Lifestyle & Culture

Mónica Da Silva: Where to get the best pastel de nata, Portugal’s divine, defining confection

Pastel de nata is a typical pastry from Lisbon that dates back to the 19th century and you may know it in English as Portuguese custard tart. If you live in Portugal, I am sure you have seen them and even tried them because they are a staple in all cafés. If you are visiting soon, they are a must try! It is common to have a pastel de nata sprinkled with cinnamon, and a coffee for breakfast or as dessert after lunch or just as a sweet treat anytime during the day. 

For pastel de nata, as for most pastries, the secret doesn’t lie so much in the ingredients but rather in the preparation techniques. The recipe includes egg yolks, milk, flour, sugar and cream, but creating the crust from scratch is a long process that requires patience.

Well, at least that’s what the general public knows about pastel de nata. The truth is that the original recipe has been kept a secret since the 19th century when the monks who invented it sold it to a local factory in Belém which opened in 1937 with the name Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém (see more below). 

Since then, the recipe has been passed down through several generations of pastry chefs and nowadays it is said that they are prepared in a secret room with restricted access. Actually, there is a local legend saying that only a few people alive know the recipe and they can’t go out together so if one of them is killed, the other can still pass down the recipe.

Both its flavorfulness and mystery make pastel de nata a very special element of Portuguese culture.

That’s why I have gathered a list with the best pastel de nata you can have in Lisbon, either if you are visiting or living there. 

Pastéis de Belém 

Visit it: Rua de Belém 84-92 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day

This is the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém mentioned above, so its obviously the number one place to try pastel de nata is the place where they have been selling it since 1937 with the original recipe. I was lucky to try them one day during the end of the pandemic when there were still travel restrictions and I was just walking around the area. If I hadn’t tried them like that, it probably wouldn’t have happened in another moment.

I’m saying this because there is always a huge line of people in front of it waiting to buy custard tarts no matter the time of the year. 

So, if you are passing by the area and you’re lucky enough not to have a huge line in front of you or if you don’t mind making the line, this is of course the best option. Believe me, they are worth the hype. They also sell other pastries, snacks and drinks there, but their star is the beloved pastel de nata which costs only 1.40 euros.

Traditionally, the sweet taste of the pastel is balanced with a “bica”, a very dark and strong espresso typical from Lisbon. So, if you want to have the authentic Lisboeta experience, order: “Um pastel de nata e uma bica, se faz favor.”

Pro tip: Remember to grab a small sachet of cinnamon to sprinkle on top of them if you are getting them to take away. 


Visit it: Rua de Belém 31 (plus several location around Lisbon) from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m every day

Alright, this is a battle of pastry shops that has been going on for decades in Lisbon. Manteigaria is a pastry shop that is almost across Pastéis de Belém, and if you pass by you will immediately recognise it because there will also be a huge line of people waiting.

There are several shops around the city, but the one in Belém was the first one to open in 2014 and even though one of the similarities they have with Pastéis de Belém is the high-quality of their pastries, one differential element is that they want to be fully transparent about how the pastel de nata is made. 

Hence, if you visit any of their shops, you can see through a glass how this pastry is made step by step. They also want to offer a more modern environment. I think this is a beautiful example of Lisbon and its people: There is a subtle balance between the old and traditional, and the new and modern in every aspect and pastel de nata couldn’t be the exception! 

Your local café

In your neighborhood whenever it’s open

As I mentioned, pastel de nata are a staple in cafés, snack bars and restaurants so they are not difficult to find. I must admit that my local café has excellent ones and while traveling in Portugal I have visited several local cafés in small towns in the middle of nowhere which had amazing pastel de nata. So, if you’re not up for getting sunburnt making a line to get the original ones, give your local cafe a chance, you may get a nice surprise! 

Make your own!

On Youtube from home any time of the day 

If you are into baking why not try making your own pastel de nata? Even though the original recipe is still a secret, I found a video from CupcakeJemma who has an amazing one. I’ve tried it myself and I must say that the result was amazing, even for an inexperienced baker like me.

So, if you’re up for it, try it, it will not be as good as the original ones but considering all the effort you have to put into making them (especially the crust), they might taste slightly better just because they were self-made.


Read more about Lisbon here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Mónica here.

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Mónica da Silva is half-Venezuelan, half Portuguese and has lived in Venezuela, Portugal, Spain and Germany. She has studies linguistics and has a Bachelor’s Degree in European Studies. Besides contributing to Dispatches, she works remotely as an English teacher, which allows her to be on the move as often as she wants. 

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