I would go to Lisbon again just for this.
Traveling with a baby means a lot of things, but one is that you have to set different priorities. If we were visiting Lisbon just us adults, it would have been super hardcore: no napping, no heading back to the hotel or airbnb for a snooze, starting pretty early with a rather tight schedule that includes museums, cathedrals, other landmarks and some day outings to neighboring towns and villages. Now, with a little toddler, the schedule is looser, more flexible and has a lot of holes here and there for naps, coffee breaks and quick pitstops (diaper changes and spending most of the time searching for a safe, flat place to actually change the diaper. When I can’t find a proper changing table, of course.)
But there was one place I had to visit when we were in Lisbon no matter what: Pasteis de Belém. We were staying at an airbnb that was about 20 minutes away by car, but I managed to convince G and our friend R to wake up a bit earlier and head out for a hearty, eggy breakfast. They really didn’t seem happy about waking up extra early for a dessert-type breakfast pastry, but they gave in.
Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg tart and it’s glorious. There are a lot of cities and countries you can find these wonderful little treats, but Portugal is where it all began. And among the many cafes and bakeries, Pasteis de Belém is known to be one of the best and the oldest.
First things first, the history. Like many glorious things in the world, the eggy pastry was created by Catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery (which is conveniently located very close to Pasteis de Belém). Apparently, egg whites were used to starch clothes at these monasteries and convents, so what to do with the leftover egg yolks? Make pastries. And eventually be really good at it.
Revenue became a problem with such religious orders closing up and the monks started selling their beloved pastries to a nearby sugar refinery. The monastery closed in 1834 and the recipe was sold to that sugar refinery and the owners opened the now famous Pasteis de Belém. The family owns and runs the place to this day. For more information and if you are curious about their recipe, check this video.
It’s obvious there’s a lot of people waiting to get some, both in take out and eating in form, but my advice would be get there as early as possible. We went for breakfast and we didn’t have to wait for a table. It was around 9:30 but as we were enjoying the tarts and coffee, people started trickling in, occupying most of the tables both inside and out.
You can find them everywhere in Lisbon and I’m sure any other city in Portugal, but I have to say, they were the best I’ve tried. And I’ve tried a lot during the trip. If there’s one place you have to go in Lisbon, make it this one.
It was really hot and like any non-Starbucks cafe in Europe, they didn’t have cold, ice coffee. It was freakishly hot when we were there, so I asked the waiter if he could do anything. He was very kind and said he could make ice coffee. Would have given him a hug. It was hot, so heart in the right place, but no hugs.
- Pasteis de Belém
- Other must-eat places in different countries like Brussels, Paris, Cisternino, and Amsterdam.
All photos by rachelsanghee.