Café Pastéis de Belém is often credited as the place where the famous pastel de nata (egg tart) was first commercially produced outside of its original home inside the Jeronimos Monastery a few steps away. The creamy pastry came to be known as pasteis de Belem, after the name of the suburb and that of the famous bakery. This quintessential Portugese dessert attained global prominence in the 1990s in Asia after its inclusion in the standard dessert menu of popular western fast-food chain such as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Nowadays, many in Asia have come to equate the egg tart with certain bakeries in Macau, a former Portugese colony which had contributed a great deal to the popularity of Belem egg tarts in Asia.
The Casa Pasteis de Belem is now a major tourist attraction in its own right. Customers, both local and from elsewhere in Portugal and abroad, sometimes have to queue for hours in order to get their hands on freshly baked egg tarts, still steamingly hot, directly from the oven.
Egg tarts apart, the bakery itself is a place worth visiting. Beautiful blue tiles adorn the walls of the cafe and the spacious dining hall. Decorative motifs, figures depicting famous historical personalities and places all add a touch of congenial elegance to the whole place.
This cafe is popular with both local and overseas visitors, and prices are fair with regard to the price levels of Lisbon. As Belem is a popular day-trip destination, on weekends, it could take a while to get a seat inside the cafe, when all the dining halls and seatings inside are taken up by large groups of families and friends having afternoon coffee and egg tarts inside the lounge.
In addition to egg tarts and other pastries, the cafe also has a sizeable collection of Portugese wines, port wines, liquors and whiskies, as seen in the photo.
Now let's have a look at the famous egg tarts themselves. Freshly baked Belem egg tarts have a soft, creamy texture and a thin, crispy crust that goes well with hot coffee and hot chocolates. They are quite filling too, a couple of such egg tarts would be sufficient to tide you over for a few hours until dinner time.
If you are ever in Belem, do try out the egg tarts. They might not taste as heavenly as the Black Forest cherry cakes, but they are certainly reflective of the characteristics of Portugese cuisines - rustic, sweet, rich and filling.
Copyrights@2011. All text and photos by YC Cheng. All Rights Reserved.