Oh What a Tart!
Like the early explorers before it, the Portuguese tart has circumnavigated the world and today, this delectable dessert can be found in coffee shops and pastry joints around the world. Yes, I’ve devoured many of them in different countries, but strangely so, not in Portugal. So, I’m on a mission this summer in search of this sweet temptation!
Where to find the best Portuguese tarts?
Cafe de Belem, or Pasteis de Belém, at Rua de Belém 84-95 is the place to head for and the queues here will test your determination to feed your Portuguese tart addiction. This patisserie has been in business since 1837 and sells an incredible 19,000 tarts a day. It is popular with tourists as well as locals and the tables inside may be hard to come by. You have to be quick if you spot someone leaving. Don’t be put off by the long queues outside as many customers are here for take-away tarts which are sold from the front counter.
The Portuguese have a great love of sweets and there are some 200 different varieties of cakes, pastries and biscuits. The best known recipes are believed to have been created by the nuns and monks from Portugal’s convents and monasteries.
Believe It, Believe It Not!
It is believed that the Portuguese tart had its origin from the convent. During medieval times, it was the practice by nuns to stiffen their habits by using large amounts of egg whites. The leftover egg yolks were then used up in recipes. When convents and monasteries were shut down during the liberal revolution in the 1800s, one enterprising former resident of the monastery made a living by selling egg-based tarts to nearby general stores. These tarts became so popular that they attracted loads of visitors to the monastery and to the Belem Tower. Production of the pastries began in earnestness in the 1830s in a factory situated on the site of the current cafe. As mentioned above, these Portuguese tarts can be bought in pastry shops around the world, but the ones from the Pasteis de Belém has a secret ingredient which only three people have knowledge of. Having just seen the movie Duplicity, we might just send Clive Owen and Julia Roberts on a mission to discover this secret ingredient!