Visiting Portugal is like going on a honeymoon with your taste-buds. With so many delicious foods to choose from, it’s hard to decide which ones to eat in your limited time there. People often ask me about Pastéis de Belém: it’s a tourist hot-spot; it has a whopping 4.5 star rating on TripAdvisor… but does it really live up to all the hype?
The problem with being so well-known, is that this isn’t a hidden treasure. If you go at the wrong time of day, you’ll have to wait in line – possibly for longer than you want, if a tourist bus has just stopped there. But honestly, this is really the only downfall.
The store itself is incredibly pretty: it features gorgeous Portuguese tiles, walls lined with old shop-window cabinets, and indoor hanging lamps. It’s worth taking a minute to venture beyond the counter and into the back to explore it, even sitting down to enjoy a warm pastel – they’re at their finest served fresh out of the oven, so seize the moment and treat those taste-buds!
The Pastel de Belém (dating from 1837) is a more recent variation of the pastel de nata, a type of conventual sweet. The pastel de nata is typical of Lisbon but can be found in almost every café or bakery in the country (blog post on the best ones to come!). However, the recipe for Pastéis de Belém is top secret! And, of course, there’s the obligatory rivalry: some people are die-hard Pastéis de Belém fans, while others are nata people. There’s only one way to discover which team you’re on, so if you plan to go, here are my top tips:
- Go at the right time of day (this means avoiding weekends if possible, and the mid-morning rush).
- Know what you want and how much you want before you get up to the counter. There’s no time for nonsense when it’s your turn to order.
- Enjoy a warm pastel and a bica (a Portuguese espresso) while you’re there but take some with you to have later or to share with someone (with some packs of cinnamon and powdered sugar). You can buy as many as you like but a standard box contains 6.
Have fun; you can thank me later!