Exploring Lisbon in my quest for their famous Pastel de Nata

Have you ever come across a small fragment of a culture unknown to you, and the resulting interest strung you along until you eventually planned a detailed trip to the corresponding country?
Well, something similar happened with me and Portugal. My origins lie in Western India, parts of which were under the Portuguese crown for 600 long years. Despite having a deep- rooted interest in different cultures, exploring Portugal had never really occurred to me.
In 2017, I met a few Portuguese people who provided me interesting perspectives of their culture, their language, their food. And above all, they introduced me to Portuguese tarts or ‘Pastel de Nata’.

I first ate ‘Pastel de Nata’ (pl: pastéis de Nata) in a Portuguese bakery in my city Perth (Australia), where the taste lingered long after they had melted in my mouth. The crunchy pastry was filled with creamy, delicious, not-too-sweet, gooey custard that oozed into my mouth as soon as I had popped them in. The downside was that they were very small in size and too darn expensive ($2 to $3 per tart as far as I remember). Unfortunately, when your desires don’t match your wallet size, you have no option but to rein in your cravings.

It is said that desire creates thought and thought creates action. Obviously with enough desire created, I started thinking of a trip to Portugal so I could finally taste the real deal. My investigation revealed that the original Pastel de Nata actually came from a famous bakery in Bélem (a suburb of Lisbon) that bakes literally hundreds and thousands of them on a daily basis.

With this information, an invitation from my Portuguese friends and an exciting Portuguese itinerary in mind, I found myself in Lisbon in September 2018.

History bears witness that originally, the nuns of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery of Jerome) in Lisbon came up with the recipe of Pastel de Nata and would make it in bulk. However, later in 1837, the recipe was passed onto someone outside of the convent and they founded the famous bakery ‘Pastéis de Belém’. This, confusingly, is also the name given to the actual tarts produced from this bakery to allow them to be differentiated from those produced in other places. Pastéis de Belém is literally a 2 minute walk from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, making it an ideal place to get your sugar fix after you have spent a good amount of time being mesmerised by the monastery’s rich architecture.

A hard day’s work at Pastéis de Belém.
I love ticking items off my bucket list (who doesn’t!), and this was so worth the wait! Bigger, richer, crunchier, cheaper…and therefore tastier than the ones from Perth, they elevated my experience to another level.
I reserved most of the pastéis so I could share them with all my friends, as sharing and community values are very big in Portugal 🙂
The stunning facade of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
The inner courtyard

Here are some of the other captures of the rest of Belém and Lisboa

Monumento a los descubrimientos: A monument celebrating the efforts of all the Portuguese navigators, religious authorities and army generals who travelled far and wide ‘discovering’ new lands (read: colonies) for the riches and personal gains of the Portuguese crown.
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
We’re back in central Lisbon, painfully climbing uphill to Castelo de São Jorge (St George Castle).
Also, have you noticed the resplendent tilework, or azulejos, that is visible all over old buildings in Portugal?
The iconic Lisbon tram.
Trams are not the most efficient way of getting around in Lisbon as they are quite slow, but they have become some an integral part of the old Lisbon landscape that no one wants to get rid of them either!
Somewhere in Bairro Alto (old Lisbon).
This kind of outdoor seating for food places in the narrow alleyways, along the stairs is quite common here and is such a fantastic opportunity to soak the atmosphere.
Bairro Alto is a great place to be for a night out in Lisbon.
Traditional Portuguese food ‘bacalhau assado’, or roasted cod at Restaurant Cova Funda, Intendente (Lisbon).
Did you know that the Portugese people love to eat cod so much that it is said that they have a different cod dish for each day of the year in their culinary repertoire?
What’s funny is that cod is not even found in the Portugese waters. All of it is actually imported from Northern European countries, like Norway.
A casino in the middle of Lisboa? No. A store selling nothing but over-priced, colourful tins of Sardines? YES! Welcome to ‘O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa’
Igreja de São Roque
Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge (Viewpoint of St George’s castle)

Até já Lisboa. We will meet soon.

Cover photo: Somewhere in Praça Dom Pedro (Lisboa).

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