Bom dia! I returned from Lisbon this week, fat but happy. As I'm snowed in this morning along with the rest of London, I thought I'd share one of my highlights from the trip with you.
I have to admit that I was attracted to Portugal in order to try those delicate little custard tarts called pastéis de nata, a speciality in Lisbon. I've had some before which were very tasty, but surely they'd be even better in their spiritual home?
The pastéis are said to have originated from the Hieronymite monastery in Belém in the 1830s, when the monks fell on hard hard times after being expelled. The tarts soon began to be made to the same recipe in an adjoining building, which continues today as the Pastéis de Belém cafe on the Rua de Belém, using the same recipe from 1837. I was told that today only two people know the closely guarded recipe. All of which means that eating there counts as culture and not gluttony, which means it's a guilt-free trip. Happy days.
The cafe itself is quite beautiful, tiled in the traditional blue and white azulejo style. It's a popular spot with visitors and locals alike - even in January there was a decent queue waiting for a batch to appear.
The pastéis are served warm from the oven so the flaky pastry is crisp and the custard is only gently set and seductively creamy. Each tart has a dash of heady vanilla, which can either be complemented with a dash of powdered sugar or cinnamon from the shakers provided, or enjoyed alone. There is an art to achieving the right amount of caramelisation both on the top and underneath which they are very aware of - I took a walk past the open kitchen and saw a woman carefully inspecting the bottom of each pastéis. Those that did not please her discerning eye were tossed aside. They still looked delicious to me...