Lisbon, Portugal: Tasting the famous portuguese custard tarts, Pastéis de Belém
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our next destination was Lisbon, Portugal. One of the main purposes of this trip was to try the famous Pastéis de Belém (Portuguese-style egg tart, also known as Pastal de Nata) from the pastry shop, Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. This kitchen uses the same century-old recipe known by only a handful of bakers which make the dough and custard behind locked doors.

My first acquaintance with an egg tart was at dim sum on the weekends. For a long time, that was the only egg tart I recognized. When I moved to Toronto, I tried my first Portuguese-style egg tart. Though similar in appearance to its asian counterpart, the custard was heavier and much sweeter. But the clear difference was in the flaky pastry shell which had a characteristic crunch to it, indicative of a phyllo-like dough instead of shortcrust.

It’s been many years since my first Portuguese egg tart and I was more than happy to revisit my faint memory of it. Not expecting much, it was the first time in a while that I was truly mind-blown by a pastry. I’m feeling quite melancholic writing this post and recalling that exceptional egg tart. My friend and I decided soon after eating our first egg tart that it was worth coming all the way to Lisbon just to savor this delicacy.

The entrance to Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. In 1837, Domingo Rafael Alves purchased the secret recipe from a baker and started making and selling these egg tarts at this exact location. Traditionally, these egg tarts were made by Catholic monks at the nearby Jerónimos Monastery.

Inside the pastry shop. We went early in the day for breakfast here. Normally you will find long lines extending out into the streets.

They also sell a lot of savoury pastries, including a local favourite called pastéis de bacalhau (fried codfish cakes; see top left).

Finally, our first egg tarts!

The flaky, crunchy shell is fragrant and light. I suspect it’s similar to a phyllo-like dough.

The gooey, warm, smooth custard filling is unlike any other I’ve tasted. I ate 4 of these in one day for fear that they would no longer be as good and fresh the next day.

We snuck a peak into their kitchen though unfortunately did not see them make any dough or custard.

Nearby the pastry shop is the Jerónimos Monastery, where the original egg tart recipe was created.

Across the monastery, you can see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) which stands north of the Tagus River.

The monument was built in 1960 to celebrate the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th century. It depicts a departing ship with sculptures of famous Portuguese explorers.

From the monument, you can see the 25 de Abril Bridge in the distance.

Just steps away from the monument is the Belém Tower, built in the 16th century. 

After walking around the Belem area, we picked a random restaurant for a late lunch. It was busy and seemed to be popular with the locals. The server came to our table with a wide selection of fresh fish, all priced at about 10-12 Euros per portion like in the picture above. I enjoyed very fresh seafood during our Portugal trip. Since it’s so fresh, they don’t to do too much with it in terms of preparation. Just lightly seasoned and grilled.

Here’s another traditional portuguese dish. I’m not sure what this is called but its a seafood stew with bread that has soaked up the liquid. It doesn’t sound or look very appetizing but it taste just like a seafood congee.

One Glorious Comment
  • Martinho
    November 21, 2013
    Thank you for your Post... I laughed a lot when you said you ate 4 Pastéis in one go... it is difficult not to do so! I am Portuguese living in Macau, and I just ate 2 Local P. de Nata, and was wondering if a foreigner would go to the trouble to find out the taste of a "real one". After searching your blog popped out. By the way, the last dish is called "Açorda" [a so re da], in which yours is "Açorda de Gambas/Marisco", Shrimp or Seafood açorda. Best regards!