Down the street from the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal, is an egg custard tart heaven known as Pastéis de Belém. Friends, if you love Portuguese custard tarts, you must try this place. And if you only had one day to spend in Lisbon because you planned a crazy itinerary through Europe as if you had the energy to survive on 4 hours of sleep, you absolutely must, I repeat, MUST go here.
Home to the best of the "pastel de nata”, this restaurant has endured war times for centuries since 1837. Every day they bake more than 10,000 tarts to herds of nata-lovers and even still, their secret recipe remains an unsolved mystery to this day.
I first stumbled upon this culinary wonder on a sweltering hot Saturday on the last day of August, as if summer wasn’t quite ready to bid its last farewell just yet. My partner and I hopped on the metro and “tram” that took us from the centre of Lisbon southwest to the Belém district.
We arrived early in the afternoon, as suggested by our friendly Airbnb hosts in order to avoid the mid afternoon rush. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by the intoxicating smell of a bakery with freshly baked bread and irresistibly sweet pastries. The long lines by the take-out counter were a bit of a turnoff but in this case it was a sure sign that this restaurant was a crowd favourite and we hit the jackpot.
We grabbed a small table near the front entrance, just as another couple was about to pay their bill and the waiter cleared the plates (later on I discovered a Great Hall of tables towards the back of the restaurant). Then we hungrily sat down and ordered 4 tarts, 2 cappuccinos, a slice of spinach quiche and chicken baked pie.
Fresh from the oven, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar came the pasteis de natas beaming with glory. The creamy, velvety pudding in the centre was wrapped in a flaky crust as crisp as kettle baked chips. One bite into these oozing, succulent tarts was all it took to melt my heart.
Of course, I wouldn’t go on without raving about the spinach quiche with feta cheese that melted and mingled in every bite without coming off as too salty. The chicken baked pie was as hearty and delightful as the comfort of your own home. As soon as you dive into it, you can see the filling burst out of the smooth crust.
As soon as we washed down the last bite with our cappuccinos, we looked at each other with smiles on our faces and knew we had an appetite for one more custard tart. So, we helped ourselves to a second round.
Onward we went to explore the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery, and the Discoveries Monument (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) … and again, we came back for a third round.
Every bite was as delicious as the last.