If there’s one thing I absolutely had to try before I left Portugal, it was the mother of all Portuguese tarts. These ones are so special that they’re not even known as Pasteis de Nata, but as Pasteis de Belem. When things are hyped, I tend to be skeptical but it was something I needed to try. It was the original tart before Pasteis de Natas were born.
The Pasteis de Belem is one of the biggest secrets of Lisbon and only one guy knows the full recipe. Although every person tells the tale a little differently, I was informed that only three people know the recipe for these delicious tarts – and by three, I mean each individual only knows their part of the recipe and they don’t even know who the other two individuals are before it is combined in the bakery. The rumour is these individuals can’t even reveal their third of the recipe to anyone because they will be prosecuted. And with good reason! Nobody else is able to duplicate these delicious tarts. The closest that any recipe has ever come to duplicating it is the Pasteis de Nata.
Even though the Pasteis de Nata and the Pasteis de Belem look the same, there are some differences. There may be debates about which one is better, but I personally fell in love with the Belem one. It’s creamier, smoother, and it probably helps that I ate one (which ended up being two in one sitting) that came fresh out of the oven.
Well, not straight out of the oven because apparently it needs to cool down a bit to stabilize or it will disintegrate. It has a milky cream filling with a crispy, flaky pastry. I found that the Pasteis de Belem aren’t as sweet as the Pasteis de Nata either. This is not to say I didn’t try the Pasteis de Nata while in Lisbon. I ate it at a place that was highly recommended by a guide who preferred the Nata over the Belem tarts.
However, I still preferred the Pasteis de Belem version. They were so much better. Locals say it’s best to add cinnamon and powdered sugar on top to enhance the flavours. All I can say is taking a bite into a Pasteis de Belem is like taking a bite of heaven.
Be forewarned though, if you decide to visit this bakery it is always packed with people (even for takeout).
There are 400 seats in the bakery, but almost every table is always full. You essentially have to stalk tables like a parking spot during Boxing Day or Black Friday at a mall. However, it’s worth it to enjoy a delicious Pasteis de Belem with a cup of tea or coffee. They also have other good eats as well! 🙂