When we thought of writing about Pastéis de nata, we had to think twice, even three times. There is so much information out there about them, both online and in real life, that makes it a bit hard to create something inspiring and unique. Challenge accepted. That’s why we will share not only the History of these beauts, but also a more modern version of the natas family. The nata with no nata, meaning its vegan version. Bare with us.
Pastel de nata. Repeat it after us: Paxtel deh nahtah. Good, we’re good to go. Today we are going to talk about one of Portugal’s most treasured heritages: our one and only pastel de nata. Custard pie, Portuguese egg tart, you name it. You can call it whatever you fancy, you can try them around the world, from London to Paris, Shanghai to Tokyo, but the truth is, nothing beats eating these beauties at their hometown, Lisboa. Pair them with a simple bica and you will have the best snack you can get to face Lisbon’s hills – that we all know are much more than seven.
The History behind the pastry
Pastéis de nata, like many other Portuguese sweets, were created by monastic people around the 18th century. Back then, egg-whites were used to make clerical clothes whiter. How? By separating egg yolks from the whites, and then using them to starch nun’s habits. Sticky? Maybe a bit. The truth is, there were a lot of egg-yolk leftovers, which soon became the main and favourite ingredient to make sweet pastry recipes throughout the country. Delish.
The particular case of pastéis de nata started at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, in Belém, which was then a different town, not Lisbon. Even today you can find them exactly there, at Pastéis de Belém bakery. In doubt, follow people that carry big cameras, birkenstock with socks and hats – do not confuse them with hipsters. Puns apart, it is said that the original recipe of Pastéis de Belém is so well kept that only two people in the whole world know it. Lucky guys.
Pastel de Belém vs pastel de Nata
What we do know, is that there is some beauty to eating the originals. Actually, pastéis de nata are known to be all variations of pastéis de Belém, being our favourites natas from Manteigaria, with two locations in Chiado and Cais-do-Sodré. There, the queue is smaller and you will get a very similar warm deliciousness. Not a big secret, but now you know. The question now is, how to eat a pastél de nata without burning the palate?
Start by being picky and choose your pastél. Not too dark, not too light. Buy it whilst warm, fresh from the oven. Note: resist buying them in plastic packs from the supermarket, or you will end up with a sugar overdose, paired with a disappointing experience and a bigger carbon footprint. Add cinnamon. Add more cinnamon, till the point it will make you sneeze. Good. Bite it whilst warm. Maybe you’ve burnt your palate, maybe you’ve dropped some crust and cream over your shirt. Maybe both. Time to eat the second one – you always buy two, as you should not waste carton and small boxes cater two. Ok, now you’ll have crumbs and cream everywhere. Lick your fingers, elegantly. Sip your bica. Sip your water. Go.
Meet the hippie cousin, the vegan nata-not-nata
Vegan. Meaning made of plant-based vs animal ingredients. Now we’re getting controversial, as if choosing a favourite nata in Lisbon was not enough. What the hell is a vegan nata? Nata’s hippie cousin has nothing to do with its posh cousin, made with eggs and milk. It’s the looks and the experience that brings them together in the family. The vegan pastel de nata – did we already say nata means cream?- has the same flavourings, such as the sweetness of sugar, the crunchiness of the crust and the creaminess of the filling. But no eggs, milk or butter here, only plant-based ingredients. Sugar and fat included.
Curious on where you can eat this beauties? We’ve read you can get them at Zarzuela and Princesa do Castelo, but unfortunately they were closed when we went there. Ooh. If you go there, please let us know how you’ve find them. Alternatively, why not joining us in our bestseller Vegan Pastel de nata workshop to learn all the secrets about this art. Best part? Eating them. One by one, with or without burning the palate.
Your Lisbon Cooking Academy Team