PASTEIS DE BELEM – A Very Lisbon Experience

The One and Only PASTEIS de BELEM, in Lisbon, Portugal.A featured snippet from Trip Advisor:

10,000 reviews
January 17, 2018

Pastéis de Belém — meaning Cake of Belém, named after the iconic pastry from the Belém district of Lisbon — received over 10,000 reviews from travelers on TripAdvisor in 2017 – more than any other food establishment in the world.

There’s a thing!!  One bakery specializing in one pastry is the most reviewed food entry on Trip Advisor.

One of the most famous sweets in the whole of Portugal is the Pasteis de Belem — and it can only be found at its singular location in Belem, adjacent to the Jerónimos  Monastery in Lisbon, where these tasty pastries were originally made in the monastery kitchens, according to a secret Monastery recipe.

The “new” bakery has been baking these indulgent custard pastries since 1837 — the same recipe, every day for one hundred and ninety-three years. The recipe is patented and only shared with six master bakers who have been sworn to confidentiality.  Baked in the “Oficina do Segredo” (“Secret Shop”) the recipe remains the secret of these trusted bakers.

Custard pastries are typical and found in many similar recipes all over Portugal. They are usually called “Pasteis de Nata.” But those served here are known as “Pasteis de Belem” and was the original custard pastry, differing ever so slightly in flavor and texture from the others but said to be the best custard pastry, way better than the others! They are baked in a very hot oven, allowing the custard to puff up and become caramelized while the pastry shell turns brown and  crusty,

The bakers at Pasteis de Belem bake an average of 20,000 little round custard pastries daily — a number that can multiply to 50,000 over weekends. The pastries are always sold fresh when the crust is flaky and crisp and the custard filling, nestling inside, is still warm and fragrant. Served with a dusting of powdered sugar and a dash of cinnamon, and costing only one euro each, they are an inexpensive treat that goes best with a good cup of Portuguese coffee, called a bica, or a smooth aged port. Need I add that once you taste this delicate pastry, one is never enough…

A number of different blends of the aged port are available and are displayed near the front counter. Which is better, coffee or port? Why not both…

The bakery opens at 8 AM and closes at 10 PM — I had been told there was always a line outside during the day and was advised to go at night when it would be less busy. Fortunately, I had done a tour with “We Hate Tourism Tours” that included a visit to Pastei de Belem after dinner. It is a busy tourist area: in addition to the Pasteis de Belem, it is adjacent to the Jerniómo Monastery, a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an epic building, Gothic in style, very sculptural with motifs of the sea that takes up an entire block and deserves it. And across from it all is the Belem Tower — where, during the Age of Discovery in the 15th Century, Henry the Navigator despatched his ships overseas, and through their conquests, Portugal became a superpower.

At night, the aged blue and white-tiled building is unmistakable with its name clearly lit up, in front. Bathed in beautiful reflective night light, there was no line and we walked straight in, up to the counter, and ordered the famous Pasteis de Belem — just like that. Even at night, they were fresh and slightly warm and we found a table where we could pause and enjoy this delicious iconic treat. One was not enough, maybe two or three……..

The interior has a number of interconnecting rooms, all of whose walls are lined with blue and white antique tiles showing historic, farming, and hunting scenes, It is large, and seats 600 people when full. As it was after the rush, there were a few seats available to enjoy the company and the surroundings.

Belem is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Portugal: redolent with history, attracting crowds all day, every day. Being able to go in the evening, without the tour buses and the crowds, one is able to get a sense of the history of Portugal by just looking at the historic buildings without distractions.

All told, this was a very “Lisbon Experience”-  sampling the Pasteis de Belem in a building that for nearly two hundred years has baked this unique pastry and seen hundreds of thousands of visitors. Judging by the demand for the pastries and being the most viewed food site on Trip Advisor, they must be doing something right.  Even though they did not consult me, I would recommend that they keep on doing what they are doing and not change a thing.


WE HATE TOURISM TOURS“.    This is the tour company I used and it included a visit to the Pasteis de Belem in the evening. These are small group tours, with excellent tour guides. In addition to the Pasteis de Belem, we were able to visit a number of historic sights without the daytime crowds of tourists and the tour buses. Plus, seeing this old neighborhood in the evening was magical. Check out their website:   Telephone: 351/913 776 598

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the road less traveled