On a recent stopover in Lisbon, I met up with Frederico Duarte, Lisboeta and coauthor of Fabrico Proprio, a book (and ongoing project) on the design of Portuguese pastry. He led me on a late-night trek in search of the city's underground bakeries.
Behind unmarked doors, down seemingly barren alleys and stairwells, lie the bolos da madrugada, or "cakes at dawn" bakeries. The only way to find them is to either be in the know or follow the scent of freshly made pastry as you walk the streets of Lisbon. Open generally from midnight to 6 a.m. (with some variation), these secret pastelarias bring energy to the city in the otherwise quiet wee hours.
As Duarte said, "These places keep Lisbon alive. Not just by feeding its people—from nighthawks to early birds, from clubbers to policemen—but mainly by showing the city's rhythm, and proving our appetite for pastries never really stops."
Right on cue, as we stood on the stairs leading to Pastelaria Azevedo e Vidal near Praca do Chile in the Arroios neighborhood, a police officer walked past us down to the grated counter and purchased a cake from the selection of traditional favorites—among them pasteis de nata (small custard tarts) and egg-cream filled bolas de berlim—as sustenance for the night shift.
Panificacao Reunida De Sao Roque, which is part of a larger pastry factory on Rua da Rosa in Bairro Alto, is another spot worth a stop. There's also a shop in Graca, which Duarte described as being located on the "tiny street with the Indian restaurant." Take a walk through the area and follow your nose; you just might find it.