They’re crisp, creamy, custardy and perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon – the Pastel de Nata are the signature pastry of Lisbon. If you have a sweet tooth, like me you’ll find yourself looking for opportunities to taste them – at your hotel breakfast, with your mid-morning coffee and perhaps a few to take home.
There are plenty of Pastelarias or cake shops around Lisbon, but there’s one place that’s on every tourist map for tasting these delicious little mouthfuls and that’s the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém where the cakes are simply known as the Pastéis de Belém. In 15 minutes from downtown Lisbon on the no 15 tram you’ll reach the Monastery of Jerónimos, another Lisbon landmark and one tram stop before is the bakery. You’ll know it from the crowds milling around around the doorway, queuing to buy some of the famous Pasteis de Belém.
If the sun had been shining, I’d have bought my pasteis and eaten them in the nearby park, overlooking the River Tagus, but as it was pouring with rain, we spotted a sign saying that seating was available and decided to venture in. Initially I couldn’t believe that there would be anywhere to sit, but as one room opened into the next we walked on through until we reached a large room where there were some free tables. They do sell snacks and sandwiches here, but I would imagine that barely anyone leaves without having ordered their Pastéis de Belém.
So the story goes that in the 18th century the monks of the nearby monastery sold the ancient recipe to the bakery and it remained a secret, only known by 3 of the chefs at the bakery. There’s even a special room where the secret’s kept. It’s a nice story, but if you’d like to give the Pasteis a try, then you I’ve found a recipe on Forks & Jets that you can try out – I’m going to give it a go at Christmas as an alternative to the mince pies.
All the pasties are made on the premises and each day they turn out anything between 15,000 and 50,000 pastries (yes that’s FIFTY THOUSAND). What a production line! If you’d like to hear the interview where I gleaned this nugget of useful information – listen to the Hostelworld Podcast on Lisbon.
Near our table was a counter showing some of the other biscuits, cakes and preserves made at the bakery and we also bought a ringed cake topped with colourful crystalised fruits as a gift for some local friends we were going to visit. They later told us that it was the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, which might have a little token buried in it, in the same way that we might put a sixpence in the Christmas pudding for one lucky person to find (hoping they won’t break a tooth on it first)
We enjoyed our coffee and Pastéis, which are said to be the best in Lisbon, although I have to say that the ones we were served in our Hotel Av Liberdade had the marginal edge on the creaminess, crunchiness and general deliciousness scale (must find out where they get them). I’m still dreaming of those little morsels of yumminess – it will be hard to miss them when you’re next in Lisbon.
Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
Rua de Belém 84-82, Lisbon
- Visit Lisboa – Official Tourism Website
- Go Lisbon Blog – I found lots of useful articles on things to do in Lisbon
- On this trip we stayed at the gorgeous luxury boutique Hotel Heritage Av. Liberdade, which was ideally located for sightseeing
- On this trip I used the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Top 10 travel guide to Lisbon which is a pocket sized guide that’s ideal for sightseeing if you’re there for a short time – read my review here
- Podcast – Hostelworld Podcast – Only in Lisbon
- Podcast – Guardian Unlimited Podcast – Lisbon