I’m not someone who is very fond of custard. When baking this type of sweet, it’s tough to perfect and the taste can sometimes be atrocious. I’m sure quite a few of you may agree with me. However after visiting Portugal a couple years ago, it didn’t take much to make me suddenly change my mind. When perfected, this treat is actually out of this world!
During our last visit to Portugal, I was pleasantly surprised to find out something I never knew before; the Portuguese are quite fond of their pastries. In Lisbon, a bakery or café can be found on every street corner serving you some of the tastiest pastries available. People sit down, have their coffee and enjoy a wonderful sweet to start their morning or they just simply order at the counter and take it to go. The Portuguese absolutely love their morning treat and they can’t start their day without it. Now what’s even more remarkable is that they also prepare one of the tastiest tarts in the world.
Let me introduce you to the pastéis de nata. Inspired by French cuisine, this egg tart pastry is a tiny delight. The tarts are sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered with sugar as they come fresh out of the oven. Actually, one can buy the custard tarts anywhere in Portugal or even throughout the world.
But if you’re looking for the best of the very best, then you must ABSOLUTELY visit Pastéis de Belém!
HOW IT ALL STARTED
After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, many convents and monasteries had to eventually close and monks had to secure some revenue. The monks loved their French pastries and decided to evolve some of their favourite sweets. It was quite common in those days to use leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries. (Large quantities of egg-whites were used to starch clothing actually) Hence, the pastéis de nata were born. The recipe became so popular that it eventually was sold to a sugar refinery and the descendants own the business until today. The secret recipe of Portugal’s finest pastry has been well kept for over 100 years, from store owner to store owner and from generation to generation. Also, the secret can only be memorized as it can never be written down.
WHERE TO FIND THE BEST PASTEIS IN THE WORLD
You must visit Pastéis de Belem, the actual birthplace of the pastéis. It’s often very busy and the queue can be found out the door. However, don't let this discourage as it is fast moving and in the end, well worth it. Everything is prepared by hand and it’s open every day of the year. On a given day, the store can sell from 10,000 tarts up to 50,000 on a good day. As most tourists, we bought a few of these bite-sized tarts and enjoyed every single one of them at a bench nearby! Our excuse was because you must eat them fresh.