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 PastĂ©is de Nata.

I have eaten quite a few pastĂ©is 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 pastĂ©is can I eat without popping out of my dress” option. Soon after, “Portuguese tarts” started appearing in Butler’s CafĂ© here in Dublin of all places. I didn’t partake. Mass produced pastĂ©is in Ireland didn’t feel right to me.

We’ve been talking of a trip to Portugal for real pastĂ©is, among other things since that first Paris experience. This past weekend, it happened. The entire four days were geared towards getting to PastĂ©is de BelĂ©m. 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 pastĂ©is once in the country. Just for comparison sake. A scientific study, if you will. My first pastĂ©is and coffee was at the airport, right off the plane. I figured that even if airport pastĂ©is 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 pastĂ©is was the next morning at a local cafĂ©. Now we were nearer to BelĂ©m, but not there yet. Every cafĂ© makes it’s own pastĂ©is. 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, pastĂ©is are a great option.

Local Café Version

Third time’s a charm: it was now time for the main event. We got to PastĂ©is de BelĂ©m on Saturday afternoon which seemed to be when everyone else in the area decided to go for their pastĂ©is too. The queue was massive, both for take away and to sit in. It reminded me of CafĂ© 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 pastĂ©is!

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

Anticipation . . . 

These super pastĂ©is have a perfect nest of filo pastry as their base. They look like many of the others in cafĂ© windows around town, but when you bite into the warm custard, you know you’ve just taken your pastĂ©is 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 pastĂ©is 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 PastĂ©is de BelĂ©m experience, no ordinary pastĂ©is 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 pastĂ©is until you’ve had one in BelĂ©m.”

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