We have here written about the passion Lisbon people have for coffee, but we can’t put aside another passion which goes very well with this drink: the ”pastel de nata”. If you are already salivating looking at the picture bellow, hang on a little more before running to the next café looking for a ”nata” and continue reading this sweet article which has just come out of the oven.
History tells us that the pastel de nata is the son of pastel de Belém and the responsibility for their creation were the monks from the Monastery of Jerónimos in Belém. There are some against this theory defending that the original recipe goes back to the 16th century and was invented by the nuns of Odivelas monastery, as the religious women were allowed to touch sugar and not men. At least women had the advantage of making sweets…
Theories aside, it is known that the monks from the Jerónimos Monastery had financial problems back in the 19th century and so they started to sell the pastéis de nata to the visitors. By thay time, Belém was far from the city and was a place which atracted curious who wanted to visit the famous monuments such as the monastery and the tower of Belém. The only difference was probably the number of tourists. By that time there weren’t big queues, as nowadays, and so they could calmly spend their time in walking and, of course, eating the pastéis.
At the same time, closed to the monastery there was a sugar factory at the same place which is now the same where pastéis de Belém are sold. Its owner was a businessman who earn his fortune in Brazil. His name was Domingos Rafael Alves.
In 1820 we had the liberal revolution and consequently in 1834 the religious orders were forced to leave the monasteries and convents. One of the monks, probably desperate with his bad luck (or not, depending the point of view), sold the recipe to Domingos Alves Rafael. The businessman might have rubbed his hands with glee. The rest of the story we might guess. The selling of the pastéis de Belém became a lucrative business and it belongs to the same family for generations. The pastéis are so desirable that to secure its recipe they have a Secret Workshop. Those who belong to this workshop have to take an oath and sign a consent form, promising not to reveal its recipe which is still the original one since 1837. Only six know the recipe and they are not easy to take a bribe.
But what is the difference between the Pastel de Belém and pastel de nata?
Almost none. Basically both are pastéis de nata, but the pastéis de Belém own the brand as the original ones, only sold on the same spot. The other pastéis de nata are sold in any café in the city, but don’t stay behind in quality. Nowadays there is even a competition which awards the best pastel de nata of the year, promoted by the gastronomic festival called Peixe em Lisboa. Many cafés have ‘’Fabrico Próprio’’, meaning that they made their own cakes and each one defend proudly that their own are the best and excel in quality.
If so, we don’t mind in making a taste and test the difference in each one. So. If you’ve got the time, we advise you to do a pastéis tasting at any of these places:
Located in Chiado, close to Camões square in Loreto street, the Manteigaria occupies the old Manteigaria União, keeping its charm as a traditional shop, with its classic façade. The space is not very big: no tables, no chairs only a long counter. In contrast, the greedy visitor can see the pastéis being made, without secrets. The bell announces that a new set has just left the oven. Its taste is simply indescribable.
Confeitaria Nacional is one of those cafés with long tradition which makes us travel in time. Family business for generations its trademark is the Bolo Rei, a traditional Christmas cake eaten all around Portugal, creation from the Confeitaria founder’s son. The pastéis de nata are equally great and recommended.
Located in Campo de Ourique neighbourhood the Pastelaria Aloma has also history since 1943. Its original name was given thanks to a film called “Aloma of the South Seas”, whose main character impressed the owners for her beauty and decided to baptize the coffee shop with her name. The award of the best pastel de nata given to them in 2012, 2013 and 2015 as well as referenced from New York Times and CNN are enough reasons to consider going there to give it a taste…
Fim de Século
Located in Benfica neighbourhod, away from the tourist buzz, was awarded with the best pastel de natal of 2016, promoted by the gastronomic festival Peixe em Benfica. There are two Fins do Seculo in the neighbourhood. One near the market and the other one in Estrada de Benfica. They are not famous for its decoration or antiquity as the previous ones, but it is told that the award is well deserved.
And the winner this year is… (drumming sound)
O Pãozinho das Marias
This time the award for the Best Pastel de Nata went outside the city and delivered to O Pãozinho das Marias which has two places in Ericeira, in a town by the sea, a few kilometers from Lisbon. It is definitely a good reason for you to visit this picturesque town and end the afternoon eating a pastel de nata which has certainly deserved the award.