My quest for the most perfect Portuguese custard tarts

It is no secret that I have a huge sweet tooth. When planning my Portuguese sojourn, one of the items I wanted to tick off my bucket list was to try the famous Portuguese custard tarts, or ‘Pastel de Nata’ (lit: cake of cream). I had come across them in a Portuguese bakery in Perth, 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.

So obviously when I decided to explore the land that invented this perfection, I knew I had to devour as many as possible. After I arrived in Porto, probably one of the first questions I asked the hostel reception was about the whereabouts of this divine deliciousness. I was surprised to find that the ‘real’ Pastel de Nata actually came from Belém, a suburb in Lisboa (Portugal’s capital). Whilst it is easy to find a delicious and cheap Pastel de Nata all over Portugal, you have not tasted the real deal until you have visited the most famous bakery in Bélem that bakes literally hundreds and thousands of them on a regular basis.

Pastel de Nata from the streets of Porto- what I thought was the real deal, until I was told that it actually resided in Belém

History bears witness that originally, the nuns of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery of Jerome) 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’ (lit: cakes of 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.

Hard day’s work at ‘Pastéis de Belém’
Ok, it may not look very different from the tart I had in Porto, but my gosh, it was definitely more delicious. I think the pastry was definitely crunchier which produced a greater contrast between the pastry and the filling and elevated the experience to another level.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

And of course, since you are here in Belém, and by extension in Lisboa, why not take the time to appreciate the rest of the place?

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.
As seen near Monumento a los descubrimientos. Displayed above are Portugal’s South Asian colonies.
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
We’re back in central Lisboa, 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 tram of Lisboa
Somewhere in Bairro Alto (old Lisboa).
It’s THE place to be for a great night out in Lisboa as it contains the highest concentration of bars and restaurants that keep the city alive right up until sunrise hours. The steep streets can help you burn those excess calories too.
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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