One of the great joys of travelling is getting to indulge in delicious local treats. Sure, they might be heavy on the calories that you’re trying to avoid at home, but as Intrepid’s Summer Davis can attest, it’s so hard to resist a heavenly sweet that’s still baked from a secret 19th century recipe…
“It’s true. They’re amazing. As a Portuguese man on a bench told me, they’re so good he could eat ten, or fifteen, without any shame! Warm, freshly baked mini custard tarts, known in Portugal as pastéis de nata or Pastéis de Belem.
I first experienced them in a bakery in central Lisbon. I went in attracted by the giant pastries and breads in the window and the presence of locals crowding the pastry bar. As there were few tables, sweets, sandwiches and coffee were savoured standing around the central display case. I sidled up to a spot and eyed my neighbour’s delight – two small tarts with perfectly browned bubbly tops. She was shaking cinnamon on them from a communal tin canister on the bar. I ordered the same. Served up speedily on a paper square, I sprinkled them with cinnamon and tucked into the warm, fresh custard. The first bite melted in my mouth, as did the subsequent bites until my mouth watered for more.
Over the next few days, the tiny tarts lured me in every time I passed the street with the pastry shop. Then, I found out about Belem – an actual place just north of the city centre where the tarts originated from a monastery in 1837. In fact, it was common to visit Belem just for these delicacies and, conveniently, the trolley stopped right outside the original tart factory!
Inside, the factory bustled like a beehive. Endless rooms of patrons dining on tarts with servers scrambling in between, proved this place was legendary. We could hardly make our way through the entrance and hovered over diners in order to usurp their tables upon departure. We found seats near a big glass window enclosing the factory operations. Tray upon tray of tarts stood stacked in the racks and cooled on steel tables, showing off for the patrons.
Starting with two tartlets, I promised myself I wouldn’t feel guilty if I could eat ten or fifteen. Luscious and creamy, I was full after three. Just three, small, Portuguese Pastéis de Belem. My only regret, I could not fulfill the old man’s prophesy.”
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Photo: Pastéis de Belem