Hop on Tram 15 from downtown’s Figueira Square or Comercio Square or take the railway train from Cais do Sodré to the small town of Belém for the creamiest, softest, (and oldest) custard-egg tarts in all of Portugal.
The Pastéis de Nata is a staple dessert and the small blue-tiled shop, Pastéis de Belém, in Belém is a master at making them – actually, they make 16,000 of them each day to be exact! The result is delicious, perfectly browned and sprinkled with cinnamon. They are all hand-made on site and served warm but if you go, be prepared for a queue which sometimes curves around the block.
Closer to town, the temptation for pastéis de nata is in every cafe and bakery front window. I hopped in and out from one to the next without any bit of guilt. If you can’t make it to Belém, go to Pastelaria Suiça across from Rossio metro in baixa chiado, downtown Lisbon.
Amen for natas
Medieval history has it that the Portuguese egg pastry was first invented by two Catholic sisters at the Jerónimos Monastery before the 18th century. Here, the convents used large quantities of egg whites for starching nuns’ clothes or clearing Port wine. They learned they could use the leftover yolks to whip up sweet treats. The Liberal Revolution in 1820, however, closed down the monastery but the religious clerics vowed to keep producing their pastries and selling them at Pastéis de Belém in hopes of raising money to rebuild their monastery, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
The clerics kept the original recipe heavily guarded, and now patented under the Oficina do Segredo, (the Secret Workshop!) The guards at the Secret Workshop sign a waiver and take an oath to not disclose what they know. Today, it’s a 170-year-old secret divulged only to three chefs in the family at one time. Geez, there is no way I could keep a secret longer than 5 minutes!
Do you have a favourite dessert?