In all my years of visits to Portugal, I was always a bit confused about the difference between the “Pastel de Nata” and the “Pastel de Belém.”  Identical in appearance (at least to my somewhat undiscerning eye – and who has time to really ponder the finer points when you’re busy popping tarts in your mouth?), I thought the two custard tarts were identical.  This visit, though, after a dinner in the neighborhood of Belém (about 3. 7 miles from the center of Lisbon), my husband and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and headed here to have our dessert.

Claiming to be the “Only Manufacturer of the Belém Pastries”…

Unica Fabrica dos Pasteis de Belem

This pastelaria, which has churned out the pastries from a carefully guarded secret recipe since 1837 , was hopping even at 10:3o at night!  The display window was enticing…

display window at the Unica Fabrica dos Pasteis de Belem

And inside, in addition to the heady aroma, there was a bustle of activity as people bought pastries to take away, or made their way to tables in the back.

inside the Fabrica dos Pasteis de Belem

On our way to be seated, we passed by a window where we could see two pastry chefs un-molding a tray of the custard tarts hot from the oven.  Moments later our Pastéis de Belém appeared before us.

Pasteis de Belem

Following tradition, I sprinkled mine with cinnamon and powdered sugar and, when the tart had cooled a bit, took a bite.

pasteis de Belem with coffeeHow to describe it?  This is where I wish there was smell-o-vision, scratch and sniff, or you could just lick your computer screen.  The layers of the filo-like crust were buttery, flaky and crisp, yet light.  The custard inside was just the right touch of sweet with a delicate pudding-like texture.  And the taste?  Cinnamon-y, egg-y…sort of like what would happen if a Pudim Flan got married to a Churro.

The two pastries we ate made only a small dent in the 20,000 this pastelaria churns out by hand PER DAY.  And this is the only place that serves them straight from the oven and that has the rights to call them “Pastéis de Belém.”  All of the other custard tarts (Pasteis de Nata) you’ll find around Lisbon are attempts at recreating the secret recipe.  Still good, but not quite the same.

And now I know…



    • Joana says:

      Thanks, Susan. There are a few places in NYC where you can get Pasteis de Nata (similar to the Pasteis de Belem), but for the latter you’ll have to book a flight to Portugal!

      I’m having fun posting the photos…hope to put some more up today.

      With all best wishes, Joana

      On Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 9:55 PM, JOANA MIRANDA STUDIO wrote:


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