There I was, standing in the line, waiting for my piece of heaven…I had read about Pastei de Belem on the internet, in my travel guide and even in the airline magazine on board the flight taking me to the colourful city of Lisbon, Portugal. And after all the rave reviews it seemed mandatory that while in Lisbon I go all the way to the Belem district to try the famous pastry from this exceptional bakery, confeitaria de Belem.
After a delightful visit to the beautiful Jeronimos Monastery and a delicious lunch in a local restaurant, I went to the bakery for dessert. The line was long but my turn came quickly – everything is very well organised, which is necessary in order for the staff to face the enormous number of visitors every day. On a good Sunday, they can serve up to 50,000 customers. A troop of waiters behind the counter serves you with a very efficient method: first you order and pay, then off you go to another side to get your order. In and out in a few minutes so you can enjoy the warm and succulent custard tarts, onsite in the café or on the go.
The original Pastei de Belem recipe comes directly from the Jeronimos Monastery, located next door to the bakery. In 1834, the Portuguese state closed the monastery, however one of the monks sold the secret recipe. The buyer, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, started making the pastry in 1837 and they haven’t stopped baking since, in a secret room. The recipe is a heavily guarded secret and the master confectioners of fabrica dos Pasteis de Belem are carefully selected. The family owned business is open every day of the year; it has never been closed a single day in the last 20 years.
The delectable Pastei de Belem are hard to beat. I can tell you, I tried many other pastei de nata (the general name of the custard tarts) while wandering around the lovely streets of Lisbon. One of the most traditional cakes in Portugal, the tarts can be seen on every street bakery window display. Their home though is the Antiga confeitaria de Belem, with its blue and white azulejos dating from the 17th century, large dining rooms and wide counter. You can even watch the pastry being made behind a glass window. The slightly salty and extremely crisp puff pastry and the custard are made only with flour, eggs, milk (which is less sweet), and of course a secret formula that brings all the ingredients deliciously together. It is often copied yet never beaten.
The famous Pastei de Belem were rated number 15 on the ‘50 best things to eat in the world‘ list by Killian Fox from The Observer, making them a truly must-eat while staying in Portugal’s capital.
So what are you waiting for? Let yourself be tempted! A sprinkle of cinnamon, one of icing sugar, and you will be in heaven!