Another early start on our second day in Portugal – after a quick breakfast, we drove via the Marginal (coastal road) from Estoril to Belem in Lisboa to meet up with the brother of Antonio, a good friend of ours who is Brazilian/Portuguese and whose family live in Lisbon. His younger brother, Kiko, is another Cordon Bleu Paris graduate with his own restaurant, Masstige, in downtown Lisbon.
Scenes from Pasteis de Belem
We met in front of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, another UNESCO world heritage site. This Renaissance monument of Manueline architectural style was built in the early 1500’s in what was then the entrance to the city of Lisbon from the Tagus river. The Religious Order of St. Jerome lived in the monastery until 1833 when religious communities were dissolved and the Monastery cleared. Prominent Portuguese, including poets, politicians and even famous explorer Vasco de Gama.
After meeting at the front of the monastery, we parked our car and followed Kiko and his fiancee, Maria, to the nearby Pasteis de Belem. For gourmet travellers like myself, this is an institution that shouldn’t be missed. This pastry shop was founded in 1837 in what was once a sugarcane refinery alongside the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. The creation of a pastry shop was a result of the closing down of all monasteries in 1833 which led the clergy and monks with nothing to do so a business making pasteis (custard-filled pastry shells) was created. Today, the famous pasteis de Belem have become a national pastry available in all Portuguese bakeries but the original remains the most popular and is the only one allowed to use the name pasteis de Belem while all the rest are called pasteis de nata. I had first tried a variation of pasteis in Hong Kong many years ago. It was one of the traditional desserts in dim sum restaurants and are called “dan tarts“. It was surely a remnant of Portuguese influence brought to Macao and adapted by the Cantonese.
It was almost noon when we entered the bustling shop and it was packed with people. The original front room was extended with the acquisition of nearby buildings and has slowly grown over the years into a large maze of many rooms filled with tables and chairs and also the large a glassed-in area showing the freshly-made pasteis coming out of the oven. We found a bright table soon enough underneath a skylight and right beside the baking area and immediately ordered espressos and some pasteis. The pastry was crisp and layered and the custard cream was warm and delicious. It was the perfect snack before starting our whirlwind tour of Lisbon.
We left our car in Belem and Kiko drove us through the city starting out at the Baixa Chiado area just off the famous pedestrian street of Rua Augusta, then continued upwards through tiny cobble stoned roads all the way to the top where we had a bird’s-eye view of the city, its’ famous seven hills and the large Tagus river running through it. On the way up we saw the electric (Lisbon’s efficient and historic tram) which is the best way to get to the top of the hill and back. They also showed us the shopping districts and the trendy Bairro Alto district. By this time we were ready for some lunch.
Facades and the smooth cobble stoned roads of the city