One of the most iconic treats in Portugal is the little Pastel de Nata (Plural Pastéis) – a custard tart similar to a creme brulee in a phyllo shell. But that’s too simple of a description – it really is a completely different thing! However, the same delicious effect of caramelized sugar is the same, as you can see below.
One of the best places to get Pastéis de Natal is at the obviously-named Pastéis de Belém (Rua de Belem, 84, Lisbon). This place is a pure madhouse, with a huge line going down the block at nearly all hours (it is open to 11 or 12 PM every day). Below is a picture of the scene when we arrived – and this is just to To-Go line. There is also inside seating, where you can get a full range of coffees with your Pastéis but there was even a huge queue to get seated there. Each Pastel is 95 cents, but common orders in the To-Go line (which moved shockingly fast) seemed to be in multiples of 6 – since they make pre-packed boxes of 6 to go. Insider tip – we ordered 4 Pastéis – but they gave us a box of 6. We figured it would only have 4 inside – but it had 6! We don’t know if this was because they didn’t notice, or that turnover was so high and fast that they just didn’t care. Maybe it’ll work for you too! The 6 little 3″ tarts were surprisingly filling, and were fresh out of the oven.
It really is quite an operation, and we can’t even imagine how many Pastéis get made in a day. David Leite has an inside look at the operation, here. Turns out that The Pastéis de Belem are trademarked and are considered the original Pastéis de Nata (which is now used as a more generic name for the Belem custard tart). Of course there are many other places in Lisbon to get Pastéis de Nata, one of the other most famous being the Confeiteria Nacional in the Baixa (Praça da Figueira 18B, Lisbon). But in truth, nearly every bakery in Lisbon has their own rendition, supermarkets too. There’s no way to get to Lisbon and not enjoy a pastel or two, or a dozen. You can try to make them at home, with some delicious but challenging–looking recipes. But in our experience home renditions of custard tarts are never the same!