Pastéis de nata are one of the delights of Portugal. These egg custard tarts appear in cake shops and cafes all over Portugal, but the place you have to visit at least once in your life is the Pastéis de Belém bakery in Lisbon.
These sweet delights have a monastic life history. It was common to use egg whites for starching clothes, including nun’s habits, and rather than waste the yolks, they were used to make cakes. These specific pastries were created by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon and in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, when monasteries were under threat of closure, the sweet-toothed monks started selling the pastéis to raise funds. In 1834 the monastery did close and the recipe was sold to the local sugar refinery, whose owners then opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém.
The bakery has been operating since 1837 and still attracts both locals and visitors in vast numbers. You’ll see well-filled Pastéis de Belém carrier bags all over Lisbon, and the queues at the takeaway counters in Belém itself are hard to miss.
There is a huge seating area at the back, just keep walking further and further into the building and you should find a table. Even a queue is worth suffering, mind you.
And I have to admit, these little delights are evanescent when in my presence!
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 25 May 2017