When in Portugal, one particular must-try food item is the pastel de nata (egg tart pastry). Found virtually in every neighborhood bakery cafe, I must have eaten around a dozen of them during our short stay in various parts of Portugal.
Apparently, the recipe for these egg tarts originated from the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem district, and one brother sold this said recipe after monasteries were closed by the state in 1834. Thus, the present-day Pasteis de Belem was born in 1837, and they have not looked back since.
Their pastel de nata is acknowledged to be the best in the country. Thus, i made a note to drop by and taste the goodies during our time in Lisbon, and pestered our tour leader Anki about it.
So it was, that we went via tram to the Belem district one sunny morning. The Pasteis de Belem store turned out to be quite big, with table service for 400 persons.
And what impressed me was how busy it was. There was a constant flow of clientele queuing at the counter. Apparently, this is a de rigueur stop for many tour groups; from our table at the dining area, there was an even bigger hall at the back, and waves and waves of people just kept showing up.
If you're not contented with eating inside, you can order takeaway too!
Here's a look at the glass-enclosed baking area (the actual mixing and oven areas are out of sight and off-limits, of course). Trays and trays of egg tarts! I couldn't wait for our order to be served, as i was literally salivating like a Pavlovian dog.
Ah, here finally is our order! Viola! Looks great huh?
You can sprinkle them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon, or eat them just as is. Anki pointed out the bottom of each egg tart has an onion-like circular pattern, which is unique to Pasteis de Belem.
So, how do these egg tarts taste like? Do they live up to their lofty 'best in Portugal' billing? Upon first bite, what i noticed were the light and fluffy texture of the pastry; and that the custard part wasn't particularly sweet.
This was a bit disorienting, as many of the egg tarts i've tasted in neighborhood cafes and in the World Needs Nata branch in Coimbra were markedly sweeter (and their custards were 'gooier').
But this is actually a good thing, as one can eat more than one piece (yeyyyyyy!!! :D) without the taste becoming cloying. I found out later on that Pasteis de Belem made their custard part only with milk, not cream, which made it less sweet.
And look! All wiped out after one minute! I would have wanted to order a second (and third and fourth) serving, but didn't really want my tourmates to needle me about my sweet tooth. Hehe.
Check out the this mural on their tiled wall in their bathroom. Unusual in a nice way.
But there was still some unfinished business. After touring around the Torre de Belem area and whilst waiting for the tram back to our hotel, tour mate Sedgman and i made a quick stop to Pasteis de Cerveja. Yup, you guessed it, this shop makes a pastry infused with beer ;-D
In stark contrast, this pastry shop was rather uninviting in appearance; and there were not very many patrons inside.
Here's a signage touting their Beer Cake.
So, Sedgman (being the ultra-heavy drinker that he is. LOL :D) and i ordered one each for takeaway. Here's how it looked like:
Not quite appetizing, right? And below is my half-eaten one. I must say it was disappointing. The crust was dry, and while the paste was sweet, i couldn't taste a hint of beer at all!
Curious to see if my sentiment was shared by other people, i checked online, and the sentiment was that the taste of beer was masked by almond paste. No wonder.
Verdict : Pasteis de Belem is a must-visit!!! Pasteis de Cerveja. . . well, since it's just nearby anyway, one might as well pop in for the sheer novelty of the beer cake, if one was so inclined and didn't mind the feeling of regret after taking one bite.
Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belém, Lisbon, www.pasteisdebelem.pt
Pastelaria Nau de Cerveja, Rua de Belém, Lisbon.