Someone in the history of food writing is bound to have made the connection between food and personality. And last evening, the display shelf at Theobroma was erupting with an eclectic array of characters. There were the usual suspects, the everymen of the dessert selection like walnut brownies and chocolate mousse. A whole range of pastries with exotic icings vied for attention on the shelf. Then there were the rocker-chick types like vodka-chilli something-something that stood aloof, yet needy for attention with their streaks of green.
But it was a quest for Theo's carrot cake that drew me there. It was the best I had tasted since falling headlong in love with its wholesome flavour in London. But on the counter where it usually stood, was a single slice of something gloopy, obviously someone's idea of caramel heaven. No carrot cake. But I wasn't about to go home armed with mere walnut brownies.
And then, at second eye-sweep, I spotted them.
Humble natas amidst all that jazz, standing on the tray like self-aware monks who were one with the divine. What better way to celebrate the end of my time in Mumbai than a Portuguese custard dessert at my favourite dessert shop in the entire world, Theobroma? The memory of this dessert was my lembrança, a keepsake from my time in Mumbai.
The natas had a simple crust, a well-browned top and a sprinkling of coarsely ground cinnamon. Physically, it is a quiche-sized base filled with custard. The crust was thinner at the bottom and thicker at the sides. It was served cool (not cold), and the side crust was firm enough not to yield to the side of a fork. What does one have hands for anyway, eh? The portion was just right - neither too little to whip up a craving, nor too large to make one feel like a Portuguese-spouting python.
I felt a familiar feeling, one that I hadn't experienced in ages. At that moment I absolutely knew I would eat a nata and I would eat it right there.
Now for the flavour. The brown top had no smoky aroma, no peeling layer, and no overpowering eggy smell to the custard. The custard was creamy, mildly sweetened with sugar, flavoured with lime zest and vanilla.
The owner of Theobroma affirmed the flavours I could detect, but added that there was cinnamon and nutmeg as well. I think the fascinating blend of citrusy zest and vanilla dominated the nata and the cinnamon was largely a textural addition for the top.
The story goes that one of the top doctors of Mumbai tasted natas in London and asked the owner of Theobroma if she would make it for him. But she didn't know the recipe. So, he even provided her with the recipe. Ever since, she has been making natas. Thanks, doc!
Let's hope the natas at Theobroma don't go the route of the carrot cake. Apparently, few bought it. The owner even included almonds (sacrilege, if you ask me) but it didn't help. So, head out and grab a nata sometime.
With no need for conversation, I sat by myself, numb to the presence of the mobile phone, oblivious to other dessert-eaters, engrossed in an otherworldly experience, grateful that I didn't have to share the moment or the nata with anybody.