How Portuguese Pastry Culture Inspired This Popular Chinese Snack

Photo by Takes Two Eggs

Sweet and crumbly, pineapple tarts can be found in almost every Chinese household in Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia every Chinese New Year.  That said, their immense popularity means they are also enjoyed year-round.

Some key ingredients in the sweet treat include pineapples and sugar, which are spun into a thick jam, as well as butter and flour, which form the base of the tarts. Recipes vary from kitchen to kitchen, and some bakers boast not-so-secret ingredients like coconut or screwpine leaf aka pandan.

Pineapple tarts may also look different from household to household, as bakers apply their own creative twists. While many often think of ways to reinvent the snack, few are aware of its origin in Southeast Asian history.

The existence of Chinese pineapple tarts is, in fact, inextricably intertwined with the Portuguese colonization of Malacca, a southern state in Malaysia, in the 1500s.

This is similar to how Hong Kong's beloved egg tarts, a fixture in most dim sum spreads, were adapted from Portuguese pastel de nata.

Aspects of Portuguese culture, including its prowess in pastry, seeped into the region.

As such, queijadas de ananas much like the one below...

...were localized and turned into bite-sized pineapple tarts (their small size causes some to call them ‘cookies’) like the ones above.

Just so you know, it would likely be a fool’s errand to seek out pineapple tarts in the Chinese mainland, where treats like tāngyuán (汤圆) or stuffed-glutinous rice balls served in a sweet soup, are more widely eaten throughout Chinese New Year.

Speaking of desserts, RADII boasts ample stories that appeal to sweet tooths: Click on the link below.