The way I see myself today and the way others interact with me is filled with a history that might be easy to consciously forget. Yet the nostalgic value of one pastel de nata is infinitely more filling than anything else. Adults and children alike find themselves in my variations. And while I may not have exactly the same taste everywhere in the world. My mission remains the same as always.
I have been around for a long time. More specifically, since the 18th century. I was born in Belém, but I've since travelled to many places. My insides seem to change every time I travel - it's the great question of my life. Each place inspires and guides me to become a slightly different version of myself. Yet, many people who've known me since their childhood dislike it when they notice these changes happening. I can only appease so much before I myself start feeling constrained. So, I ignore them and change once again. I make sure that the basics always stay the same, but perhaps it's the small things about my personality. The sweetness or notes of spice that people become accustomed to is what seems so widely different across time. Anyway, I've decided that people who don't accept my changes were never my admirers in the first place. The people who I deem the friendliest were always the people who allowed me to flourish and, in turn, devoured me with passion each time they came across me.
The beginning of my life was humble, sheltered, and in many ways devout. I grew up surrounded by monastery walls, hard-working monks educating me on the ways of life rooted in simplicity. We used to starch clothes with egg whites and save the yolks to use in pastry recipes. A ‘no waste’ lifestyle, if you will. In those years I brought with me a sense of happiness everywhere I went. I believe I still do. But those first few times interacting with people liking me for me, I will never forget what that feels like. Pretty soon after that, the monasteries could not keep me a secret any more. A sugar refinery right next to the monastery I grew up in started living up to its sweet-tooth name, seeking out sweet pastries from within the walls. The monks decided they could help finance the grounds if they let the secret of my existence go. In their defence, I had my mind made up on getting outside the walls by that point. I wanted to explore further, see more people and places. And I knew it from the first moment I left; there would be no turning back.
My upbringing was constricted in many ways, yet, as I moved further and further away from my birthplace, more elements of freedom took over. From household to household, I moved around in Portugal until I reached the people at the docks, ready to make distant trips to far-off lands. That's one of the burdens of living so long; it often means that you bear witness to many events that could be difficult to comprehend. I tagged along with my fellow countrymen as they moved to different parts of the world. I didn’t necessarily agree with their politics but due to their ambition, I got to go to places I had only ever heard stories about. The people there welcomed me a little more than the people I was with, and in no time they had started to integrate me into their lives. And I loved it. It's those new spices and mixed feelings that inspired me to change each time the land under my feet did. Using their knowledge of local customs and tastes, I reached more people by the day.
These movements and changes kept happening across the centuries. Up till now I've been listening, honing and skillfully recreating myself. These days you will find me in a range of places, from traditional hundred-year-old family-owned pastry shops to high-end dessert stores. Each of these locations brings with it a series of prerequisites. Mostly it's the fact that I decided to see the world. But additionally, it's the people who guided and helped me become myself along the way. Reaching the overpriced tourist pastry shops of Western Europe, or the hipster cafes in Hong Kong, just means that my dream to meet more people came true.
The way I see myself today and the way others interact with me is filled with a history that might be easy to consciously forget. Yet the nostalgic value of one pastel de nata is infinitely more filling than anything else. Adults and children alike find themselves in my variations. And while I may not have the same taste everywhere in the world. My mission remains the same as always.