When I first booked my recent trip to Lisbon, the first thing I was told to try was the Pasteis de Nata. Every single person, without fail mentioned these little custard tarts before describing the architecture, the wine AND the piri chicken.
Consider my curiosity piqued.
But what is it about these small, warm, sweet tarts that has everyone so enamoured (aside from them being small, warm and sweet)? I set off to Lisbon with a serious mission on my hands – to try enough pasteis de nata to find out.
The History of the Pasteis de Nata
Pasteis de nata (or pastel de nata in the singular, but who seriously only eats one?!), is a traditional egg custard tart common in Portugal but also across other Portuguese influenced countries such as Brazil. They were surprisingly created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, just outside of Lisbon (hence why Belem is often referred to as the birthplace of pasteis de nata). This is because convents and monasteries often used lots of egg whites to starch clothing, leaving egg yolks to be made into sweet pastries and cakes.
In the 19th century, with monasteries closing in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution, the monks decided to start selling their pasteis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery. When the Jeronimos Monastery closed for good, they sold their recipe to this factory. The owners of this factory opened Pasteis de Belem in 1837, and it has been there in the heart of Belem ever since.
Making Pasteis de Nata At Home
I’m no pastry expert, and I would bet all the money I have that making them at home would never be as good as eating them out of the paper back on a Lisbon side-street, but these custard tarts are relatively simple to make.
I’ve collated some recipes below that require different levels of skill and slightly different flavours:
- BBC Good Food (using ready made puff pastry)
- Leites Culinaria (closer to the original Belem recipe)
- Delicious Magazine (best of both worlds!)
Where To Find Pasteis De Nata in Lisbon
So you’re travelling to Lisbon and want to know where to find these amazing Portuguese jewels? Luckily, the minute you step out into the open you’ll find many a bakery selling them, usually for around 1 euro each. I’d advise you try AS MANY AS POSSIBLE, but here are some of the best places for a pastel de nata in Lisbon.
Pasteis de Belem
The original and best, right from the heart of pasteis de nata history and still run by the descendents of that sugar factory in 1837. In the height of season you’ll find queues round the block, but out of season in the early morning it’s simple to grab a couple and head for the Tagus River to enjoy them.
You can also enjoy a range of other goodies here from sandwiches, to patisserie and sweet coffee. It takes about 10 minutes to get here by train from central Lisbon, so no reason not to make the trip.
Combining both French and Portuguese techniques and traditions, Tartine can be found in the Chiado area of Lisbon. As well as an awesomely rich version of the pastel de nata, you can also find a chocolate and almond filled croissant which will make your toes curl with pleasure.
Fábrica da Nata
Located in the heart of Lisbon, in a century-old building you’ll definitely not be able to miss. You can watches batches of pasteis de nata being made, and time your purchase for when a fresh batch has just come out of the oven. They’ve got plenty of seating if you want to savour your purchase, or you can just rush out furtively with a paper bag full, just like me.
Have you been struck with the love for pasteis de nata?