When I first told friends I was going to be in Lisbon over the Easter holidays, the first reaction was generally, ‘Oh my god, you HAVE to go to Pastéis de Belém for their custard tarts’. Taking good advice to heart, I ventured out within about 3 hours of arriving to the famous bakery and cafe (open for business since 1837) in the Belém district of Lisbon, just a 10 minute train ride outside the city centre.
Walking up Rua de Belém, you can almost feel the air start to change. There’s a palpable difference as you approach the giant blue awning, not eclipsed by the fact that the two (yes, two – sue me, I was on holiday) times I went in a day and a half, there was a small army of people queued outside and around the corner just to get their hands on these tasty little morsels, more commonly known as ‘pasteis de nata’.
The good news is the queue moves fast. You order on one side give your ticket to the counter.
Less than a minute later, you have this:
The most mouth-wateringly fantastic bite-sized dessert I’ve ever had. Buttery, flaky crust with the fluffiest, creamiest custard I’ve ever had, torched with a crispy contrasting layer of burnt sugar on top.
Known for moving over 18,000 tarts on a weekend day, it’s no surprise that Pastéis de Belém tarts are still warm out of the oven when you get them. It’s also no surprise that the recipe is top secret. While you can get plenty of pasteis de nata in and around Portugal (and Nando’s apparently), they’re not like this…
These tiny custard tarts, dear readers, were worth the trip to Lisbon alone – and all for just 90 euro cents per pastry.