5 years, 9 months ago
Words and uncredited images by food blogger Niamh Shields, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
As story commissions go, finding Lisbon’s best custard tart has to be one of my favourite so far. Even beating my Berlin search for the best currywurst. A little background first before I escort you on my journey.
The Portuguese love egg pastries. Rich, yellow, super sweet, the most favourite of all is the custard tart. They can fit in the palm of your hand, with crisp buttery pastry and an egg yolk rich custard with a little cinnamon on top. Pastéis de Nata or Pastéis de Belém is what you are looking for. The original and proclaimed best is the Pastéis de Belém in a small suburb at the edge of Lisbon. It is a pilgrimage for many custard obsessives, they are still made at the original bakery where they make and sell over 10,000 every day. But are they really the best? That is what I went to investigate.
I was based in 3 apartments in central Lisbon which allowed me to cast my net widely. The first, in Bairro Alto perched on the top of the hill inspired me not to eat in Lisbon restaurants at all but to stay at home. It was a beautiful large bright space with a balcony overlooking the cobbled streets, a dining room, a great kitchen and another view looking out over the roof tops in Lisbon.
For my first custard tart experience I took the graffiti covered tram to the bottom of the near vertical hill and proceeded to Pastelaria Suiça and grabbed a table on the sunny terrace. I ordered a Pastéis de Nata (or just nata if you like), and a short strong coffee and began. Lovely light custard, crisp pastry, a great custard tart.
The second apartment was actually quite close by, at the bottom of the hill tucked in behind one of the main squares. I want to live in this one permanently. Big, bright and on the fourth floor of an old building, a balcony runs the length of the apartment with doors from each room opening on to it. The apartment is decorated with well thought out kitchen furniture and the modern large kitchen is tiled with beautiful, old Portuguese blue and white tiles. There is even a small playroom for those of you with little kiddies.
From here I went to a popular local cafe, Confeitaria Nacional. Founded in 1829, it has been in the same family for five generations and is famous for their tarts.
They even have a little outpost in the airport where they will box some up for you to take home, which of course I did. I really liked it here, it is a gorgeous buzzy cafe and they were making great pastries. There is an extensive selection beyond nata, so I explore further too.
Nearby is the Café A Brasileira (opened in 1905) which is also famous and highly regarded. I propped myself at the bar and ordered a coffee and a nata. Again, if I was served this in London I would be very happy but for me it didn’t compare with the fresh memory of Confeitaria Nacional embedded in my head.
A delightful hidden gem is a little kiosk run by Casa Pereira in the theatre pretty much across the road. The coffee is excellent here but the pastries are really good too.
They don’t make them on site so even though it is a great little place, they can’t be in the running, but you should go there.
It was time to move apartment again and this time I moved a little further north, near the zoo. It is only a short ride on the metro so it was no trauma and for my efforts I was rewarded with a large and gorgeous sun soaked terrace. The apartment wasn’t as spectacular as the previous two but it was cheaper. One thing about Lisbon is you really do get great things for your money. I hopped on the tram to hit my final and most important destination. The original custard tart, the Pastéis de Belém at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém was in my sights. Everyone says this is the best and I was so curious to try it. Would it compare with my favourite so far the Confeitaria Nacional?
This recipe is so treasured it is actually kept in a safe. It was handed down over 150 years and frankly is a custard tart theme park now, and for me, not in a good way. But I am here to check out the tart so I do. This tart is voluptuous. I really like the pastry but I find the tart itself too fluffy and prefer the more elegant golden custard at Confeitaria Nacional not just for the tart but also the more comfortable surroundings.
So that is it, 5 days of intense custard tart seeking, these are the best, and the best of all of them is Confeitaria Nacional. Lisbon, I love you, and I will be back.
Featured image by Pranav Bhatt.