Sweet Treats and Fun Times in Lisbon


Some People Travel to Portugal for the Sun. Not Us. But It Was a Perk.

One of the best reasons to travel anywhere is for food. Local food is a great excuse to go to a new country. It’s even better if you already know that you love the local cuisine. I thought I loved ramen before I went to Tokyo, but my Tokyo ramen experience changed the way I view noodle soup. I actually said to my husband, “this ramen is changing my life,” let alone my view of noodle soup. Drinking Guinness in Dublin is a completely different to drinking it anywhere else in the world. This past weekend we were in Lisbon, Portugal where we made a pilgrimage to the mecca of Pastéis de Nata.

I have eaten quite a few pastéis already in my life. I was introduced to them in Paris by my Portuguese cousin-in-law three years ago. At their wedding later that year I opted out of the cake option and into the “how many pastéis can I eat without popping out of my dress” option. Soon after, “Portuguese tarts” started appearing in Butler’s Café here in Dublin of all places. I didn’t partake. Mass produced pastéis in Ireland didn’t feel right to me.

We’ve been talking of a trip to Portugal for real pastéis, among other things since that first Paris experience. This past weekend, it happened. The entire four days were geared towards getting to Pastéis de Belém. We even booked our Air B&B to be closer to it.

Do Not Pass Go, Just Get It

Knowing this was the plan, I decided I would make sure to partake in a few other pastéis once in the country. Just for comparison sake. A scientific study, if you will. My first pastéis and coffee was at the airport, right off the plane. I figured that even if airport pastéis were bad, they would be better than I’d had yet in my life. I was not wrong. The filo pasty was flakey and crisp. The custard was smooth but not runny. It was sweet but not too sweet; no donut sickliness here. Just hints of sweetness to take the edge off the coffee. And it was a bargain!

My second pastéis was the next morning at a local café. Now we were nearer to Belém, but not there yet. Every café makes it’s own pastéis. Our local had a slightly runnier custard but still had the same unassuming, comforting taste. If you are not a person who goes for donuts or pain au chocolate because they’re too sweet, pastéis are a great option.

Local Café Version

Third time’s a charm: it was now time for the main event. We got to Pastéis de Belém on Saturday afternoon which seemed to be when everyone else in the area decided to go for their pastéis too. The queue was massive, both for take away and to sit in. It reminded me of Café du Monde in New Orleans, the bignet mecca. Tiled walls, no fuss, not fancy, but more like an upscale cafeteria. Even with our “local knowledge” about the huge back room, we still had to wait about twenty minutes for a table. Most of the people in the queue were Portuguese. There were families, couples, a pair of sisters in their 80s, four month old twins . . . no age limit for love of pastéis!

Luckily once we sat down we knew exactly what we were going to order. They come to the table warm. They are fresh. Pastéis de Belém pumps out about 30,000 pastéis daily. DAILY. But I’m not surprised. Plates were passing us by that had up to ten pastéis on them. For a table of four people. Those people are winning at life, make no mistake.

Anticipation . . . 

These super pastéis have a perfect nest of filo pastry as their base. They look like many of the others in café windows around town, but when you bite into the warm custard, you know you’ve just taken your pastéis experience to the next level. The custard is whiter and lighter. We sprinkled a healthy amount of cinnamon and a light dusting of powdered sugar on these to bump up the taste explosion. Our pastéis game went from JV to Varsity in a matter of seconds.

Like my ramen experience, or ordering Guinness at an Irish pub outside of Ireland, having had my Pastéis de Belém experience, no ordinary pastéis will do. Not that it will stop me from ordering one occasionally if the mood strikes, but I’ll be that person nibbling away who says, “you know, you haven’t really had a pastéis until you’ve had one in Belém.”

Aftermath. Worth It. 
Sweet Treats and Fun Times in Lisbon

Foodie Paradise

Cheese Table at Schull's Farmer's Market
Cheese Table at Schull’s Farmer’s Market

I feel sorry for all the foodie tourists of the world who think that France or Italy or Spain is the ultimate food-lovers destination. As far as I’m concerned, Ireland, but specifically for this post, West Cork, is hard to beat.

C and I spent the weekend in Schull, West Cork. West Cork is one of my favorite places even minus the good food, but the food certainly keeps a foodie like me counting the moments until I can go back.

When we spent my mother’s birthday in Durrus three years ago, the weather was awful. One of the worst summers on record. We got through the days finding wonderful food to eat. We watched Durrus Cheese be made as we stood in torrential rain, we ate fish and chips washed down by a Sancerre in Schull harbour, and on our last night in Durrus, we went to Good Things Café.

Fish Stew
Fish Stew

Good Things was definitely a highlight of a good food week. I went back two years ago in October, on the last night they were open for the season. C and I managed to sneak in at the last minute this weekend; the first weekend they were open for the season. Boy oh boy are we glad we did.

Fresh Summer Greens
Fresh Summer Greens

Good Things does exactly what it says on the tin. Carmel Somers, the owner and chef, is dedicated to serving the best of West Cork’s ample cornucopia of goodness and to teaching people how to cook it well themselves. The restaurant is tiny (by city standards) and cozy. It is surrounded by lawn and herb gardens. As we got out of the car we were greeted by three sweet Donkey’s.

His Main
His Main

As it was the first weekend of the season, there was a set menu. C and I tried one of everything on offer, because, well, obviously. I don’t actually have enough adjectives to do the meal justice. The food is homemade, hearty, fresh and simply, wonderful. There wasn’t a bad item in any of the dishes. It was all early summer loveliness. A perfect way to kick off our West Cork weekend. (I didn’t get a photo of the rhubarb pie dessert because it somehow disappeared before it could be photographed.)

Her Main
Her Main

The wonderful thing about West Cork is that you can find incredible food in pretty much every town along the peninsulas. Pubs serve food that would put many city restaurants to shame. It is all simple, local and delicious. No one is trying to re-invent the wheel, but with cheese and salmon and fresh fish this good? Why would you want to? And chips. Pub’s in West Cork never go easy on the chips.

One of my favorite examples of this is O’Sullivan’s pub in Crook Haven. Go on a grey or rainy day when it’s not too crowded (it’s vicinity to the gorgeous Barley Cove beach means it does get crowded). Cuddle into a window seat and order the smoked salmon. Or the chowder. Or the fish n chips. Good luck finding something that doesn’t scream “Ireland!” “Fresh Food!” “Heaven!”

A Typical O'Sullivan's Lunch
A Typical O’Sullivan’s Lunch

We drove over to Union Hall for dinner one evening. We’d had a tip-off that Dinty’s was the place to go for a good steak. Our tip off was correct. C went for the mixed seafood plate. You can never go wrong with seafood in West Cork. Obviously.  But when someone tells me a steak is good, I don’t read the rest of the menu.

Dinty's Finest. And a Murphy's to Wash it Down.
Dinty’s Finest. And a Murphy’s to Wash it Down.
His Seafood Special
His Seafood Special

We ventured to the farmer’s market in Schull on Sunday morning. It is exactly what every good farmer’s market is. The only difference is that West Cork makes some of the best cheeses and sausages in all of Ireland, which means in all of the world. Buying the goods right there mean prices are half what they would be in fancy whole foods markets up here in Dublin. We stocked up.

West Cork honey has the reputation of being some of the finest honey in Europe. The European Restaurant’s Society voted it one of the key ingredients in any fine European pantry. Butter was the other Irish winner. As we walked along the roads over the weekend, the fields were alive with the humming and buzzing of thousands of happy, very busy, bees. I am lucky enough to have married a man whose uncle harvests prize winning West Cork honey. Yes, I am smiling smugly.

So to all you foodie tourists out there: go sweat in Italy or battle the chic set along the Mediterranean or the Riviera if you fancy it. Sure, Ireland cannot promise you sunshine, but I guarantee you will eat some of the finest food you have ever tasted.

Foodie Paradise