Purchasing Pleasant Portuguese Pastries
March 23, 2022 9:12 AM   Subscribe

What can you tell me about the history of Portuguese pastries, different types and where to find them in Lisbon?

This summer I will be going on a group trip to Europe and have been asked to present a short talk to the group while we're in Lisbon. I'd like to present on Portuguese pastries and include a tasting.

Here is what I've read about the history: monasteries and convents were the center for pastry innovation and the flavors were greatly influenced by Portuguese colonialism with sugar cane crops in Brazil as well as spices obtained on trade routes in the 1500s. (Happy to be corrected if this is not accurate). Additionally, Japanese baked goods were heavily influenced by Portuguese traders. What other interesting history is there regarding Portuguese pastries?

I've only ever tried pasteis de nata and am somewhat aware of the other different pastry types. If you were to introduce first timers to pastries of Portugal, specifically in Lisbon, what are the top 5? Any fun trivia about the pastries? Where in Lisbon can I buy those pastries? I'll be staying in the eastern side of Bairro Alto so anything around there is perfect. Thanks in advance!
posted by JaneTheGood to Travel & Transportation around Lisbon, Portugal (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Pastéis de Belém, originators of the de nata variety and still the reigning champ IMO. Visit their production site, expect to eat 2 or maybe 3 at a push because you're not greedy, eat 6 instead and leave with a dozen and a smile.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 9:41 AM on March 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

I haven't been to Lisbon, but I really enjoyed the custard tarts in the Azores. I found the amount of browning on the top varied but the taste was pretty consistent.
For Lisbon proper, there is a list here: https://lisbonguide.org/top-5-places-lisbon-eat-custard-tarts/ and it has Pastéis de Belém first.
posted by soelo at 10:27 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

You can get the traditional specialities of Sintra, queijadas and travesseiros, at Recordacao de Sintra at Time Out Market Lisboa; while you're there, you can also pick up pastéis de nata at Manteigaria, one of my favorite places to get them in Lisbon.
posted by carrienation at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

My wife and I were in Lisbon just this past weekend. We loved the pastéis de nata they make at Manteigaria, on the north edge of Praça Luís de Camões.
posted by aerosolkid at 10:58 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Pastelaria Alcôa in Lisbon is gonna be a great resource for you! Convent confections that I didn’t see anywhere else.
posted by estlin at 11:25 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Get the pasteis de Belem. From the place linked above.

Eat them and if possible die immediately afterwards; it really doesn’t get any better than that. Best to go out on a high note.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:30 AM on March 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

There's a culinary/historical connection to the Hawaiian islands as well. Malasadas are the local favorite for donuts.
These deep-fried, sugar-dusted doughnuts were brought to Hawaii with the 1878 arrival of Portuguese plantation laborers from the Madeira and Azores islands. In fact, malasadas, which is loosely translated to “poorly cooked,” are thought to be the speciality of São Miguel, an island in the Azores that was first settled by the Portuguese in 1427.

In Portugal, however, there’s a dessert called filhó, which is very similar: The dough is made with flour and eggs, then left to rise before shaped into balls, deep fried and sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. (In Brazil, they’re covered with honey instead of sugar.)
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also in looking up malasadas, I came across the book Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:34 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

+1 for Pastelaria Alcoa, per St Peepsburg. You will get a lot of variety there beyond the pasteis de nata (which, to be clear, I could eat all day every day). Had the most amazing cone of delicate pastry filled with egg yolk and sugar from Alcoa, I daydream about it regularly. We loved Pastelaria Aloma in Campo de Ourique for pasteis, but it's a bit out of the way - you'll find each place that makes them has its own subtle variations of style. I'm delighted to hear there's a place to try the traditional Sintra pastries in Lisbon, per carrienation, because we had a grand time trying different treats in Sintra itself.
posted by FavourableChicken at 11:42 AM on March 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

YES YES YES to Pastéís de Belém - it is beyond description! We took a little open-top tour bus to Belém, walked around a bit with our pastries, had a lovely outdoor seafood lunch, then took another bus back. The buses left from the big outdoor market in the middle of Lisbon.
posted by wisekaren at 1:54 PM on March 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So, there's a couple things being talked about here.

Pastelaria Alcoa is the place to go for convent sweets and there are many of them. It is the place to go if you love all those eggy sweets. Atlas Obscura has a good brief history of Convent Sweets and of Alcoa's role in reviving them.

Now, about pastries in general. The thing about Portugal is that every region has particular pastries and if you want to try those then the place to go is Cafetaria Astro. All manner of unique biscuits, dougnuts, cookies, you name it, and from all over the country. It is like a virtual trip around the pastry shops of Portugal.

Within Lisbon, you will see many pastry shops that say 'Fabrico Proprio' on them. This means they make their own pastries and it is de regueur that they have a unique pastry of their own.For your research, I'd send you to the website/book Fabrico Proprio which discusses and documents all this.

I think the best one (tastiest, great diversity) is Pastelaria Mexicana. Note that the name has nothing to do with Mexico or Mexican food but is simply the name of the street it is on.

The Pastel de Nata is a convent sweet, probably the most famous one. The gold standard is the Pastel de Belem which is not called a Pastel de Nata. A Pastel de Nata is everyone else's attempt to duplicate the Pastel de Belem. Controversially, these attempts have exceeded the original or perhaps not. There's a competition every year in Lisbon as to who makes the best one. Here's the 2021 results. Note that Alcoa's website proudly proclaims that they won this competition in 2014.
posted by vacapinta at 12:51 AM on March 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

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