and the tarts soon appeared there. It’s not the only thing the Portuguese gave to Asia, bequeathing tempura batter to the Japanese.

Portuguese tarts are relatively new here but I’m told you can find half a dozen stalls selling them on London’s Borough Market, where food trends start. You can even get them in Sheffield.

A Portuguese egg tart is not much of a looker. It’s a dumpy little thing with black blotches on the top but don’t be deceived. As with women, it’s a case of once bitten, forever smitten. They were created by Portuguese monks who used egg whites for starching clothes and turned the unwanted yolks into tarts.

Roses the Bakers have been selling them, alongside traditional custard tarts, for about a year. An assistant told me they were very popular, at just 80p each. They are a hefty £1.20 at Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road and there’s a Chinese bloke called Chris Wong baking them every day on the Moor Market for 98p each. Cake-R-Us on London Road sells them for £1.

This blog spares no expense so first I went to Portugal to see what they should be like before I tested the home grown variety. All right, I was going to Lisbon anyway.

You can’t walk more than 50 yards without finding a café or pasteleria selling them. I must have had a dozen, not counting one I mistakenly ordered from a late night kiosk, after a bottle of vinho verde, which turned out to be a mini cheese and ham quiche.

A pastel de nata is everything an English custard is not. For a start there’s the pastry, slightly damp shortcrust for the Anglo tart, crisp and flaky for the Portuguese. Then there’s the filling. The custard tart is light and wobbly, getting on for a creme brule, the Portuguese filling is creamy with the consistency of lemon curd.

The English tart has a dusting of nutmeg on top. There is no nutmeg but often cinnamon and lemon in the pastel de nata although to be honest I failed to detect any cinnamon in those I ate in Lisbon but I did vanilla. The pastel de nata is everywhere. It’s not the only Portuguese pastry but as I was on an egg tart quest it was about the only one I tried. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

It’s caramelisation of the filling surface which causes the blotches and a tricky thing to get right. The Portuguese say if it ain’t got blotches it ain’t a proper one. Mind you, things can be taken too far. One I bought from a stall in the Mercado da Ribeira food hall was brown all the way down and unexciting.

The best I had was in the Café Suica in the Baixa, a wonderful little gem of a tart, light and creamy filling contrasting with crisp, flaky pastry. And they weren’t bad at the Hotel Britania either.

I put on a couple of pounds but I reckon I am now a good judge. So what to make of them back home? The Roses version was a brave try. The pastry was thicker and stodgier than in Lisbon and the filling not as deep. And it was sadly blotch-free. There wasn’t much of the filling but it was closest to the Portuguese. The tart at Cake-R-Us was unexciting.

The Forge’s tart has a fine pastry and plenty of spots but the filling, which is made with milk rather than cream, is wobbly, far closer to an English custard tart. Again, I found the cinnamon used in this recipe hard to detect. Lemon zest is also used. My verdict: jolly decent but a little pricy (they cost a euro in Lisbon).

On the Moor Market Chris Wong of CakeLicious bakes 120 tarts a day on his stall. “This could be the best Portuguese custard tart you have ever tasted” says the publicity and customers, English and Chinese, were queuing up to agree with him. “They’re lovely,” said a woman buying two, like me.

Chris, who has been in the market since it opened and exhibited his tarts at last year’s Sheffield Food Festival, said they were best straight out of the oven and allowed to cool for 10 minutes but eaten warm and invited me to wait. He wasn’t giving away any recipe secrets but reckoned if the tops had a shine (like his) it was a good sign.

When cool his tarts had great crisp pastry and an excellent blotchy filling, although again it was closer to the English rather than Portuguese. I couldn’t taste any cinnamon again. “That’s because I didn’t put any in. My customers don’t like it,” he said. There is, though, some vanilla.

Chris refuses to taste rival tarts because “I don’t want to be influenced.” Despite what he said, I enjoyed it even more when cold. It was certainly the best of the English bunch. Now form an orderly queue . . .

SheffieldCakeLicious on Facebook or tel: 07919 340 341.
Forge Bakehouse, 232 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1FL. Tel 0114 258 8987. Web: http://www.forgebakehouse.co.uk

UPDATE: Since this article was written I have tried the pastel de nata from Cossack Cuisine, which had a stall at Nether Edge Farmers’ Market. They cost £1.40 but are the nearest in taste and texture to those in Lisbon. Web: http://www.cossackcuisine.com

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Chris Wong with his tarts at Moor Market

Tarts from Forge

Tarts from Forge

Dawes nibbles a tart in Lisbon

Man eats tart