Hong Kong's Egg Tarts: A Sweet Spin-Off On English Custard Tart
Image Credit: Hong Kong Egg Tarts

While a variety of sweet and savoury tarts can be found in Hong Kong's bakeries today, there was a time when a tart was synonymous with a dessert in British culture. Their sweet tooth was satisfied by a creamy, gooey custard filling inside a crusty pastry. It is said that the English custard tart has been around since the 1450s and has evolved into various forms ever since then.

A popular variation of the same is the Hong Kong egg tart. One may wonder how the custard tart served as an inspiration for this Cantonese-style dish. The first proof of its invention is the name by which an egg tart is known in Canton, i.e., "daan tart," where "daan" means eggs and tart comes from the English language. It is said that the wealthy British who moved to southern China in the 1920s brought their own chefs who would create the custard tarts for them so they wouldn’t feel homesick.

This was a point of amalgamation between the West and East as Canton, present-day Guangzhou, saw a flock of chefs working along with them, making custard tarts. Picking up the skills and observing the method of making them, the Cantonese chefs began creating their own style of tarts by putting their dim sum skills to use. The result was a flaky pastry without a short crust made with eggs, milk, and sugar.

While the custard tarts were made with butter, it wasn’t quite accessible for all in the region as butter was a luxury commodity. So, they created a smooth and creamy egg-based tart that was a great spinoff of the English version. It was only after World War II, in 1945, that several wealthy Cantonese people shifted to Hong Kong, which was nearby. They also brought the ability to make egg tarts with them. Gradually, it became available to the masses, and ever since then, it has become a famous snack in Hong Kong, popularised as Hong Kong egg tarts.

While the butter in the dough was replaced with pork lard, the tart was given a pretty flower shape that attracted more customers than the traditional oval shape. In fact, Hong Kong is still home to one of the oldest bakeries, Tai Cheong Bakery, which perfected the art of making egg tarts and garnered attention.