While visiting historic Macao, Bonnie Tai goes on a treasure hunt for the perfect egg tart. Her quest takes her away from the fast-rising skyline of Macao’s Cotai strip to Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village, where she learns why the world’s best egg tarts are made in Macao.
Macau’s sweltering subtropical heat hits me the moment I step foot outside my flashy air-conditioned hotel, fogging up my glasses.
A cab pulls up to the curb. “To Coloane Village please,” I tell my driver as best I can in broken Cantonese. He nods, somewhat confused, and asks: “Are you sure? Tourists don’t normally venture out that way.”
“I’m sure,” I tell him. I was on a mission.
Twenty minutes later, the towering skyscrapers and glitzy city lights of the Cotai Strip are but a distant memory, replaced by traditional Chinese shopfronts, quaint Portuguese-style houses and narrow lanes.
Coloane Village, Macau’s southernmost island, is a destination steeped in history. Before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1864, the sleepy village was a sea salt farm, supplying salt to the mainland. And right up to 1910, it served as a haven for marauding pirates.
Today, Coloane Village is best known as the birthplace of the Portuguese Egg Tart – the culinary centrepiece of the Macanese foodie scene — and the sole purpose of my pilgrimage.
Lord Stow’s Egg Tart
As the cab slows to a halt, I witness an elderly woman wrapped in worn clothing sweeping the quiet streets with a broom made of straw; and in the distance, a friendly stray kitten sniffs at a display of spiky durians outside of an old vegetable market. I’ve arrived.
I pay the cab driver with a wad of colourful crumpled notes and he warns me that I may have to wait some time for a bus or another taxi to come by. I’m aware, but the payoff would be well worth the wait.
A sweet aroma wafts through the air, leading me to the original Lord Stow’s Bakery at 1 Rua do Tassara, the very spot where Englishman Andrew Stow first experimented with the now famous egg tart recipe in the late 80’s.
An industrial pharmacist by trade, Stow had no prior experience as a pastry chef. But a chance trip to Lisbon saw him become fixated with the Pasteis de Nata, the Portuguese egg tart, stirring his determination to bring the creation home to Macau.
Perfecting the Portuguese Egg Tart Recipe
Without an egg tart recipe or a clue of where to even begin, Andrew got to work, experimenting with new techniques and fresh ingredients (he famously despised the use of preservatives).
What resulted was a hybrid creation featuring creamy custard reminiscent of the British egg tart with a caramelised creme brulee shell, and light, flaky pastry inspired by his original muse, the Pasteis de Nata.
After perfecting his egg tart recipe, he opened Lord Stow’s Bakery in 1989, where word of his tarts soon attracted the attention of journalists and respected foodies.
Today, the unassuming yellow building is weathered and worn. But the haggard exterior does not deter the snaking queue of keen customers who make their way to Coloane Village each day, eager to get their sweet fix.
Best Egg Tarts in the world
And it is in this line where I strike up a conversation with a young woman waiting next to me. I ask her if she’s ever tried the famous egg tarts before.
She smiles and tells me that she’s from Singapore and anytime she’s in Macau, she makes a point to stop by at Lord Stow’s to bring home three dozen egg tarts to share with her family and friends.
“You just can’t find egg tarts like these anywhere else in the world,” she tells me. “Trust me; I’ve tried.”
The line moves quickly, and soon I find myself inside. Within the bakery, a pastry chef busily sets aside trays and trays of freshly baked egg tarts on a bench to cool. I ask the young sales assistant how many egg tarts they go through each day. “A lot,” she says. “Between all of our stores, we sell about 14,000 a day.”
She boxes up my order, and outside, my tastebuds prickle with anticipation.
The topping, dotted with caramelised black spots, shatters and I am introduced to the rich custard within. And then there is the pastry — light, buttery and flakey — it is a joy to eat.
Over the next few days, I find myself buying egg tarts from every vendor I come across, like an addict ‘chasing the dragon’. But nothing else compares to your first high at Lord Stow’s, and no egg tart has come close ever since.
Believe the hype.
Macao is attracting chefs from all over the world. Several Michelin-starred chefs have set up restaurants in Macao. The world’s top French chefs have set up fine-dining restaurants here.
Chinese food is available everywhere and Macanese food is a delicious fusion of Portuguese and Chinese flavours. Japanese and Italian cuisines are also popular in Macao.
You won’t have to go far in Macao to find a good restaurant. Macao’s luxury resorts all have excellent restaurants but if you’re keen to eat on the street, here are some local cafes to try and here’s a list of vegetarian restaurants.
Read our vuide to Macau dining to find out where to eat in Macau.