“Tan-taht” (Cantonese for egg tart) is probably the most popular of the
sweet (not savoury) dim sums, the perfectly union of velvety custard and flaky crust.
Growing up, there were two camps of kids when it came to egg tart: those who preferred the custard and those who preferred the crust. My friend
Sara-Joan and I were happy when we went to dim sum together, because she get two crusts and I’d get two custards. Our complementary preferences meant no waste!
I think the Cantonese egg tarts may have evolved from Portuguese beginnings, when their traders established themselves on the South China Coast a few hundred years ago. After all, Macau is renowned for the egg tarts. But in any case, egg tarts have become part and parcel of Cantonese dim sum, just like pizza is an all-American food.
In fact, in Chinese bakeries today, they have ‘regular egg tarts’ and ‘Portuguese egg tarts’. The only difference I can tell is that the Portuguese ones are baked longer (or broiled), so the tops are browned?
In Thailand, there are several types of “khanom thong” (gold deserts) that are popular traditional deserts: Foi thong (gold floss or threads); thong yip (pinched gold, it looks like a flower); and thong yod (drops of gold). They are made primarily with egg yolks, which gives them a golden color.
“Strangely enough, these desserts are not of pure Thai origin but are derived from Portuguese sweets. The Portuguese were the first western people to reach Ayuthaya [the Siamese capital up to 250 years ago] where they introduced the use of eggs which were to become another important ingredient in Thai desserts on top of flour, sugar and coconut products which were already used.” (Bangkok Post newspaper)
All around the western Mediterranean countries like France, Portugal and Spain, flan = crème caramel = egg custard is a popular desert. But of these three countries, Portugal has established its presence longest in Asia, more as traders rather than empire-builders.
Why did the Portuguese become so keen on egg-yolk based deserts? My
theory is that it was tied in with the growth of the sherry industry in Portugal, as British demand for the sherry and port wines exploded in the 18th century .
“Once the [sherry] aging process is finished, the wines are
clarified with beaten egg whites, or with concentrated egg albumin. The
process serves to concentrate all the particles suspended in the wine and
makes them settle to the bottom of barrels.” – (Robert du Pierni, on the Internet)
I assume the Portuguese then found ways to make use of the massive quantities of egg yolks that were leftover from processing sherry: turning them into deserts and other dishes. Back then, they probably didn’t worry about cholesterol. And they introduced their egg-yolk based dishes onto other parts of the world.