My body was ready for the fabled pastel de nata. That Portuguese pastry, with which I have been harboring a hopeless helpless love for years, was the main reason I booked my tickets to Lisbon. I am well acquainted with this creamy, flaky custard tarts; back in the days in Hong Kong, the bf and I found every chance to indulge ourselves in this precious golden pastry, and I sometimes had to resort to those feeble tarts in Seoul to satisfy my sweet tooth. It was a religious moment when I brought myself to the most famous, oldest pastel de nata cafe in Belém, when I finally saw those real authentic beauties with my own eyes and carefully savored them as tears came out of my eyes and all those wasted years of eating the second-rated tarts flashed by with a tinge of shame and regret.
As much as I adored egg tarts, Lisbon’s culinary scene turned out to spread farther and wider than those pastries. Lisbon has to be my food city in Europe, everything was so cheap and so good, so authentic and so hearty. For 5 days there my belly was filled to the seams with amazing seafood, sensational pastries and, well, let’s throw in some alcohol to make everything jollier, shan’t we?
For a country blessed with miles after miles of coastline, seafood has to be the first thing that comes to our mind. And yes, in Lisbon, there is no shortage of seafood. AT almost every restaurant I passed by, seafood was proudly featured on the first page; talk about crabs, shrimps, herrings, salmons, sardines etc. here. But were you to choose only one type of seafood to try in Lisbon, don’t hesitate to dive right into the nation’s favorite and obsession: bacalhau, aka salted cod fish.
There said to be 1000+ recipes for bacalhau, and believe it or not, the country celebrates Xmas with this dried fish from foreign seas (most bacalhau comes from Norway, Iceland and Newfound lands). Doesn’t matter where bacalhau comes from, because it is here in Portugal that this fish is worshipped and perfected into a culinary symbol. Whenever you smell that horrendous(?) aroma of fish coming out of restaurants, or see those cool/strange chunks of fish hanging in front of a resto’s windows, please remember, bacalhau is an icon, a celebrity, a superstar of Portugal.
On my first day in Lisbon, after a tiring walk around the Alfama neighborhood, I found myself drawn in a small restaurant near Lisbon Cathedral. Determined to try the cod, I waited inside the resto for half an hour before it was fully functioning, until I could finally order my seafood fix of shrimp soup and house’s signature bacalhau. I paid in total 11 euro for them (2 for soup, 9 for fish), I think, and shameful as it sounded, I could not finish everything on my plate.
(yummy soup is yummy)
The hero of the day, bacalhau with boiled potatoes, greens and soaked in olive oil. The fish had a nice, firm texture, finely salted and I could taste a hint of smoke. It could be a tad dry, but that was why a pool of olive oil was there ;) Boiled potatoes, surprisingly, never tasted so good when accompanied with the cod and the olive oil. It was so good and so fulfilling that 1/ I had to leave some potatoes :( and 2/ I’m salivating thinking about them now.
To continue my fishy trail, the next day (and next…) I walked around the city and let myself charmed into those small, unpretentious restaurants for more culinary delights. Everything I tried was a common combination of fish + (boiled or baked) potatoes drenched in olive oil + greens (usually salad in balsamic sauce). I never had to pay more than 8-9 euro for them, and I was always left happy, satisfied, yet feeling healthy (it’s fish AND olive oil, remember?)
And did I mention that soups are cheap and delish and can be a quick meal on their own?
Fancy a quick bite of ocean without having to settle down for a real meal? Bacalhau pastry is the answer to your dilemma. Ridiculously cheap (50 cent) for the quality. Each pastry, with the size of 2 adult fingers, were my staple for 5 days there. I could eat them again and again, continuously and incessantly.
Savory treats aside, here are some photos of pastel de Belém. Surely you can find pastel de nata everywhere in the country, but it is at the original pasteis café in the Belém district, next to the monastery where the dessert was invented by the nuns, can you find the best of the bunch. All my egg tarts I tasted elsewhere in Lisbon were 16271372628382837 times better than any of their version outside the country, but my oh my, Pasteis de Belém’s stuffs were deliciously sensational. Nowehere can you find the same flavor and the perfect balance of puff pastry and custard filling; after all their secret recipe has been guarded since 1837. 10000 tarts are baked here everyday, and the line is long anytime you enter. For all good reasons.
More pastry photos elsewhere because I can:
If you are tired of fish and pastry, a pulled pork sandwich at Nova Pombalina might as well be the best choice. Don’t underestimate the taste from its sheer rustic look. The bread was soft and nice, and the pork was aplenty and juicy, notice that I wrote juicy in italic (twice!). I’d say it’s not a bargain, but a steal, when you only have to pay 3.8 euro for this incredible sammie.
And wash it all down with either a Portuguese espresso (bloody strong! but so so good) or a sangria, or both, like what I did :D
Isn’t this the coolest sangria ever??