You have heard about it before, for sure. Every time someone mentions traveling to Lisbon, everyone mentions the famous pastel de nata.
Famous worldwide, pasteis de nata were created centuries ago in Belém, right next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the Heironymite Monastery). There existed a small general store with a sugar cane refinery.
At the time, monasteries used egg-whites for starching clothes, such as friars and nuns’ religious habits. It was quite common to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Then in 1820, the liberal revolution happened. As a result all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down in 1834, the clergy and laborers expelled.
Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closure of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Revolution, monks from the monastery started selling pastéis de nata.
In 1834, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day.
The Secret Workshop in the Pastéis de Belém Factory keeps the old secret recipe for the making and preparation of the real cream pastries – the Pastéis de Belém. The pastry masters of the Secret Workshop are the few holders of the recipe, sign a term of responsibility and take an oath on how they commit not to disclose the recipe.
Nowadays, in most coffees in Portugal it is possible to buy pasteis de nata, of their own manufacture, but only the originals can be called Pastéis de Belém.
(Although Pasteis de Belém are the original, for many lisboetas the best pastel de natal is from Manteigaria, in Bairro Alto. Write it down…)