You will find these little custard tarts, Pastéis de Nata (singular, Pastel), sold all over Lisbon, and indeed all over Portugal. Although the quality varies from one establishment to another, on the whole they are really delicious (as the scales indicated when I returned from my trip!) Despite their prevalence, their real “home” is here in Belém, and in particular at the Casa Pastéis de Belém.
According to Wikipedia, “These tarts came about during the height of the Port industry. The recipe for Port requires the use of egg white, thus many egg yolks were left over. It is believed that a group of nuns in the area of Oporto invented this recipe which used up great quantities of egg-yolk at a time, in making the custard which fills the pastry cases.”
The Casa Pastéis de Belém was the first place outside the convent to be allowed to make and sell these treats, and consequently only here can they be called Pastéis de Belém rather than Pastéis de Nata as elsewhere.
If you’d like to have a go at making some for yourself (I daren’t – those scales!), check out the recipe given by Antonio (a2lopes): Portuguese Custard Tarts. Antonio was also responsible for persuading the café to offer a free Pastel de Belém to all of the visiting VTers – thank you Antonio.
But even if you have to pay, and even if you have already tried the tarts elsewhere, do make a visit here. It could be considered a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s still an experience not to be missed, and the building itself is also worth seeing – a maze of different rooms opening off each other, decorated with the traditional azulejos and with interesting historical items such as old cash registers and cooking utensils.
DirectionsAt the monastery end of the main road (look for the blue awnings – and the crowds!)
Surprisingly for such a tourist magnet, the website below is in Portuguese only.
Well worth trying are the tasty Pasteis de Belem, a custard-cream tart, very popular in Lisbon and on sale in all the bakeries. These sweets originated in the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem in the 19th century and have been popular in Lisbon and Belem ever since.
The most famous pasteis are the ones found in Belem just outside Lisbon.
The beautiful custard tarts are best served warm, sprinkled with a blanket of powdered sugar and a just a little bit of cinnamon.
While we were admiring the Monument to the Discoveries, we noticed several young Portugese men trying their luck at fishing in the Tejo River. The rock seawall slopes quite steeply down into the river all along the waterfront here, but it did not stop them from edging their way down the slope to get closer to the water for a good cast. Some of them looked like they were pushing it a bit too far as they came to the green slimey bit towards the bottom - I could just picture their feet sliding out and splash into the river! It would have been impossible to climb back up across the wet rocks at the bottom.
But, my fears were not justified! I guess these guys have done this many times and know their limits!
After we had finished enjoying the miltary parade in front of the Palacio de Belem, we made our way across the major Avenida da India road/rail throughway and onto the north bank of the Tejo (Tagus) River.
This strip of land between the road and river has been nicely done up for strolling along the Belem waterfront. On our way to the Monument to the Discoveries, we passed a nice marina with lots of activity taking place on this warm Sunday morning. We stopped for a while as these sailors scurried about their schooner, readying to put out for a little excursion. Later, as we admired the Monument, we saw them sailing by, headed downriver toward the Atlantic Ocean, only a few miles to the west.
Note the sloping rock wall to the far right, with its green tidal zone (see next Tip).
Yep, when I went to visit the Jeronimos Monastery I found very interesting to see the Police on Bike, it remember me some movie. :-))))
On that moment they was solving some problems with stranger people.
They seem very helpful.
My friend Alexandra (micas_pt) told me that it is a custom to lots of people get married on the Monastery of Jeronimos. And it becomes really difficult to get married there because there is long waiting list.
So if you want get married there you must make a reservation soon.
It was funny that on the moment i was there, there was a couple of Oriental people, maybe Chinese, getting married. You can see the pic i took, the flowers on their Mercedes and on the middle a couple of Chinese dolls.
You will find many building decorated with flowers around the district.
It is one of the things I miss the most of Portugal... Each person decorates their window with wonderful flowers almost year round.
Sure, Belém is full of tourist magnets like the monastery and the Discoveries Monument, but you'll also find some typical streets where locals live and work. We actually got yelled at by an old lady who was standing on her balcony three floors up because we started walking down a street that must have been a private drive. She yelled at us to stop in Portuguese and we didn't know what she was saying at first, but when she started yelling louder and started to look a little annoyed with us, we figured it out!
Here's a typical scene all over Portugal. Some clothes hanging out to dry (although it was raining a minute before I took this picture, so I doubt the clothes were very dry!).
The day I visited Belém, there was some kind of a ceremony going on. These horsemen were all wearing blonde wigs and riding these beautiful horses on the cement roads of the town. They were trotting all around the streets for a good half hour or so, occasionally stopping and executing some kind of official formation. They ended up riding up into the National Palace and I couldn't see exactly what was going on inside the gates. There were even some media members covering the events, but I still have no idea what it was all about.