Portuguese Desserts – One Sweet Treat for Each Day of the Week!

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments
Sweets galore!
Portuguese Desserts (photo by Alanosaur)

I was in Macau when I had the privilege to sink my teeth into my very first bite of a Portuguese inspired sweet, an egg tart. I still vividly recall the flaky crisp pastry filled with warm creamy custard, a treat that can be described as nothing less than heavenly.

Zara Quiroga, who runs the exciting new Backpack ME travel blog, wrote this awesome article about her home country’s most beloved Portuguese desserts – one for each day of the week!

If there is one thing you should know about Portuguese people it’s that, if we’re not eating, we’re probably talking about food!

For such a small country, Portugal has a rather diversified cuisine, distinct in the different regions: we care about meat, we pray to the gods of seafood, we eat our vegetables as it should be and, most of all… we live for desserts!

If you’ve ever traveled anywhere in Portugal, you would have probably noticed that every street  has at least one “pastelaria” (pastry shop) and they’re not usually empty.

Furthermore, your plates will never be cleared out of the table in a Portuguese restaurant without the accompanying words “what would you like for dessert?”

We need our daily serving of coffee and sweets and, what can I say, I am here to keep that tradition alive!

It wasn’t until I started researching for this post that I realized that we have way more traditional sweets, pastries and desserts than I could ever fit in this time. But if you had only one week in Portugal, this is a best of list to get you acquainted with the sweet taste of my country.

Warning: if you are on an eggless diet, please abstain!

Tocinillo de Cielo
Toucinho do Céu (photo by maguisso)

Monday: Toucinho do Céu

Its name translates into “Heaven’s Bacon” but the only thing in common between this sweet and actual bacon is probably the amount of calories involved!

It was originally made with pork lard by nuns secluded in convents that sure knew combining an almost ridiculous amount of sugar and egg yellows can make you feel like you’re rising up to the skies!

You can find Toucinho do Ceu anywhere around the country, but for a traditionally acclaimed version of it, head North to the region of Tras-os-Montes or the city of Guimaraes.

Aletria (photo by Su-lin)

Tuesday: Aletria

The main ingredient for this dessert that is particularly in demand around Christmas time is a very thin kind of noodle that was brought into Portugal when the Moors settled in.

It was later that Portuguese people, with their unconditional love for desserts, turned these noodles into a sweet treat, by boiling them in milk and adding butter, egg yellows, lemon zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top!

Any Christmas table that claims to be Portuguese, should display a generous tray of Aletria, which is usually more consistent in the coastal regions of the country and creamier up North.

No matter where you go, it’s always delicious!

Mousse de Chocolate
Mousse de Chocolate (photo by Wallyg)

Wednesday: Mousse de Chocolate

This has got to be the perfect treat for mid-week depression!

Chocolate mousse might not be originally Portuguese, but there is no chocolate mousse like the one in Portugal. Not even in France.

As a staple dessert in most Portuguese restaurants, from small eateries that make a living selling set menus to higher end restaurants, chocolate mousse has been one of my favorite deserts since I was a kid.

What makes the Portuguese version different from abroad? Ours is not what I would call creamy or spongy (what would normally be a good thing!), but instead has a caramel like texture that will make you lick your spoon until it shines again!

Photo by http://paracozinhar.blogspot.com/

Thursday: Azevias de Mertola

Mertola is the town in the South of Portugal where these beloved sweet turnovers are from. 
This is another example of a Portuguese dessert having an origin inside religious institutions where nuns devoted themselves to God and to making treats.

What a sweet life!

These pockets are made of fried dough and hide inside an unexpectedly smooth and sweet paste made of mashed chickpeas. But don’t be fooled, this is no falafel! Azevias are super sweet and comforting, perfect for a winter snack after a stroll observing the beautiful landscapes of the region they were born at.

Ovos Moles
Ovos Moles (photo by Nocas)

Friday: Ovos Moles

After skipping the egg mania on Thursday, we come back again to Portugal’s favorite sweet combination: sugar + eggs galore!

Ovos moles means “soft eggs” and that is pretty much what this is. Synonymous with the coastal city of Aveiro, Ovos Moles were firstly created by nuns too! Nuns used egg whites to iron their garments and ended up creating this recipe not to waste the remaining egg yellows.

Ovos moles are now-a-days presented in different shapes: in rolled cakes, inside traditional clay pots or, more famously, inside light wheat dough in the shape of items that symbolize Aveiro and its river.

Bolinhos de Amendoa
Bolinhos de Amendoa (photo by © Nevit Dilmen)

Saturday: Bolinhos de Amendoa

Welcome to Portugal’s beach side paradise: the Algarve!

Apart from sun, white sands, surfing and hot people soaking up the sun, Algarve is famous for the creative use of almonds. 
What could be a simple marzipan is taken to a whole new level by Algarvian sweet makers, filling the almond paste with an egg and sugar concoction that we call “fios de ovos”, that is, egg threads.

You have guessed it by now: we love eggs!

Bolinhos de Amendoa from Algarve is very probably the cutest desert in the entire country, being most popularly presented in fruity shapes. Sometimes they look so good you almost feel sorry to eat them. Who am I kidding?… Not really!

Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Belem (photo by Stijnnieuwendijk)

Sunday: Pastel de Belem

These custard cakes are the most popular Portuguese sweet amongst tourists. Although originally from the area of Belem in Lisbon, Pastel de Belem can be found all over Portugal under the name “Pastel de Nata.” But this is not a touristic thing only. I am yet to find one person in the entire country that doesn’t like this pastry. It would almost be anti-patriotic!

So much that pastel de Belem has been elected one of the “7 Wonders of Portuguese Gastronomy”. And I didn’t just make this up, it’s an official rank!

If you visit Lisbon, prepare to queue up in Belem to taste this cake where it was originally created, served warm straight out of the oven, with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top!

This makes for a great end of day in Lisbon, letting the custard sweeten up your senses as you look to the Tagus river and day dream of new voyages and discoveries.

Have you had any Portuguese sweet before? What was your favorite one and why?

About the Author: Zara Quiroga is a Portuguese traveler currently exploring South America with her Indian boyfriend, Ashray. She loves getting to know new cultures and her relationship is proof that she enjoys mixing up too! Zara and Ashray run the travel website Backpack ME, where they share tips and inspirational stories in the shape of posts, photos and videos. With their different cultural backgrounds, they want to inspire anyone to travel, no matter where they come from.

24 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • whitney

    6 years ago

    We had yummy desserts in Portugal, but my favorite was the pastel de Belem!

  • Fred Glasser

    7 years ago

    Madam I think a very strong argument can be made that pastel de Belem is one of the seven wonders of the world’s desert gastronomy.
    Fred Glasser Orange CA

  • Anna Johnston

    7 years ago

    NICE collection of sweet treats you have put together. The Aletria sounds fascinatingly different too.

  • prajwal

    8 years ago

    Hi Mark your fan from India, now i live in Barcelona Spain, obviously the best place to enjoy big city charms and be near the beach at the same time, Visit Spain someday and you will love it. There is a restaurant called Ayo Snack Bar on the beach at Nerja which is 50 kms east of Malaga province, Ayo snack bar specialty is a dish called Paella (Mixture of Rice and Meat), its one of the fantastic food to eat at Ayo’s. Link: http://www.ayonerja.com/chiringuito_en.html

    Its awesome food, give it a try when you visit Spain.

    Best Wishes!!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hi Prajwal, nice to hear from you, thank you for sharing. That paella looks wonderful, I hope to visit Spain in the future.

  • camilete

    11 years ago

    Where in Vancouver can I find egg threads??? Tks

  • About Portugal

    12 years ago

    Hi Zara,
    you have picked a great portuguese dessert selection. I would only add the “Tortas de Azeitão” and the two Sintra specialties: the “Sintra Travesseiros” and the “Sintra Queijadas”.

    But nevertheless, those ones that you’ve picked up are great.


    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Cool, thanks for your extra input on all these delicious desserts!

  • Zara @ Backpack ME

    12 years ago

    After all these comments even I feel like trying out the Asian take on Portuguese custard tart!
    I was in Malacca (Malaysia) a couple of years back and was silly not to try the tarts available in the Chinese market! Funny enough they looked substantially more yellow than in Portugal, but still very appetizing… Gotta go back! 😉

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Hehe, thanks Zara. It would be interesting to hear your take on the custard tarts outside of Portugal!

  • Kwong

    12 years ago

    I’ve never been to Europe but I like to think I got a little taste of Portugal when I visited Macau. Loved how the streets of Macau looked different from other places in Asia I have visited. Other places have some European influences but they are normally covered over. Macau seems to have less of the Asian influences washing over the European. Great place to wander about. I avoided the area where the casinos were. They can be seen anywhere.

    Favorite memories are wandering about because you can’t really get too lost, Macau is relatively small. And of course gorging myself sick with those addictive Macanese egg tarts (Po Tat in Cantonese) or if you’re Portuguese as Mark just taught us, Pastel De Balem. You can get them in Vancouver, BC where I live, but it tastes so much better wandering around the narrow streets of Macau looking at something new around every corner.

    Mark, I love your articles. Makes me want to travel some more.

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Hi Kwong, thanks so much for the comment and story. Just like you, I’ve never visited Portugal but have only samples the egg tarts in Macau and was in love as well. They are so much better than anyone could ever describe. Macau is a great city, such an interesting mixture and so different from mainland China, yet not the same as Europe either, just a real melting pot. Cool to hear you’re from Vancouver, that’s another great city. I have visited a number of times and have always enjoyed the wonderful Chinese food there.

      By the way, I cannot take credit for this article. Zara (http://bkpk.me/) a really cool blogger from Portugal wrote this post for Migrationolgy!

      Thanks again for all your support Kwong!

  • Ayngelina

    12 years ago

    I have probably had many Portugese desserts and had no idea they were Portugese. I did find out that my favourite dessert in Maui, the malasadas were actually Portugese.

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    12 years ago

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a Portuguese dessert before. These are all so unique and look delicious!

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      I’ve only had 1, and it was incredible. I know you’d love them Stephanie!

  • Bama

    12 years ago

    When I went to Macau from Hong Kong I had a terrible seasick on the journey. Arriving in Macau food was the last thing I wanted to see as I still felt nauseous. But then before leaving Macau I told myself that I would regret it for the whole of my life if I didn’t try at least one pastel de nata. And I did. Oh my, it was heaven in my mouth!

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Great story about your first egg tart Bama! They really are much more amazing than we could ever describe!

  • sully86

    12 years ago

    mark: instead of seeing stars. I am seeing dancing Portuguese egg tarts now …

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Can you get them in Malaysia?

    • sully86

      12 years ago

      Mark: Yes mark. U can get it here in Malaysia. According to History, the portugese came to malaysia and to malacca especially to take control of the port. With them they bring the portugese egg tart to malaysia

    • Mark Wiens

      12 years ago

      Ahh, ok, thanks for sharing Sully. Glad you can get them in Malaysia!