What is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon? The answer depends on our mood. Some days, we like them perfumed with lemon. Other days, we prefer them scented with vanilla.
Our current favorites are the lemony kind. They are made by Manteigaria in Praça Camões near Chiado at a location that was once occupied by a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter). Perhaps as an homage to the past, Manteigaria’s pasteis have a buttery taste. The crispy crust and the rich filling are so satisfying that they make us feel, for a moment, that we discovered the meaning of life.
Whenever a new batch of pasteis comes hot out of the oven, Mantegaria’s cashier rings a bell. You’ll see people dropping what they’re doing and rushing to Manteigaria in search of a moment of sweetness.
Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto, 2 near Chiado in Lisbon, tel. 21-347-1492.
Pastelaria Aloma, a pastry store in the Campo d’Ourique neighborhood, became famous after winning the competition for the best “pastel de nata” in Lisbon in 2012 and 2013. With so many pastry stores and coffee shops vying for this honor, it is a remarkable achievement.
We set out to investigate, on behalf of our readers, whether Aloma’s pastries are indeed a cut above the rest. Our first two visits were in the afternoon and, by the time we arrived, they had run out of pastries! Why don’t they make more? Were they told by a business guru to use scarcity as a marketing tool?
Our third visit was in the morning. We were so eager to try these little pastries that we ate the first pastel very quickly. By the time we noticed the taste, all that was left was a happy hint of lemony sweetness.
We asked for a second specimen. This time we used a scientific approach, taking small bytes and writing detailed notes. Yes, the dough has the perfect crustiness, flakiness, and flavor. Yes, the sweetness of the filling is perfectly balanced by the taste of lemon and the sprinkle of cinnamon.
It was only when we ordered a third pastel that we realized that these pastries have a major flaw: it is hard to stop eating them!
Pastelaria Aloma is located on Rua Francisco Metrass, 67, Lisbon, tel. 21-396-3797.
Any nutritionist will tell you that breakfast is the most important meal. It gets our body ready and sets the mood for the day. A lousy breakfast is like a bad haircut, it makes us look weird and feel awkward.
If you’re staying near Chiado, you can start your day with the right foot by walking into Tartine, a wonderful new café. We like to order coffee with toasts made from one of the delicious whole grain breads that are so healthy. After being nutritionally savvy, we reward ourselves with one of the amazing pastries or fruit tarts. When we walk out, the sun is shining and the future looks bright.
Tartine is located on Rua Serpa Pinto, 15-A, tel 21-342-9108. Click here for their web site.
Ribeira das Naus is the place where the caravels were once built and repaired. These ships sailed as far as Goa and Cochim in search of cinnamon and other spices. Lisbon has recently transformed the Ribeira das Naus site into a wonderful promenade that extends from Terreiro do Paço to Cais do Sodré.
The part of the promenade close to Terreiro do Paço, has a beautiful esplanade. Here, you can drink a cup of coffee and eat a “pastel de nata” while enjoying the wonderful river view. Don’t forget to ask for a sprinkle of cinnamon on your pastel, for old time sake.
Being a tourist in Alfama, the neighborhood of St. Jorge’s castle in Lisbon, can be exhausting. After a few hours of walking up and down the narrow streets, we deserve to stop for a refreshment. There’s no better place to enjoy a cold, draft beer than the esplanade at Cerca Moura. That’s the name of the defensive wall first built by the Visigoths and then rebuilt by the Moors. Here you have the same same view of the river Tagus that was once enjoyed by Romans, Moors, Suevi, and Visigoths. But, unlike them, you don’t have to be on the lookout for hoards of invaders.
Cerca Moura, Largo das Portas do Sol 4, Lisbon, tel. 21-887-4859.
You can order an espresso by saying: “Um espresso, por favor. “ (oom espresso poer faevoer). “Um” means “one,” and “por favor” means “please.” This method works fine, but the Portuguese don’t use the word espresso. So, here’s how to order coffee like a local.
In Lisbon, an espresso is called a “bica” (pronounced beeca), so the right thing to say is: “Uma bica por favor” (ooma beeca poer faevoer). In case you’re wondering, “bica” means spout, so the name probably comes from the spout that channels the coffee into the cup.
Now that we covered the basics, let’s discuss some advanced topics. There are two types of “bica.” The “bica curta” (beeca coorta) is a short espresso, sometimes so short that you can barely taste any coffee. A “bica cheia” (beeca sheia) is a long espresso. Your choice of bica reveals a lot about your personality. People who like the “bica curta” are usually intense, while those who enjoy the “bica cheia” tend to be more relaxed.
In Oporto they call an espresso a “cimbalino” (ceenbaleeno) in homage to La Cimbali, a popular Italian brand of espresso machines. Foreigners who know this arcane fact are often honored with a state banquet and given the keys to the city.
Where can you find a list of the best coffee shops in Portugal? There’s no such list. With more than three centuries of experience brewing coffee, Portugal has as many great coffee shops as beautiful beaches.
Martinho da Arcada, a café in Terreiro do Paço, is a time capsule. It shows us what Lisbon cafés looked like in the first part of the 20th century. It is an austere place and, yet, it was here that the poet Fernando Pessoa wrote some of the best poetry in the Portuguese language.
Do the muses still gather at Martinho da Arcada, waiting to whisper their rhymes to those willing to listen? There’s only one way to find out. Take a pen and a pad of paper, sit down at one of the tables, order some coffee, and watch what happens.