One of my favorite places in Lisbon is a small bakery with a big history. Opened in 1829, the Confeitaria Nacional boasts not only prime real estate in the nation’s capital but also a reputation for serving some of the finest pastries in the country. Join me as I take you inside this beautiful establishment and tempt you with its marvelous, sugary delights.
The original owner, Balthazar Roiz Castanheiro, quickly built a reputation for the café, which was frequented by the city’s elite early on. Balthazar Castanheiro’s youngest son took over the management upon his father’s death. The first telephones in Lisbon were installed there in 1871 under his direction, the same year that gas lighting was also installed. The following year, the upstairs tea room was opened and is still there to this day.
Whilst Balthazar Castanheiro Júnior updated the café with modern conveniences, he felt that using unique and original recipes was of utmost importance to maintaining Confeitaria Nacional’s reputation. He brought in famous chefs from France and Spain to bolster these efforts with their pastry, jam and liqueur-making abilities. To this day, the sweets there are still made using these traditional 19th century recipes. Most noteworthy is their bolo-rei: the first bolo-rei was brought over from France to the Confeitaria Nacional and became so popular that every bakery in Portugal makes these at Christmas.
These efforts were not in vain: in 1873, the Confeitaria Nacional became the official supplier to the Casa Real (the Royal Household). It made food for the royal family and their guests until 1910, when the monarchy was overthrown. And whilst the Portuguese may disagree politically, they will usually agree gastronomically. So it was no surprise that in 1940, the President of the Republic awarded the Confeitaria Nacional with a diploma, which allowed it to supply its goods to the Presidency – which it does to this day.
Visiting the Confeitaria Nacional is a picture-worthy experience. It’s busy and bustling at peak times, but provides a setting worthy of a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel, with decorative wood-work, mirrors and marble. The staircase is probably one of my favorite features. I recommend their doces conventuais (conventual egg and sugar sweets) and their coffee flavored cakes (also available in chocolate), but I haven’t tried every single pastry… yet. You can always take home a box of assorted cookies and treats. Just ask for a box of sortidos and tell them how many and each one and they’ll weigh it at the end.
Have you been to the Confeitaria Nacional yet? What’s your favorite thing to eat there? I’m always looking for suggestions!