Foodie Obsession: Pastel de Nata in Portugal

Pastel de Nata is a foodie obsession. You MUST try one of these delicious tarts while traveling in Portugal.

Before heading to Portugal, I was obsessed with the idea of pastel de nata. Of course I didn’t really know what they tasted like, but I imagined I’d be eating them every single day while I was in Lisbon. They are THE food everyone talks about after visiting Portugal, after all.

I wanted to eat as many as I could, from as many different places as I could find. I assumed I’d absolutely love these classic egg tarts, and that they’d be a regular part of my life here. In fact, they’re one of the reasons I wanted to visit Lisbon in the first place!

What follows is simply me professing my love for pasteis de nata.

pastel de nata Portugal

What is Pastel de Nata?

Ohhhh, pastel de nata, the Portuguese egg tart that seems to cast a spell on everyone who tries it. Gooey custard sits inside of a crispy, flaky crust, and the best ones have big dark spots on top. The custard filling is made of eggs, cream, and sugar, but recipes vary from bakery to bakery. It’s often served with a dusting of cinnamon and/or powdered sugar.

I’m not going to go through the history of this pastry, because others have already done that. You can read about it here, here, or here. I just want to tell you how GOOD they are, and where you can try them while you’re in Portugal (hint: basically everywhere).

My First Pastel de Nata

pastel de nata and uma bica

I ate my first pastel de nata just a few days into my two month stint in Portugal. I stopped in at a little pastelaria near my Airbnb and ordered one along with um café.

I’ll always remember this moment, not because of the taste of the tart, but because this was the first taste I got of Portuguese hospitality. When I realized I didn’t have cash yet to pay for what I ordered (they didn’t accept cards), the owner told me there was an ATM across the street. I turned to go get money, but he insisted I sit down, eat, and worry about the money later. He trusted I’d come back to pay (and of course I did), which is such a crazy thought in the mind of an American. Sure, it was less than 2 euros, but the gesture meant a lot regardless.

Back to the tart…

I took my pastel de nata sans cinnamon (looking back, this was my first faux pas regarding the tarts) and sat down at a small table. I bit into it and tasted the sweet filling, which was complemented by the crispness of the crust. The filling oozed out and the crust flaked off onto the little plate beneath it. I sipped my espresso between bites to wash it down and balance out the sweetness.

I can’t deny that it was good, but it didn’t hook me. I didn’t leave the pastelaria wondering when I’d get my next taste.

After that, I didn’t eat another pastel de nata (or even think about eating another) for almost 3 weeks. I skipped over them any time I went to a café/bakery, choosing croissants and other pastries instead. I liked them fine enough, but I certainly didn’t want to eat one every day like I thought I would.

So I quickly abandoned my idea to find the best pastel de nata in Lisbon, because my heart (and stomach) just wasn’t in it. Sometimes you have to let go of your dreams in order to make room for ones that really matter…

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

Another Taste

Not long before I was set to leave Lisbon for other parts of Portugal, I was on one of my daily walks through the city. I stumbled back through the Time Out Market (despite the anxiety it gave me every time I passed it), and decided I might as well try the pasteis de nata from the famous Manteigaria. I waited in line for over 15 minutes (a common wait time at this shop), and by the time I ordered I decided that I needed a pack of 6 to take back to the Airbnb with me.

Tip: Order from the Manteigaria window right off the street, instead of going inside the Time Out Market. There’s usually not much of a line (comparatively).

When I finally sat down to try one of the tarts (after spending an hour lost in the streets of Lisbon), everything changed. The slightly-too-sweet tarts I had eaten at the pastelaria a few weeks prior threw me off, convincing me that I didn’t really like pastel de nata. But THESE…well, these were good.

I heated them up just a little bit, so they were extra warm and gooey. The custard filling threatened to fall out every time I took a bite, so I held it together just so, refusing to put it down before eating it all. I still wasn’t quite obsessed, but this one definitely made me reconsider my opinion of the famous pastry.

Pastel de Nata on a plate with a coffee

Pastel de Nata in Cascais

I moved on to my next locale in Portugal; a small seaside town just outside of Lisbon called Cascais (a popular day trip destination). As I wandered the streets, I decided I’d go ahead and try the pastel de nata from Nata Lisboa. I ordered another pack of 6 to take with me, because there’s really no point in ordering just one.

As I waited for the fresh tarts to be packaged up for me, a woman came in, sat down, and received her pastel de nata without a word. It reminded me that locals make this a part of their every day ritual. They go to their regular spot, get a pastel de nata and an espresso, and then go on with their day. I wanted to it to be part of my daily ritual as well.

Once again, this tart exceeded the previous. I couldn’t decide if every tart was objectively better than the last, or if it was just the kind of love that took time to build. Not so much an “acquired taste”, just something that doesn’t hit you right away. Perhaps it’s more like a sweet habit that you welcome into your life, and the enjoyment comes from the ritual, rather than from the pastry itself.

Whatever it was, once it took hold, it did become a bit of an obsession for me. It’s easy to see why people rave about pasteis de nata (hey look, I’m doing it now).

Pastel de nata on a counter

My Final Week with the Pastel de Nata

During my last week in Portugal, I stayed in the Cais do Sodre neighborhood of Lisbon, just around the corner from Time Out Market. I found myself stopping by the Manteigaria window every day for a quick nata. Once I realized how much faster it was to hop into the shop from the street (instead of waiting inside the market), it became a relaxing activity.

One euro for one pastel de nata, sprinkle it with cinnamon, and devour it while standing in the small enclave just off the street. There’s no need to sit down because it will be gone in less than a minute, and then you can continue on your walk.

I decided there was definitely something to the daily nata ritual, and it made me feel, just the tiniest bit, like I was part of the city.

Where to Eat Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

After trying quite a few more of these tarts throughout my time in Portugal, I realized that some ARE objectively better than others. Not all pasteis de nata are created equal!

You can find them at every cafe, bakery, pastelaria, etc, but I wouldn’t recommend eating them at every random cafe you enter (or maybe do, it doesn’t hurt to try).

As much as some places might just seem like tourist traps, there is a reason they are upheld as the best places to get pastel de nata. Everyone has different tastes, and the flavors of the tarts do vary slightly depending on where you go. My personal favorite was Nata Lisboa, but I certainly loved Manteigaria as well.

I never made it out to Belem to wait in line at Pasteis de Belem (a shame), but I imagine they are worth the wait (unless you’re like me, in which case waiting is never worth the wait).

Here are the usual best places to try Pastel de Nata in Portugal:

Keep in mind, I’m not claiming these are truly the best of the best; I did abandon my initial mission after all, and I’m sure there are better (yet less well-known) places to get them. But these are the best options for tourists like myself.

pasteis de nata in bed
me serving myself pastel de nata in bed #solotravel

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Foodie Obsession: Pastel de Nata

By Courtney Minor

Wandering around and writing about it.

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