If you're visiting Lisbon, chances are you'll make your way to nearby Belem to see some age of Discoveries sites like the Tower of Belem or Monastery of Jerónimos. But here's something you must do while you're in the district. Eat pastry. This is a truth of Lisbon in general, but it could not be more crucial than when you come upon the blue and white banner of Pastéis de Belém.
The namesake pastries (called Pastéis de Nata throughout the region) are the original and still gold standard in Portugeuse egg tart pastry. Paper thin layers of buttery crisp pastry are filled with a rich, yet balanced, custard of sugar and egg. The pastry tops blister in high heat adding a toasty hint of caramel to the flavor profile.
Best to eat your tarts at the counter with a shot of espresso. The kitchen sends out wave after wave of pastry to fill demand, guaranteeing your order will be fresh and warm. Shakers of cinnamon and powdered sugar are offered at the bar and I like a light shake of cinnamon best. When the heat of the tart warms the cinnamon, the most irresistible fragrance of sugar and spice is released. You can find delicious pastéis de nata all over Lisbon, but I promise you'll compare every one to the perfection of Pastéis de Belém.
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Sweet and Warm Custard To Soothe the Soul
Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry, common in Portugal. Those found at Pastéis de Belém have become legendary for their super secret recipe. Any day of the week, a line trails out the door waiting to savor one of tens of thousands made daily. Eat them warm with a cafe.
Unquestionably for me, the culinary highlight of any trip to Lisbon. You can get these little bites of creamy, custard deliciousness all over Lisbon, but only at THE cafe that created them are they called Pastéis de Belém - elsewhere they must call them Pastéis de Nata.
Whether you take the bus out to Belem for the original, or stay in the city center & spend that bus time stuffing more tarts into your face, don't miss the opportunity to taste these little bites of heaven!
Pastéis de Belém or pastéis de nata, as they are also called, are a must-eat when in Portugal, and this is especially true if you are able to make it to their supposed birthplace, the town of Santa María de Belém, outside of Lisbon. The eggy custard tarts are believed to have originated out of an excess of egg yolks at the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, where egg whites were frequently used to starch nun's habits and clarify wine, and the yolks were used for, well, nothing.
Today you can get these very rich treats in pastry shops all over the country, but if you find yourself in Belém it's worth a visit to Casa Pastéis de Belém to get the real deal. It's a cavernous, tiled labrynth of a place, overflowing with all kinds of people enjoying their sweets, and it's a perfect place for a break after a visit to the nearby monastery and Torre de Belém.
This confectionery was founded in 1837. While you can find the famous Portuguese custard tarts all over Portugal, this is the place with the original tarts, made according to a secret recipe.
Instead of waiting in the line, I would suggest you enter and enjoy the Pastéis de Belém inside a nice tiled room. The tarts will arrive warm, so you must ask for two tarts per person (one is simply not enough).
I make it a point to seek some of a city's trademark food and drink when I travel, and in Lisbon that includes the city's "pastel de nata" tarts. For a fun experience, brave the line (it moves fast) at Pastéis de Belém, which is credited as the birthplace of these crunchy, custardy tarts. What makes them such a treat here is that they make so many - about 20,000 per day! - that the tarts are generally served still warm out of the oven.