Pastel de Nata, the Portuguese Pastry You Definitely Have to Try

The humble pastel de nata is Portugal's favorite pastry dessert—here's why!

typical portuguese dessert pasteis de nataShutterstock / Natalia Mylova

Should you ever find yourself in the colorful city of Lisbon, Portugal, there’s only one sweet treat you ought to try. Along nearly every street, the capital boasts hordes of pastry shops selling the traditional mini custard pastry, pastel de nata. Indeed, the quintessentially Portuguese pastel de nata is a flavor sensation not to be missed.

Fancy experiencing more new flavors? Then try some of these amazing international comfort foods.

What are pasteis de nata?

There’s so much to adore about pasteis de nata. Though they’re an egg custard, pasteis de nata are actually surprisingly light. The tart consists of fresh, flaky pastry and an addictive, sweet egg yolk filling. While you can, of course, enjoy these tarts fresh out of a hot oven, some people prefer to add a little cinnamon or sugar to the top before taking their first bite.

Love cinnamon? Check out some more ways to bake with cinnamon, here.

What makes them so special to Lisbon?

The pastel de nata is by no means a new addition to pastry store windows. The original recipe for this delicate egg custard pastry dates back a whopping 300 years. The very first natas were created by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the civil parish of Belém, Lisbon.

At the time, the holy men and women who resided there were resourceful and would use egg whites to wash and starch their clothes. Not wanting the leftover egg yolks to go to waste, the monks used them as a central part of the desserts they made, including pasteis de nata.

When the monastery began to struggle financially, the monks began to sell pasteis de nata so that they could raise money. Despite their best efforts, the place closed in 1834 and the secret recipe was sold to local bakers. A few years later, the bakers who bought the recipe opened the now renowned Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém.

The historic Belém bakery is still open and is now a popular spot for locals and tourists, alike. If you want to get your hands on an original recipe pasteis de nata, prepare yourself for a bit of a wait as lines grown long in high tourism seasons. No matter the time of year, patrons queue patiently outside the store to get their hands on this simple pastry.

Regardless of whether you have a sweet-tooth or not, sampling one of Portugal’s most well-known (and well-loved!) desserts is an experience unto itself.

If you’re looking to make some pastries of your own, our puff pastry recipes are easy and delicious.

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.