Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pasteis De Nata & Chocolate

I believe you've met my friend Pasteis De Nata... I'm sorry I didn't introduce you guys the first time around.  I'm amazed that I've found one of my favorite pastries in Belgium, and its a Portuguese pastry.  This is a tiny little custard creme cup thing.  It tastes like pudding flavored with toasted marshmallows.  OH MY GOD!
I found a Portuguese speciality store around the corner on my way to the Delhaize (the grocery store).  I walked in, looked around at some three euro bottles of red wine, some of the meats and cheeses, and then noticed pastries.  I'm a sucker for pastries so I ordered two different ones and Pasteis De Nata was by far the winner.  I got some more today for my office and they went over very very well.  Its kinda like the best Boston cream donut you'll ever eat for 1.05 Euro.  I've been told that there is an entire city in Portugal devoted to this one pastry... though it still pales in comparison to the Danish.
I think there were only two things I knew about Belgium before I arrived:  Waffles and Chocolate.  We all know about my penchant for Waffles, so I thought I would look into the other Belgian Icon.  Near the Metro stop on my way to the office is one chocolate shop that I stopped in my first or second day in the city.  While I was there I tried a small sampling of the "popular flavors."  I got 3 especially unique flavors:  Chili, Wasabe and Basil.  I guess chili isn't too far off the deep end, it was very good spicy but still mild.  Wasabe was not good, there was no spice to it and the flavor does not lend itself to chocolate very well.  Basil was a very very happy surprise.  I never thought the herby flavor of basil would work well with chocolate but I would suggest it to anyone if they get a chance to try it.
This past weekend I went looking for the real chocolate shops.  I've been told the best place to get chocolate in all of Belgium is Bruges, but that's another trip all together.  I found my guide book had a section on chocolate and there was one square they mentioned.  I took a trip to this square and went into and out of about five or six shops absorbing the scent of chocolate.  I decided to get a box to send back States side and ended up at Wittamer:  the canonical Brussels chocolate shop.  I think its been around for almost 100 years and is very classic.  Some of the avant garde (see I am learning french) shops were interesting but really only to look.  At Wittamer I purchased a box of 40 pieces (100 grams) for only 15 Euros, which is a steal considering that is priced just above a Hershey bar by weight.  I also purchased a small sample for myself to know what I was sending.  
I decided to try three of my choice and one of the employees choice.  My selection was Earl Grey, Passion Fruit and Cannelle, the employee picked one without a name on it.  They were all very creamy and had the same exact texture (except unnamed).  The shell itself was thin but strongly flavored and had a little snap to it.  If you're given a choice of the same four I ended up with, I would suggest the Earl Grey first.  It was unique, I will definitely aim for more aromatic flavors to mix with chocolates for any future purchases.  The Passion Fruit was well done, it didn't have the pucker some passion fruit dishes share and was very subtle.  The Cannelle was cinnamon, I did enjoy it but it wasn't my favorite.  Now, I don't really know what to call the last unnamed one.  I'm pretty sure it was a praline, or a crunchy hazelnut flavored piece.  I know it wasn't a "hazelnut" flavored one, because they have those.  This is why I think it was a praline, and it seemed less sophisticated than the rest.  That doesn't mean I didn't like it, but it was much more sweet than the others.
As with all other food based blogs, I will continue studying and repeating these experiments to make sure they produce similar results.  I want to be absolutely sure that the chocolate is very chocolaty... and that the waffles are very waffley.  I should have a post about some fish tomorrow, along with the weekly spending (ugh... rent).  The BBM (big boss man for future usage) will be in the office around 6 or 7 pm tomorrow so I do get a day of tourism before work, I hope I find something good.


  1. So looks like you have started to venture outside the everyday waffle. Any other specialties of Belgium food wise that are out of the norm?

  2. From Rick Steves - "Portugal once had access to more sugar than any other European country. Even so, sugar was so expensive that only the aristocracy could afford to enjoy it routinely. Historically, many daughters of aristocrats who were unable to marry into suitably noble families ended up in high-class convents. Life there was comfortable, yet carefully controlled. Rather than sex, they could covet and treat themselves with sweets. Over time, the convents became famous as keepers of wondrous secret recipes for exquisite pastries generally made from sugar and egg yolks (which were leftovers from whites used to starch their habits). Barrigas de Freiras (Nuns’ Tummies) and Papos de Ango (Angel’s Breasts) are two such fancies."