For anyone who appreciates sweets, especially for globe-trekking foodies who love to sample local fare, Pastéis de Belém are a “must taste” when visiting lisbon. These iconic little goodies are delectably rich, deliciously sweet and legendary world-over.
Pastéis de Belém are essentially egg custard tarts. The thick outer layer is a buttery rich and oh-so-flaky pastry which holds a dollop of smooth, creamy egg custard. The top of the custard is caramelized, which gives the Pastéis their spotted look, then dusted with cinnamon. Drooling yet?
A Prized Pastry
Portugal is known for delicious pastries and this classic Portuguese sweet delight is by far the most famous. This quintessential delicacy was actually born out of a highly pragmatic practice. In the 1700’s in the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, egg whites were used to starch the clothing of the nuns and friars. The result was a good many egg yolks leftover. What to do?
These frugal friars and no-nonsense nuns decided to make pastries. Many of the recipes are still made today but none is quite as famous as the Pastéis de Belém.
The Baking Continues
After the liberal revolution of 1820, the residents of the monastery were forced to sell their sweet treats to keep their monastery afloat. The monks so happened to live next door to a sugar refinery. When the monastery was shuttered for good in 1834, the monks sold the recipe for the Pastéis to the owners of the refinery, who opened a bakery to produce these tasty tarts.
The Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is still baking these renown tarts. Descendants of the original owners produce over 20,000 of these epic treats per day! Locals and visitors to Lisbon flock to the Fábrica to sample the world-famous Pastéis de Belém.
There’s Only One True Pastéis de Belé
In other areas, and other patisseries throughout Portugal, you will find a similar type of egg tart called pastel de Nata. However, the true original secret recipe Pastéis de Belém can only be found in Lisbon at the Fábrica. This decadent legend of Lisbon remains unchanged and, yes, the recipe is still a secret today, some 200 years later. Only known to a very few, the recipe is kept in what is known as “The Secret Room.”
It’s Worth it To Say Bye-Bye Diet!
So go ahead and indulge your sweet tooth! And order a bica (strong espresso-type coffee) as well. There’s no better way to taste the treats of Portugal and find out for yourself why The Guardian lists the Pastéis de Belém among the “50 Best Things to Eat in The World.”