The Pastel de Nata, was invented by monks in Lisbon. Today, it is by far the most popular treat in the city. And, Lisboetas will happily debate which bakery has the best.
The first Pastel de Nata
It’s very possible that without the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the Belem section of Lisbon, there would be no Pastel de Nata.
Back in the 18th century, monks used egg whites to “starch” their garments. So, what happens when you use a lot of egg whites? You get a lot of left over egg yolks.
And, just like nuns who used excess yolks from wine production in France to make cake, the frugal monks made a pastry. Eventually, the monk’s sold the recipe to a local sugar refinery, who, in turn, opened a bakery in 1837. That bakery, Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, is still churning out delicious custard tarts to this day.
Finding the perfect Pastel de Nata
Every bakery in Lisbon, it seems, claims to have the best Pastel de Nata. So, what makes a great Pastel de Nata?
First, the crust. It must be crispy and flaky. Little shards of dough should gently fall onto your plate (or the front of your shirt) when you take a bit. A doughy or soggy shell will make you sad.
Second, the filling. Creamy and rich custard is the best. Gummy custard is the worst.
And, finally, the best Pastel de Nata comes straight from the oven, still warm.
So, let’s have some of the best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon!
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém
The original and, some in Lisbon say, still the best place for a Pastel de Nata.
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is still run by descendants of the original owners. They’ve been making people happy with custard tarts for almost 200 years. And, judging from the long lines, show no sign of slowing down.
Get yours hot and sprinkle a little cinnamon or powdered sugar (or both) on top. Then, get a couple to go.
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is just across the way from the Jerónimos Monastery where the Pastel de Nata was invented. Although the monastery doesn’t play up its connection to the creamy treat, it’s still worth a visit.
The 16th century Gothic monastery was one of the few buildings to survive Lisbon’s devastating earthquake in 1755.
Pastelaria Santo Antonio
My top pick for Pastel de Nata in Lisbon.
Pastelaria Santo Antonio has won the award for the top Pastel de Nata in Lisbon. That’s like winning the award for the best pizza in Naples or the best sushi in Tokyo; it’s a big deal.
Their tarts are crispy and the filling is creamy and delicious, with a little caramelization on the top. Watch for a fresh batch coming out of the oven; you’ll be in foodie heaven.
Around Lisbon you’ll see mentions of Santo Antonio everywhere. I though Saint Anthony was an Italian saint that Catholics prayed to when they lost something (he’s the patron saint of lost items).
But, Saint Anthony was actually born in Lisbon and is the patron saint of the city. June 13th is St. Anthony’s feast day in Lisbon. On the day before (June 12th), outdoor stalls are crammed with potted basil plants, a traditional gift given by men to their loved ones. Then, in the evening, there are parades and everyone indulges in sardines which are prepared on grills on every block. The 12th and 13th are both huge party days in Lisbon!
When in the Chiado neighborhood, Manteigaria is the place to get your Pastel de Nata. The bakers here have perfected the flaky crust needed for a top-notch tart. And, they make an excellent espresso as well. Plus, Chiado is a great place to watch Lisboetas.
Lisbon is a welcoming city for vegetarians and vegans. But, the traditional Pastel de Nata is obviously not vegan. It has lots of butter and egg yolks.
However, Terra is looking to change that. They’re a vegetarian, mostly vegan, restaurant in Lisbon. And, there’s often a vegan Pastel de Nata on the menu.