If you are ever in Lisbon, stopping by the busy little shop where the world-famous Pasteis de Belem are produced is a must! After a visit of the nearby Monasterio de los Jeronimos, UNESCO world-heritage site, it’s only a 2-minute stroll down the road before you get there!
Keepers of an ancestral secret recipe created by monks, this family-owned business accepted to receive us and show us around the place where it all happens! After the visit, we sat down with Miguel Clarinha, enjoying the lovely pastries, and asked him a few questions. Here is the transcript of our conversation.
Meet the Maker: Can you tell us more about your company story?
Miguel Clarinha: This place has been here for a long time, since 1837. It’s been in our family for 4 generations now, about a hundred years. Today, it’s my cousin Penelope, my father Pedro and I who run the business.
The history of this place is the history of the cake: “Pasteis de belem”; which was invented in the monastery of Jerónimos, the one beside us.
It was only around 1820, when the liberal Revolution occurred, that the recipe was passed on by the monks that had invented it. It was passed to a businessman that decided to keep on making the cakes here.
This building, where our bakery is today, used to be a factory for refining sugar. He started selling them in a traditional trading shop from that time, that existed right where our front counter is today.
So, since 1837 a lot has changed, the sugar refinery disappeared, the small trading shop grew into five different rooms we have for customers and now we have about 180 people working here!
Now, it's a big business and the only thing that has remained exactly the same is the recipe for the Pasteis de Belem & the way they are handmade.
"We kept it exactly as it was before because when something is good you don't need to change it."
Understand the pastry: A lot of people would think Pasteis de Nata & Pasteis de Belem are the same, but they are not! Can you explain the difference?
M.C: The Pasteis de Nata is the most traditional Portuguese sweet, you can find it anywhere and in any Portuguese pastry shop in Lisbon, in Portugal or around the world.
Pasteis de Belem is obviously visually very similar to the Pasteis de Nata, you can say it's like a brother! However, the recipe for Pasteis de Belem is unique. This particular recipe, you will only find it here at this shop, in Belem. This is the only place in the world where this cake and this recipe is made and sold.
"Now, I really leave it up to you to try & taste the Pasteis de Belem & the Pasteis de Nata and figure out for yourself which one you like the best."
Enter the Tale: When we arrived, we were surprised to see so many people waiting to try the Pasteis de Belem, can you just explain to us how you became that famous?
C.V: I think of a lot of different reasons.
Reason number one; obviously the quality of the cake and the fact that it's the only place in the world where you can find it. if it wasn’t good, people wouldn't come and wouldn't share their experience so obviously, that's why we tried to ensure that the quality of our products is always the best, that's our main focus.
Then, I think the fact that we are here in Belem, one of the most visited neighborhood by tourists in Lisbon because of all its history and Museums has also played a big part in making the brand so famous, not only in Portugal but also abroad.
I think then, the place, the history of the tiles (azulejos: traditional Portuguese tiles found all over the walls in the shop), it also involves the cake itself.
"It’s not just a bakery, it’s a bakery that represents Portuguese sweet baking and Portuguese history. And you tie it all together with the quality, the place with the service that I think you get, it’s something unique and usually people like unique things. Those are some of the reasons why it became so successful!"
Adress: Pasteis de Belem
R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Opening Hours: from 8 am to Midnight.