Follow the flakey crumbs scattered around the city and you can be sure to find me in one of the capital’s bakeries, sipping my café duplo and munching on a pastel de nata. Now, I normally don’t have a sweet tooth, but I’ll make an exception for Portugal’s famous egg custard mini tarts. Being the daughter of a French baker, I can be very picky when it comes to desserts and pastries. Although I have to admit, there is nothing like a pastel de nata. Like almost every Portuguese pastry, pastéis de nata have a flakey yet crispy crust and are filled with the creamiest custard you’ve ever had. Now heat it up, add some sprinkled cinnamon on top, and you will find yourself licking the crumbs off your napkin. Not very Covid-friendly, I agree, but it is definitely worth it.
Pastel de Belém
This one is for all the purists out there, craving the real thing. You could walk into any bakery in the city and eat a good pastel de nata. But you are reading this because you want the best custard tart in Lisbon, not some ordinary pastry. Any baker here will tell you that their crispy creamy tarts are the best, but everyone knows that the pastelaria in Belém is where it all started. This bakery sells the original and secret recipe of the most famous Portuguese sweet. It is located next to the Jerónimos Monastery where, according to local legend, the first tarts were baked by monks, trying to survive after the liberal revolution of 1820 which closed all the convents and monasteries by 1834. The recipe has stayed the same since 1837 and attracts a lot of tourists, so if you want to avoid the long lines for a treat you will devour in 30 seconds, I have got you covered.
Ask a Lisboeta where you can find the best place to eat a pastel de nata, and if they don’t tell you to go to Belém then they will probably advise you to go to Manteigaria. Some even say their recipe is better than Belém’s. The debate rages on, but you can be sure it’s approved by the locals since it is easy to spot them carrying a small Manteigaria bag filled with little take away boxes of pastéis de nata. Their pastelaria in the city center are also their factory. You can see the busy workers bake the tiny tarts you are about to eat in their Chiado shop, at their stand in the Time Out market, or their shop on Rua dos Cléngos from Monday to Sunday, from 8am to 8pm. You can also go to Rua Augusta, where the Manteigaria store is open from 9am to 8pm, from Monday through Sunday.
I might be a very small woman, but my appetite is equivalent to that of a giant. Therefore, the one critique I have against pastéis de nata is that they are way too small. So if you are like me, head over to Pato Real to try the much bigger version of the custard tarts they call natões. The Pato Real restaurant/pastelaria is most famous for their oversized pastéis that are sold for only 80 cent! They are located between the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Want to flaunt your baking skills or just learn how to make pastéis de nata at home? Make your way over to the Batanha pastelaria where they offer workshops everyday, between 5pm and 7pm for groups of ten people. Whether you are a beginner baker or the next Julia Child, all levels are welcome. After all, there is nothing better than that feeling of eating something you so proudly made yourself. Step inside Jõao’s kitchen, where the fifth generation baker will teach you how to make the third best pastel de nata in Lisbon, using the same family recipe passed down over four generations. The workshops are given in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. You can save your spot in the next atelier by sending an email at email@example.com or via Airbnb Experiences. At the end of the day, savour the result of your hard work with some coffee, tea or ginjinha cherry liquor, and a conversation with the baker.
The Pastelaria Batalha also offers vegan pastéis de nata, but if you want to be completely sure your pastry wasn’t exposed to non-vegan products, you should try VeganNata. It is the first brand to make the vegan version of the traditional sweet, which is also certified by V-Label Portugal and has the European Vegetarian Union stamp. Bonus point! The shop located Rua Quatro de Infantry 29D, only has biodegradable utensils and cups so you can eat your vegan pastel de nata and sip your bica knowing you are not harming the environment or any animals. You can also find the vegan brand in the historic coffee shop A Carioca, in Chiado.
If you want to eat your way through the city without feeling guilty about all the calories you’ve just put in your body, head down to the Cais do Sodré district. There you will find the Zarzuela bakery that boasts their traditional Portuguese pastries, all gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free! It almost doesn’t sound Portuguese anymore when you take out all those ingredients… but it tastes like the real deal. The bakery is also certified by the Portuguese Celiac Association (APC), a nonprofit organisation that provides services and support to celiac disease victims.
Casa do Licor Pastel de Nata
What happens when you mix a traditional Portuguese breakfast - which is a pastel de nata and a coffee - with some vodka and ice in a cocktail shaker? You get deliciousness in a cup (with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top). Maybe you are familiar with the famous egg custard tart, but if you want to take it to the next level, go to the recently opened Casa do Licor Pastel de Nata in the Bairro Alto district. Creamy and sweet (but not too much), their liquor resembles a Bailey’s with a hint of custard. Once you enter the shop in Largo do Calhariz, I recommend you ask Paulo, who has been bartender/mixologist for seven years, to make you his signature cocktail made with the licor de pastel de nata. It might seem strange at first - but trust me - it is surprisingly tasty and affordable, with cocktails ranging from 6 to 7 euros, and the whole bottle of liquor costs €18.90.