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Lisbon: the queen of tarts


A visit to the Portuguese capital isn’t complete without a custard tart, says Trish Lorenz

Portuguese pastéis de nata or custard tarts

Northern Portugal may be the culinary heart of the country, but Lisbon can lay claim to originating what is perhaps the country’s most famous pastry: the sweet, creamy and utterly delicious pastéis de nata (custard tart). Best eaten sprinkled with cinnamon and with a strong coffee or a glass of port on the side, you can’t visit the ports of Lisbon or Oporto without sampling at least one of these golden treats.

Every pasteleria (cake shop) in Portugal has its own version of pastéis de nata, and finding the one you like best is a matter of taste. Perhaps the best-known are those made by Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon’s southernmost suburb. The company has been making pastéis de nata to its own recipe since 1836, and according to Miguel Clarinha, who is the fourth generation in his family to own and run the business, it’s slightly different to most others. ‘The custard is a little less sweet, and the pastry is crisper and a little more salty,’ he says, without giving away any specifics. Of the 50 bakers who work at the site, only three know the secret recipe.

Pastéis de Belém bakes around 20,000 pastéis de nata every day and doesn’t sell them anywhere else – so if you want to try one, you’ll have to get in line with the hungry locals. Alternatively, you can join the Food Lovers Lisbon Shore Excursion, which visits Pastéis de Belém, as well as Cervejaria Trindade for local beer and Portuguese tapas and a charming Portuguese deli shop, where you can buy various artisanal food products, wines and spirits that can’t be found in supermarkets.

Rooftops in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal

Slightly closer to the port, you can also sample pastéis de nata at Confeitaria Nacional in downtown Lisbon, which has been serving confectionary since 1829 and still belongs to the family of its founder, Baltazar Roiz Castanheiro. He was the one to first bring Bolo-Rei (King’s Cake) into the country, a traditional Christmas cake recipe based on the French Gateau des Rois, which is made with raisins, candied fruits and nuts.

And finally, if you’re after a custard tart in Oporto, head to Nata Lisboa, which is a modern chain specialising in pastéis de nata. The shop is aptly painted in custard yellow and sits at the top of the Rua das Flores, a pretty pedestrian-only street in the picturesque old town. Here you’ll also find plenty more restaurants, cafés and delis where you can sample other local specialities.

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Trish Lorenz
Lisbon-based journalist Trish writes about travel and culture for titles including the Financial Times, the Guardian and Monocle magazine. Her travels have taken her to 60 countries on every continent.