N is for Nata, Pastel de Nata
How could my Personal A to Z of Portugal not include the nation’s most famous cake, pastel de nata?
A light, slightly flaky, crispy pastry cup holds a sweet, smooth creamy custard filling which is browned off in the oven, giving them a home-made, slightly burnt appearance. They may not look especially appetising to the uninitiated but trust me, these little custard tarts taste delicious.
Many of Portugal’s best cakes were originally baked by monks and nuns, and the original recipe for pastéis de nata came from the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon. These days, people queue outside the most famous specialist bakery Casa Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon which began producing these cakes using the monks’ secret recipe after Portugal’s monasteries and convents were closed down in the 19th century.
Don’t worry if you can’t get to Lisbon, pastéis de nata seem to be the nation’s favourite cake and you’ll find them in almost every café, pastry shop and bakery across Portugal. In fact, the Portuguese are so fond of their little custard tarts that they can be found pretty much anywhere where there’s a strong Portuguese presence.
The first time I tried one was in a little Portuguese café cum delicatessen in Barcelona’s Gràcia district where they just couldn’t bake them fast enough to satisfy the queue of people. Pastéis de nata gained such popularity in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, that they’re also loved on mainland China and sold in places like KFC!
Back in Portugal, if you’re looking for a bit of variety, during the annual chocolate festival in Óbidos, you can even get freshly baked chocolate pastéis de nata. Yum!
What’s your favourite Portuguese cake? Let me know in the comments so I can track it down and try it.
For other Personal A to Zs of Portugal and other countries by fellow bloggers, check out My A to Z Challenge.
If you’re feeling inspired enough to take on the Personal A to Z Challenge yourself, you can find all the details here.