Pastel de Nata. The Portuguese Custard Tart
If you’ve read something about Portugal, especially Lisbon, we are sure you came across the word ‘nata’. It’s a delicacy made o puff dough and a vanilla creamy filling. Putting it like this sounds quite simple. It’s not! But it’s simply delicious!
‘Pastel de Nata’ is the most appreciated pastry in Portugal. Actually, it’s like a trademark of our country. You can find ‘natas’ in almost every corner. However, you need to choose wisely. Not every ‘nata’ is worthy of the tasting experience.
What is a ‘nata’ and how did it become the most famous pastry in Portugal?
‘Nata’ is a custard tart. This delicacy goes back to the 18th century. It was invented in a Catholic monastery – Belém Monastery, in Lisbon. The monks used egg whites to starch clothes and the egg yolks were used in recipes so that there was no waste. This ended up boosting the production of cakes and other pastries at the monasteries north to south of the country.
When the religious orders were extinct, in the 1800s, the monks started to sell the tarts in a small sugar refinery close to the monastery. They later sold the recipe to the refinery owners and the business grew to this day. They sell around 10 000 tarts every day.
Which is the best recipe?
Well, the original recipe is kept in a safe, at Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém. However, there are other places that make ‘natas’ and their recipe is quite delicious too. Manteigaria is one of the best. Each place has its own secret.
The ‘nata’ is made of two parts: the puff dough and the custard.
The secret is to have a flaky dough and a smooth and not too sweet custard. This is the perfect ‘nata’.
And if you manage to eat them warm, that is total bliss. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and you’ll experience heaven!
If you’re in Porto and want to try a ‘nata’, you can either go to Manteigaria Bolhão or to Padaria Jamor.
2019’s Best ‘Nata’ Winner
Pastelaria Santo António in Lisbon won the ‘Best Nata in Lisbon’ award at Festival Peixe. It’s located close to the castle and bears the name of Lisbon’s most famous saint! We guess it’s a blessed pastry. Pun totally intended.
The requirements for a good ‘pastel de nata’ are: ‘an appetizing and tanned aspect, not burnt or badly cooked, a balance between the flaky dough and the custard, that should be runny, without excessive notes of cinnamon, lemon, vanilla or other essences’, refers a member of the jury.
As mentioned before, you’ll find ‘the best natas’ everywhere. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Ask the locals. Or, take our word for it! Having a ‘nata’ is not like having a 5 o’clock tea. You can do it at any time of the day.
Try them “simple”. As you ask for your coffee ‘black’. Or add a sprinkle of cinnamon. Either way, you’re in for a delicious experience. The mix between the flaky dough and the creamy custard will make your palate explode with delight.