Besides spearheading world exploration, I personally believe that next in line for fame in Portugal is their Pasteis de nata, commonly known to non-portuguese speaking folks as Portuguese egg (custard) tarts. On my recent trip to Portugal, I sought out the pasteis of the land to see what the fuss is all about and what makes these little tarts so special.
It is believed that Catholic monks created these sweet little bites before the 18th century in the town of Belém in Lisbon and the recipe has been passed from generation to generation throughout the country. Obviously, the rightful claim to the original recipe lies with Casa Pastéis de Belém, the bakery known by many as THE place for pasteis de nata.
I did not start my pasteis quest with the tarts from Belem. Instead I bit into my first tart from a pasteleria in Lisbon city called Flor Da Se. It was a rather disappointing start, I must say. I had a preconception of what the portuguese egg tart ‘should’ taste like – light, flaky pastry, creamy custard and caramelised custard tops. The Flor Da Se version looked just like I imagined it to be, but instead of the light flaky crust, the pastry was too tough and the custard was runny and overly sweet (for my liking) and it just didn’t quite make it on my top tart chart. Looked good, tasted bleh.
Next in line was Casa Brasileira. This pasteleria marketed itself rather well. They were located on the main pedestrianised street of Lisbon city and had a large display window overflowing with loads of pasteis de nata. It boded well that there were many locals as well as tourists in the bakery and so we thought it would be worth the try. Looks-wise, the tart looked exactly the same as Flor Da Se’s…but the taste and texture was a huge step up. The pastry was flakier and not tough to bite through, the custard was creamy and sufficiently sweet. It wasn’t bad at all.
Fast-forward to my visit to the infamous Casa Pasteis de Belem. The place was packed! Long queues snaked around in the shop and at times out through the door. They were churning out heaps of these little sweet babies and the best part of it was the tarts were utterly fresh and warm from the oven. They even come with sachets of cinnamon and powdered sugar for extra topping if you so wished. I decided to taste it without and Pasteis de Belem sure lived up to its name. The tart was warm, the pastry had just the right amount of bite and was buttery and flaky, the custard was smooth, creamy and delicious. Apparently, these guys have the original ‘secret’ recipe and they were quite ‘Colonel Sanders with the eleven herbs and spices’ about it, but good for them, I’d say keep the secret, it’s worth it – none of the many other tarts we tried throughout the trip came close. Pasteis de Belem got my vote and it sure made my top tart chart.
Pasteis de Belem
Rua de Belem, 84-92