Once upon the time, these cakes were something that you could only get in Portugal. Nowadays, bakeries all over the world have capitalised on their growing fame and begun selling pasteis de nata. Of course, if you actually ask for a pastel de nata the person behind the counter might look a little confused and ask you to repeat yourself. That’s because, rather than calling them by their proper name, most bakeries simply call these cakes Portuguese custard tarts.
Whether or not we call them pasteis de nata or Portuguese custard tarts might seem like a trivial issue, but it’s not. We’ve bothered to learn the correct name for plenty of other foods from around the world. Words like taco and kebab have entered our everyday vocabulary as has paella, sushi, lasagna, and moussaka. Why can’t it be the same for Portuguese food?
Portuguese words can be hard to pronounce, it’s true. But that’s not really a valid excuse for not giving it a go. We’re quite happy to take a stab at words like croissant, mille-feuille, and crème brûlée, so why not Portuguese words as well? In fact, it doesn’t make any sense that we wouldn’t: pastel de nata is much easier to pronounce than, say, croissant (for reference it’s pash-tel de nah-ta).
I should point out that it’s not the Portuguese that are complaining, it’s me. Unlike some other European countries where you won’t get served unless you speak the language (ahem France!), most of the Portuguese are very accommodating to the fact that other people don’t speak their language. They’re so accommodating that they even turn a blind eye when tourists ignorantly just speak Spanish to them.
Look around the Algarve and Lisbon at all of the tapas bars and you’ll see just how accommodating people are. Portugal has its own word for a tapa (petisco), but given that tapa is the word most tourists know, many Portuguese bar owners use the Spanish word instead.
The pastel de nata isn’t the only foreign food that has been anglicised, of course. Although we have adopted words like croissant and kebab, there are an endless list of other words that we haven’t bothered to learn.
Which is why I’m not advocating that we call everything by its proper name. Instead, I propose that we give everything an English name. In the same way as a pastel de nata is now internationally known as a Portuguese custard tart, a croissant will now be known as a French buttery flaky pastry.
It may seem a tad ridiculous, but it’s the fairest system. Below you’ll find a few examples of some cakes and deserts and their new Anglicised names.
French Buttery Flaky Pastry
Italian Coffee Trifle
Mediterranean Nutty Layered Pastry
Mexican/Spanish deep-fried pastry
French Oblong Cream-Filled Pastry
I think you get the point! Remember: it’s a pastel de nata!