Portugal’s capital city Lisbon is a feast for the senses, with picturesque whitewashed houses towered by Castelo de Sao Jorge, breathtaking views from the many belvederes, all kinds of mouth-watering cuisine, and an array of coffee shops serving bica and the round custard pastries called pastel de nata.
Bica, the black and robust ristretto served in a tiny cup is the drink of choice in homes, greasy spoons, coffee shops and pastry shops. The word “bica” was said to have been coined in Cafe A Brasileira, the century-old establishment in Chiado. It’s short for Beba Isso Com Acucar – meaning drink it with sugar in English.
Pastel (plural pasteis) de Belem is an iconic Portuguese custard tart, made in Antiga Confeitaria de Belem (Pasteis Belem) pastry shop since 1837. Made of milk, sugar, eggs, and cinnamon with a puff pastry casing. Elsewhere in Lisbon and throughout Portugal, these custard tarts are known as pastel (pasteis) de nata.
A trip to Lisbon will never be complete without having bica (coffee) and pastel de nata in these four spots:
1. Antiga Confeitaria de Belem also known as Pasteis de Belem
Most guided tours to Belem include a stop at Pasteis de Belem, the most famous pastry shop in Lisbon. Here you can take a seat in one of the five adjoining rooms and ask for the warm, sweet and creamy tart with coffee. Remember to add a dash of cinnamon if you like. The pastry shop sells about 20,000 pasteis per day.
For the history and additional information, please visit Pasteis de Belem’s website.
Say “uma bica” if you want a cup of strong ristretto when in Manteigaria pastry shop. Stand at the counter and enjoy your bica and pasteis de nata. There are no seats in the pastry shop. You can watch the workers make the tarts through the large window while you enjoy your bica and tarts. The store in Chiado makes about 5,000 pasteis de nata per day. The bell rings several times in a day in Manteigaria. The baker rings the bell every time a fresh tray of pasteis is taken out of the oven.
Manteigaria means butter shop in Portuguese. There are two Manteigaria in Lisbon, one on Rua do Loreto in Chiado, and the other is in Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market).
3. Confeitaria Nacional
Confeitaria Nacional, founded in 1829 is the oldest pastry shop in Lisbon. This two-floor pastry shop serves breakfast and lunch, but the main draw for us was the pastries and coffee. Located on the busy street in downtown Baixa by the Rossio Square, it makes an ideal place for anyone looking for a historic 19th-century-style coffee shop to rest and admire the views of the square. Take a seat by the window in the tea room upstairs.
4. The Quiosques
Quiosques or street kiosks are scattered throughout Lisbon. The traditional six-sided, finialed roof, hexagonal wooden structures has played an essential role in Lisbon’s street life for over 150 years. Many quiosques were shut down when António de Oliveira Salazar came into power in the 30s. You can read all about it in History, Horchata and Hope, an NPR article.
Today, there’s a revival of the quiosques but not all are hexagonal. Attractive kiosks selling coffee, pastries, sandwiches, beer, liquor, local and international food are sprouting everywhere in the city. These kiosks offer inexpensive eats, often tended by young Lisboans in public parks and squares. Usually, you’ll find chairs and tables by the kiosks, making it an ideal place to grab a coffee and pasteis de nata.
Here’s one unique touch (Benfica’s color) to the traditional pasteis de nata we bought at a kiosk outside the Benfica stadium in Lisbon.
If you are out and about and need a dose of caffeine and sweet treats, stop by one of these mobile carts:
Over 90 percent of Lisboans drink a tiny cup of strong coffee or bica every morning. Some drink four to five cups throughout the day. Make sure you stop by at one of these places for bica and pasteis de nata in Lisbon.