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Pasteis de Nata Guide

Lisbona, Portogallo

Guida Food

If you’ve ever walked around Lisbon, you must have noticed all those cafes with counters full of yummy cakes. Give Portuguese people an espresso with a little cake or pastry on the side and they're happy. Rather than using elaborate toppings or mouldings, the Portuguese keep their baked goods simple. The most popular of these little treats is, of course, the pastel de nata; a small crispy pastry with an eggy, custard filling. So if you’re visiting Lisbon, it’s basically compulsory to go and try an authentic one.

Born out of necessity

In the early 19th century, in Belém, right next to the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane refinery connected to a small shop. Because of the 1820 Liberal Revolution, all Portuguese convents and monasteries were closed down years later and, consequently, all workers and clergy were expelled from them. In an attempt to survive, someone from the Monastery placed sweet pastries for sale at the small shop, which quickly became known as "Pastéis de Belém" (Belém Pastries) given the location where they were sold and the recipe remains exactly the same to this day.

Pastelarias in Portugal stay busy throughout the day as customers pop in to purchase boxes of pastries, or pause for a bit to savour baked morsels and coffee. Rows of flaky, palm-sized pastries fill window displays in stacked pans. The golden-brown confections complement the colour scheme of typical Portuguese architecture: from the burnt orange roofs to the clean white buildings to decorative hues that resemble the colour of butter. These custard tarts are a staple in Portugal and you'll find them everywhere. When they're good, the pastry is crispy and flaky, and filled with a smooth, creamy egg custard that's not too sweet...it's just PERFECT