A Perfect Pastry in Lisbon
If you visit Lisbon, you have to go to both Sintra and to Belem. Sintra is on our best day trips list, and Belem is more of a suburb of Lisbon and can be reached easily. Most guidebooks will tell you to take the tram to Belem, but we took a taxi and it was a fantastic decision. I’m sure you can look up whether or not a taxi is a great deal more expensive, but to us time and convenience is worth a premium, and hopping in a taxi right from our hotel and zipping over to Belem was worth whatever we paid, and then some.
As a general rule, any time that a type of food shares a name with the place where it’s made, you know it has to be special; for example, eating Prosciutto de Parma in Parma, Italy, or trying fondue of Gruyeres cheese in Gruyeres, Switzerland. Whether or not the food was named after the town, or the town after the food, either way, it’s a safe bet you want to try it. The nice thing about Belem is that it also has a spectacular Monastery to tour, an impressive statuesque building right on the water with breathtaking views, great restaurants, gardens, and one of the few museums we recommend to other non-museum-loving folk like us, making the trip worth at least a half-day venture away from Lisbon even without the existence of the heavenly pastry that is the focus of this story: the Pasteis de Belem.
While you’ll find these little delights throughout Lisbon, throughout Portugal, and even in pastry shops throughout Europe, there is nothing like the original one in the town that shares its name. This is one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, super-secret, only-a-handful-of-people- know-the-recipe-and-it’s-not-written-down anywhere kind of recipes that cannot be re-created anywhere, by anyone else. The best way to describe the taste is a light, flaky, layered pastry with ample sweet custard, hints of vanilla, hints of caramel, and a smooth, creamy texture. It’s definitely sweet, but not so sweet that you’ll have any trouble ordering 2 or 3 or 4 or more.
When you approach Pasteis de Belem, located right on a main street conveniently nearby the Monestary, you’ll likely see a line of people. Don’t be discouraged, and definitely do not abandon ship. What you can’t see with the line in the way is a deceptively large restaurant with multiple extra rooms continuing far back beyond the line of eager tourists. While the line is only for take away, we were able to walk right in, grab a table, and order our Pasteis de Belem right away. One mistake you might make is to order something besides the Pasteis de Belem. Believe me, as you walk up past the display cases on your way back to a table, everything will look amazing, and I’m sure it all is very fresh and tasty. However, you don’t go to Belem, to a restaurant called “Pasteis de Belem” and order anything other than a “Pasteis de Belem”. We ordered one each, and with one bite we each instantly ordered two more. Yes, we ate three each. The pastry went perfectly with a double espresso, and we left full of sugar, caffeine, and happiness. While we found these pastries at other points in our trip, and while they were all delicious, nothing was quite like that original, authentic, gem of a pastry, the Pasteis de Belem.
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