The Pastel de Belém truly is in a league of its own and do not compare to the common Pastel de Nata.
The philosophy behind the Pastel de Belém
Had Plato extended his interests to gastronomy, he would have found in the Pastel de Belém an analogy of the “ideal form” of this pastry. Whereas, all other pastries would be pale shadows of the archetype Pastel de Belém. Luckily, Pastel de Belém exists in this world and we can have as much of it as we want. And there goes the analogy… never mind, we got the idea.
The Pastel de Belém’s Recipe
Along with the much loved Portuguese soup Caldo Verde, for instance, Pastel de Belém is one of the 7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy. The recipe is a creation of the Monastery of Jeronimos’s monks, which is just down the street from the current bakery. The bakery in case, is the Fabrica (factory, in English) dos Pasteis (plural form of Patel) de Belém. The place where, the same family has been reproducing the original recipe since 1837.
Five generations later, the recipe remains a secret, yet 20,000 piping hot samples of this marvel leave the Fabrica’s oven every day. Had the recipe not already been perfect, it would certainly have been perfected by now.
Visiting the Pastel de Belém bakery
Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém is located by the mouth of the river Tagus, in the Lisbon parish of Belém. This is the place from where the Portuguese set off to explore India and the Orient in the 15th century.
The bakery shares a view with the characteristic yellow trams that pop to mind every time I think of Lisbon; with the Belém Tower, which celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery; and, with the 500 year-old Monastery of Jeronimos, where Vasco da Gama spent his last night before sailing to the Far East.
Never mind the cue extending to the outside of the shop. Go straight ahead, passing several rooms, until you reach the last one. This is a big room that gives to a hidden, back terrace. Now, you can either ask for a table in that the room, which is really quick; or, go straight to the terrace if you prefer to be sat outside.
In the buzzing bakery shop, we would recommend treating yourself. To drink, have “uma bica”, the Portuguese coffee equivalent to an espresso, and a glass of sweet Porto. To eat, go ahead and have a few warm, cinnamon dusted Pasteis de Belém. Then, take a seat and let your busy taste buds indulge in delicious flavors. And, let the mind wander through the patterns of the traditional blue-and-white ceramic tiles on the walls.
To finish, whether you visit the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém or not, we look forward to hearing back from you. So, feel free to share your thoughts or your photos here. And thanks for reading.