Pastel de Nata or Pastel de Belem (or in English custard tarts, Portuguese egg tarts, and a few other translations) is the most famous of the Portuguese desserts. However, you may be wondering if it isn’t the same thing… Sometimes you read pastel de nata, other Pastel de Belem… what’s the difference?
Pastel de Nata or Pastel de Belem?
It’s actually very simple. You can only call Pastel de Belem to the pastry sold by the “Antiga Pastelaria de Belem”, in Belem right next to the Jeronimos Monastery. You can’t really miss it as there are large ques at the door. All the other custard tarts you see in Lisbon( and the rest of Portugal) are Pastéis de Nata.
You should be aware that, besides Pastel de Belém, there are other similar pastries that came from other monasteries. For example, Pastel de Santa Clara from Vila do Conde is also an egg tart, similar to Pastel de Nata, but the cream is slightly different and it’s usually covered with sugar frosting. The Portuguese conventual pastry has an incredible number of different pastries, usually made with only 3 or 4 ingredients ( Sugar, eggs, almonds and sometimes flour). So, naturally, some are very similar.
Origins of the Pastel de Belem
The history of Pastel de Nata starts in Jeronimos Monastery, where the recipe was created. However, with the liberal revolution of 1820 and the consequent dissolution of all religious orders in 1834 everyone was expelled from monasteries and convents. In an attempt to survive, someone from the monastery started selling pastries at the entrance of the Monastery, which quickly became known as Pasteis de Belem.
At the time, Belem was separated from Lisbon, and to reach Belem people had to take steamboats. However, even in the 19th century, the Tower of Belem and Jeronimos Monastery were already attracting visitors who got used to savor the delicious Pasteis de Belem originated from de monastery.
In 1837, the production of the custard tarts starts officially next to the Monastery, in the same place where a sugar refinery worked. The old secret recipe was transmitted through the pastry chefs until today. Only the chefs who work in ” Antiga Pastelaria de Belem” know this recipe and it’s still the same as it was when they were cooked in the Monastery.
The name “Pastel de Belém” has been trademarked, thus no one can call Pastel de Belem to any other pastry besides the original owners and producers of Pastel de Belém.
But, are they really different? Which one is the best Portuguese custard tart?
Call it pastel de nata or Pastel de Belem, they are usually good! However, they aren’t exactly the same. As we said above, the recipe of the Pastel de Belem is secret and only they know it. Plus, Antiga Pastelaria de Belem is very careful with the quality of the ingredients and technique used, so they are extremely good. So we recommend you to try it at least once. This is one of those cases that the huge reputation is justified.
Pastel de Nata on the other hand, can be good, very good, and sometimes not that great… There are plenty of pastries cooking exceptional Pastel de Nata, which can be as good (or even better?) as the original Pastel de Belem. It really depends on your taste.
Where to eat the best Pastel de Nata?
After trying the original Pastel de Belem, you might want to try a Pastel de Nata and see for yourself if there’s a difference. Lucky for you, many of the best places to eat a Pastel de Nata are conveniently located close in downtown Lisbon or close to tourist attractions. Here’s a list os the best places to eat Pastel de Nata:
- Pastelaria Santo António – our favorite place and clearly one of the best. It has even won the contest of Best Pastel de Nata in 2019. It’s located close to São Jorge Castle.
- Pastelaria Alcoa – This is one of the best pastries in Portugal, particularly when it comes to conventual sweets. However, everything they do is great and so are the custard tarts.
- Manteigaria – Very conveniently located in Bairro Alto, Manteigaria has beautiful artisanal egg tarts made with high-quality ingredients.
Where to eat the famous Pastel de Belem?
You can only buy and eat a Pastel de Belem in Belem. They only sell them to the public on that original pastry right next to Jeronimos Monastery. There aren’t others. Not in Lisbon, or any other city.
The Portuguese custard tarts are now one of the most famous things about Portugal, either a Pastel de Nata or a Pastel de Belem. We urge you to try them both and see the differences by yourself. Yet, now you know that eating the Pastel de Belem is really eating something unique and full of history.
Do you want to learn more about portuguese sweets and desserts?