Thursday, September 2, 2010

Touring Belém

I woke up this morning stating the following to Steve: "THIS WILL BE A DAY OF DIETING!"

Now, I have been married for 37 years….or is it 38? Who knows? What is for certain is it has been long enough for  Steve to know me well. So having heard this comment many times before, he just laughed.

My intentions were good, but we decided to take off for Belém, the last of the surrounding neighborhoods we hadn't yet explored. Unfortunately for my well intention dieting comment, Belém is also the home of Café Pastéis de Belém. I know I have already spoken of these treats, but it is worthy of further discussion.

The first sound you hear is the "crunch" as patrons sit at their tables and take their first bite. The creamy custard nestles snugly inside a delicious buttery, flaky, crisp pastry (hence, the crunch) which I believe to be filo dough. (some, at other pastry shops I am told, are made with puff pastry.) Whichever doesn't matter. As both our friends Antonio and Carla correctly told us, Belém was THE place to experience these treats. I can never have another from anywhere else.

The Hunk

A long line of people wait inside and outside for their turn to purchase these pastries. We were told we could sit at a table for lunch, but in order to take home the pastries, we would need to wait in the ever growing line outside. I, however, became BEST FRIENDS with my waiter Robert, the most gorgeous hunk in all of Lisbon!  Robert spoke flawless English, learned, he said, from watching lots of TV.  (There are many TV shows from the US and they are not dubbed. Movies as well. Instead they use Portuguese subtitles.) Anyway, we did become friends and he made us promise to find him if we needed anything in Lisbon. hmmmmm..I have to think about that one!

Robert took this shot in their kitchen for me

On an average weekday over 12,000 of these custard tarts (20,000 on the weekend) are sold. Served warm (although Steve and I have NO problem eating them straight from our fridge) with a sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar, they are truly better than any found in other pastelerias.  Only two or  three people know  the Belém secret recipe. The custard tart is believed to to have been created before the 18th century by nuns at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos as a way to earn money. They must have succeeded because the monastery is incredibly beautiful, one of the most architecturally spectacular buildings in all of Lisbon.

In the late 1400's King Manuel I (1495–1521)was granted permission from the Pope to build a great monastery in thanks to the Virgin Mary for Vasco de Gama's successful voyage to India. His tomb is in this monastery.

There is lots to see in Belem and we only skimmed the surface. Next week our friends Ron and Linda will arrive. Then we will further explore this culturally rich city situated on the River Tagus at the point where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, the place where Portuguese adventurers set sail to explore the unknown. We will return to see the Monument to the Discoveries and both the Coach Museum and the Electricity Museum. But more about those later.

Every day is a new adventure and truthfully, at about 4pm every day, our eyes seem to close for a good hour nap. For those who know us well, eating at 8:00 staying up until midnight is a new experience, yet we are fitting in more and more each day. We did manage to walk into the Bairro Alto neighborhood at night, find a quiet bar (that by the way had wallpaper depicting naked couples in a variety of sexual positions) and listen to wonderful old 40's jazz music. Later on in the evening they switched to 50's rock. We felt at home! Can't tell you why they have that particular wallpaper. wasn't a sex club.

One last thing before I sign off. Unlike my condo at Hayden Ferry Lakeside, the condo association here DOES allow laundry to hang from your back patio. I wonder if our home owner's association would reconsider. Hmmmm...have to bring it up at the next board meeting :)



  1. Dear Ellyn:
    Can you get us number in line NOW for our visit to Café Pastéis de Belém in June? (Tell Roberto we WILL be there!) Sorry you and Steve won't be there then, too.... (Mary-Lou)

  2. We will tell you the secrets for getting a table and all the pastries you want without waiting in line. As to Robert....I am taking him home with me!

  3. Hi Ellyn,

    I should tell you that (without knowing), Roberto is also a friend of us at FCSH. Just watch profile number 16, done by some of my students three years ago...
    Oh, and I am glad that you both didn't decide to diet. It's just impossible in Portugal.

  4. Antonio...that is so cool and very well done. And, of course, it pleases my old eyes to further look upon Robert! What a wonderful coincidence. I can't wait to go in to the shop again and tell him that we know you!