The Pastel de Belém (Portuguese custard tart) is the most popular of the Portuguese pastry specialties.
This delicacy of the gods, or rather, of the friars, has a long, happy and caring story. During the Liberal Revolution in the mid-1820s, all of the monasteries in Portugal were closed. In an attempt to survive, the clergy in the Jerónimos monastery started to sell these pastries out of a small sugar cane factory next to the monastery. At that time, Belém was still far from Lisbon and all travelling was by steamboat. But soon these pastries began to bring all those with a “sweet tooth” to this area as they could not resist this temptation.
Years later, in 1937, the Pastéis de Belém independent factory was established and this is where the original recipe is still kept. At the factory, you can see the entire manufacturing process and view the production of about 15 000 tarts a day. It is easy to recognise the space decorated in different shades of blue, given its traditional queue, with locals and foreigners that are enchanted by the temptation of this masterpiece of Portuguese cuisine.
The popularity of Pastéis de Belém led other patisseries in Lisbon and in other regions of the country to develop their own recipe, calling them pastéis de nata (custard tarts). The delights of this delicacy are known across borders and can easily be found in cities like London, at the prestigious Selfridges.