“Have you tried one of those custard tarts?”
Someone asked us this question at a hostel in Porto and we just laughed simultaneously, accidently implying we were laughing at the questioner when in fact we were laughing at ourselves and what little piggies we knew we were. Simultaneously, we realised that we had probably eaten our weight in pateis de nata since landing in Lisbon several weeks earlier.
Our first morning in Lisbon was out first proper opportunity to seek out said tart. Without a word of Portuguese or any clue as to an expected price, we bought a pair of espressos and a little yellow treaty from a rather amused old lady. We expected it to be delicious and it was. The coffee looked good, too. And it was. Then we paid, and that was the coolest part of all – 3.20 euros for two coffees and two pastries! Pretty insane, especially considering a Portuguese tart from the Royal Arcade in M-Town will set you back $4.50. And of course there is then the price of a coffee at home…
Turned out the average cost of an espresso across Portugal was 0.60 – 0.70 euro cents; cheaper than Italy and, for the most part, just as good. Our real vice, however, was the humble tart, which consistently proved to be one of the simplest, tastiest and cheapest snacks around. The custard was almost always perfect (the only exception being one that was served but not set), but the true telling of a perfect tart was the pastry, which at its best consisted of several layers that flaked and snapped in your mouth, combining scrumptiously with its yellow neighbour, or pulling away to attend the Diving School of Coffee Accompaniments.
The absolutely best pateis de nata came from Belem, a short bus trip from the city centre. The line out the door of Pateis de Belem was telling enough and the pastries made the fight to the counter more than worthwhile. So much so we had to come back for three more that afternoon.