If you’re looking for the perfect place to try out the Portuguese delicacy of a custard tart, you can’t get any better than the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, which can be found in the area of Lisbon where they are believed to have first been created.
At the beginning of the 19th century it is reported that a sugar cane refinery was linked to a small general store next to the Monastery of Jeranimos in Belém. In 1820 all of Portgual’s monasteries and convents were closed down and the clergy and staff sent out into the world to find their own way. In an attempt to make an income, someone from the monastery went to the store and offered to make them sweet pastries to sell. Over time the pastéis de Belém, as they became known, started being made on the refinery premises to the secret monastery recipe and the rest is history!
Today’s Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
This unassuming blue fronted café is a joy to all the senses, with the smell of freshly baked pastries filling your nose and its wonderfully classic blue and white tiled walls draws in your eyes, making you feel like you’re taking a step into history as you walk through the doors. As you go inside you discover it’s like a tardis, as the small front belies the maze of rooms of different sizes packed with tables and chairs you find. It’s definitely worth pushing through the crowds to go deeper and deeper into the café, as it’s as fun to explore the place as it is to eat there. Corridors take you from area to area and along the walls you’ll come across displays of nostalgia such as this beautiful old cash register.
I also loved that one wall of the kitchen is glass, allowing you to peek in and watch the bakers at work, and see those delicious tarts being made – if that doesn’t make your mouth water, nothing will!
The Portuguese custard tart
But I digress – back to the main attraction: the Portuguese custard tart! Bakers here have been making pastéis de Belém from a secret recipe since 1837 and churn out around 15,000 of these tasty treats every day!
As a picky eater I wasn’t keen on the idea (custard = bleurgh!) but ‘when in Rome’ and all that – I couldn’t leave the city without at least giving one a try. Thank god I did! Fresh from the oven, these warm custard tarts are to die for. The melt in your mouth custard, bursting with vanilla works wonderfully with the dusting of cinnamon, and the sweet pastry case just topped the whole thing off.
Words cannot describe the joy of my taste buds, so all I’ll say is you must visit this café. A word a wisdom to the uninitiated – be sure to order more than one!