In search of the perfect custard tart
If there’s one thing to take away (literally) from Portugal, it would have to be, their custard tarts! Seriously, they serve the best tarts in the world. It’s no wonder these tarts originate from Portugal.
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The best tarts that stole my heart away were the tarts from Nata, I had my very first bite of Portuguese tarts here, and then I quickly grew inseparable ever since. Being in Portugal saw me visiting the nearest NATA shop every morning for my dose of tarts. Ah, heaven on earth!
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Pasteis de Nata, deliciously soft, sweet, custard tarts, are a cult in Lisbon. And one place is the undisputed master of making them. In Belem, just off the waterfront, is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem - a blue and white-tiled temple to eggs, cream sugar and pastry. Their 170-year-old recipe is of course, a guarded secret, divulged to only three chefs at any one time. The result is delicious - perfectly browned, with individualism catered for with sachets of icing sugar and cinnamon. Turning out 16,000 tarts a day, and every one hand-made, this is worth a trip to Portugal alone.
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Just minutes from Lisbon’s popular shopping area, Chiado, Manteigaria is best described as an egg tart bar. The Art Nouveau building, once a butter shop, has only a counter and a kitchen. From eight in the morning until midnight, a mix of tourists and locals eat their egg tarts at the counter, while on the other side of the plexiglass, bakers roll, shape, and fill new tarts. Every time a new batch comes out of the oven, a bell rings.
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Open since 1829, the sixth-generation family pastry shop is fanciful and opulent, with decorative woodwork, a mirrored ceiling, and marble counters. This is one of the oldest confeitarias in Portugal, with a spiral staircase leads up to the tea room on the second floor. The shop first gained renown in the 19th century, when the owner invited bakers and chefs from France and Spain to teach the art of pastry. In 1873, Confeitaria Nacional became the official supplier of the Casa Real (Royal Household).
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Pastelaria Alcôa opened at the beginning of 2017 in what was once a beautiful tobacco shop. The tiles from the interior and exterior remain, but the smoke has been replaced by the smell of sugar and an enticing window display of sweets. This is Alcôa’s second location; the original dates back to 1957 in Alcobaça, a city about two hours from Lisbon famous for its convent sweets. The pastéis de nata are on display next to other convent sweets made of egg yolk and sugar with funny names like “nun’s belly” or “the forbidden love.” The bakery uses high-quality ingredients, and the custard of the egg tarts is perfectly balanced and creamy. Warm egg tarts continuously come out of the oven, so no matter what time you stop in, there will always be a fresh batch.
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