Wherever I go to around the world, one of the first things I research about are what to eat and where I can get the best. I am one of those people who will pay for good food especially if they’re hard to get my hands on (a true Singaporean trait).
So when we were planning our trip to Lisbon last year, I wanted to try my favourite pastry ever – Portuguese Tarts. So imagine my delight when I heard the best Portuguese tarts are from the world famous Pastéis de Belém found in Belém, Lisbon. I just had to make a trip there no matter how packed the schedule or how long the queue was going to be, we MUST have these tarts!
True enough my friends, when we arrived, the place was swarmped with people. It was so crowded, we could barely see what other pastries they served at the counter and you have to squeeze through your way in and out of the place.
Just what is the big deal about Pastéis de Belém?
Pastéis de Belém has a long history and is widely recognised as the pastry to sample the authentic pastel de nata (custard tart) in Lisbon. Convents and monastries were shut down and labourers were expelled in 1834 due to the liberal revolution. To survive, the monks from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Heironymite Monastery) offered sweet pastries for sale in a general store nearby that was attached to a sugar cane refinery. These delicious pastries became famously known as ‘Pastéis de Belém’. During the 1800s, Belém was considered far from Lisbon, you had to travel in steam-boats to get there. But when word spread about how delicious these pastries were, the distance didn’t seem to be a problem.
In 1837, the baking of the Pastéis de Belém were produced in new premises by master confectioners who were the only ones who have the secret recipe from the monastery and is kept exclusively in the ‘secret room’. The recipe of these original Portuguese custart egg tarts remained a secret and unchanged to the this day.
Tips for Visiting Pastéis de Belém
If you are going to Lisbon, make a short drive to Belem, you need not take a steamboat like our fellow custard seekers from the 1800s because going to Belem, even if it’s just for these egg tarts, is a must! Besides, there are many other attractions in Belem that you can make a day out of.
Most people make the mistake of thinking that they are sold everywhere but they are not. The ones you find everywhere else may taste similar with similar ingredients and recipe but they are not the original. The other mistake some people make is ordering everything else but the Pastel de Belem, the world famous egg tarts, so make sure you order that.
The queue at the cashier may be long but it generally moves quite fast and if you’re buying them to go, order a box of at least 6 to 8 egg tarts so you won’t regret not ordering enough. You can choose to dine in too but if you see the seats around the cashier area taken up, walk all the way in; there are about 400 seats but most people think it’s a small shop! In fact, I encourage you to walk around inside because they have many baking paraphernalia on display, it’s also a mini museum. Just take note that the display paraphernalia are also located along the path to the washroom so take note not to block the busy pathway. There’s even a glass window for you to watch the pastry chefs at work.Dined in and had my egg tarts with a cup of hot chocolate. It really was the best egg tarts I’ve had, I bought 6 more to go.
However, if you’re dining in, take note not to expect the best service. They may take a while to come by your table or take your order because they are tending to so many other customers there too. They may miss out a fork/spoon or an order and it’s quite difficult to get the server’s attention when everyone else is waving their hands too, lol. Also, after you are done with your egg tarts and pastries, it’s advisable to make payment or order to go and leave so that other customers can have the table, you can take your long meaningful discussions outside.
Have you tried Pastéis de Belém? Which are the best egg tarts you’ve ever tasted?
R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
0800 – 2300 (01 Oct – 30 Jun)
0800 – 0000 (01 Jul – 30 Sep)
0800 – 1900 (24, 25, 31 Dec, 01 Jan)
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Pastéis de Belém