Bet You Can’t Eat Just One – Pastéis De Belém – Lisbon, Portugal
Only 20 days to go! We’re taking a short break from Spain to drive through Portugal, one of Christine’s motherlands. Our first stop is Lisbon.
When we think of Portugal, the very first thing that comes to mind is the pastel de nata. What the heck is that, you ask? It’s a small custard pastry that really isn’t as popular as it should be at home, but can be found on every block in Lisbon, where it originated about 200 years ago. We have a minor obsession with these things. We’ve made trips to Portuguese bakeries in Newark’s Ironbound district just to get them. They’re that good, and they’re seemingly impossible to make at home.
We’ve encountered pastéis de nata in parts of Asia, where they’re called “egg tarts.” These are good, but are quite different than the Portuguese version. Coming to Lisbon presented us with the opportunity to do something that we’ve been talking about for years, which is to visit the cafe where the proliferation of this little treat began: Pastéis de Belém. And so we did!
Pastéis de Belém is about what you would expect from an old Portuguese bakery-cafe. It’s heavily tiled on both the outside and the inside, and looks like it hasn’t changed in decades. We arrived in the middle of the day, and were greeted by a line out the door just to place an order. Fortunately the line moved quickly, and it wasn’t long before we had a thin decorative cardboard sleeve in our hands containing three pastéis de nata; one for each of us, and an extra one to split.
The taste of a pastel de nata is best described as a crispy, flaky pastry shell filled with a somewhat eggy, lemony, sugary custard filling. Contrary to what you’d think, the black spots on top aren’t signs of burning, but rather are caramelization that makes the whole thing extra tasty. We always go for the burnt ones! These were fresh out of the oven, still somewhat warm, and super crispy. They came with powdered sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top, but neither was really necessary. Without a doubt, the best ones we have ever had – although Newark’s comes in a very close second. Three wasn’t nearly enough, but you can bet that we’ll be back here before we leave Lisbon!