If there’s one Portuguese food item you already know, it’s most likely the country’s renowned egg tarts (in Portuguese, this delicacy is known as pastel de nata, or “cream pastry”). Pastéis de Belém, a pastry shop just west of Lisbon, claims to be the originator of what is ostensibly the country’s most famous pastry.
Legend has it that the sweet—which consists of pastry cups filled with an egg and cream custard—was probably first baked at the neighboring Jerónimos Monastery. When Portugal’s monasteries were closed in 1834, a former monk-slash-baker moved shop to a sugar refinery a few doors down, and in 1837, the confection known today from Portugal to Hong Kong was born.
Today, there are several brands selling custard tarts in Lisbon, but Pastéis de Belém continues to be a family-run company with no branches or franchises. The tarts are only available at the original location in Belém. As many as 20,000 are baked here every day following the original recipe, the fillings of which are mixed in a “Secret Office” where the precise ingredients and proportions are measured—details said to be known by only seven humans.
The result is a tart with a salty, buttery crust, and a rich filling with the texture of a light custard and a distinctive charred surface.
Know Before You Go
The egg tarts at Pastéis de Belém are eaten with an optional dusting of cinnamon, a reminder of the eponymous town’s former role as a depot for exotic ingredients such as sugar from Brazil and dried spices from Asia.