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Lunch with the Troisgros

22 Nov

I came to the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro to meet the Michelin stared chef Mauro Colagreco of “Le Mirazur” in Menton/France.  Last Friday night (Nov 19th) we had a fantastic dinner at the “Olympe” , owned by the great and mostly widely known “brazilian” (he is in fact French) chef Claude Troigros. He was not present, but I had the opportunity of meeting two other great personalities of the Troigros clan, his son Thomas (of the “66 Bistrô” and who was in fact running the Olymp kitchen) and his nephew, Cesar Troisgros, who was also with hands on the kitchen. If you want to know more about this family and their over 50 years of tradition in the culinary world take a look here. The chef Ricardo Santoro, from Venezuela, who works with Mauro in Menton, joined us later.

I’m not going to write about this dinner right now, which, by the way, was amazing. I just want to mention that Mauro was invited to have a Sunday lunch with the Troisgros family at the “Aconchego Carioca”, a typical and most acclaimed bar/restaurant in Rio.  Well, to make a long story short, Mauro got sick with a relatively high fever spending the last 3 days in bed and was not able to go.  Who went? Chef Ricardo and myself. For those who know the Troisgros I could stop this post right here, as enough has been said.  For those who don’t I’ll share some pictures and impressions.

Claude Troisgros

Claude Troisgros (right) and myself in front of "Aconchego Carioca". The beautiful blonde on the background is his daughter.

Cesar Troisgros

César Troisgros, Michel´s son, presently working with his uncle Claude and his cousin Thomas at "Olympe" in Rio.

Thomas Troisgros

Thomas Troisgros, Claude's son, a most vivid and captivating personality.

Let’s talk about food.

The food, which was served at “Aconchego Carioca” by one of its pleasant owners, Katia Barbosa, had its highs and lows.  Gladly mostly highs.

The highs:

1.  The beers.  “Aconchego Carioca” has over 100 different beers to choose from.  A hard task.  We had very nice ones, all Brazilians, specially 2 produced by “Colorado” and one from “Bamberg“. I recomend.

2. The appetizers

Those are, no doubt, the strongest items on the menu.  Small snacks you can eat while drinking the cold beers (they have to be relatively cold in Rio).  Below are my recommendations:

Fried black beans cake filled with kale. A must eat.

Fried breaded "Ladie's finger" pepper (Capsicum baccatum) filled with sun-dried meat and cream cheese (I believe that's the best translation to the original name - please, correct me if not))

Thinly sliced "jiló" (Solanum gilo - scarlet eggplant?) with a balsamic reduction (I believe) topped with cheese and rose pepper.

I could spend all day eating things like that  in the wonderful company of the Troisgros, specially of Thomas and his lovely wife Roberta.

3. The desserts

Two of the desserts served made me use my utensils more than twice (as a matter of fact more than a dozen times):

Fried curd cheese with guava jam. It looks like French fries and catchup, but let me assure you it's much better than that.

"Pudim de cachaça" - A "cachaça" (distilled from fermented sugar cane juice) flan, made with tapioca, "cachaça" and coconut, topped with a molasses and "cachaça" sauce. It's almost impossible to be more Brazilian than that.

The lows.

Ok, no place is perfect, and “Aconchego Carioca” is no exception. Two lows:

1. The service – Most waiters were more than good, but I’m still waiting for a dish to lay some pork ribs (the bones, of course).

2. The “winter squash with shrimp” – This is a dish you can find in restaurants along most of the Brazilian coast, even though it’s considered to be typical the northeast region of the country and one of the best dishes of  “Aconchego Carioca”.  Sorry, but I don’t agree.  The shrimp was a bit overcooked, it had not enough sauce, but what really made me dislike it was the excess of cream cheese (“requeijão”).

Over all the experience was fantastic.  Unforgettable in fact.  For an amateur blogger and food lover like me to share a meal chatting with the Troisgros family is priceless. Many thanks to chef Mauro Colagreco for making this possible (I’m sad that you were not able to be present as well), and to the Troisgros family for making me feel like an old friend.

São Paulo Municipal Market

20 Sep

In almost every city of the world, from the largest ones (like New York, London or Tokyo), to the tiny villages hidden within the Amazon jungle, local populations always set up something like a “trading fair”, a location (or occasion) where locals come to sell, buy and trade the products of their labor.  In the smaller and most remote places these posts are usually not permanent ones.  People get together by the end of harvesting season, before the beginning of the winter, or even on more regular basis, lets say once a month or once a week.  These are opportunities to meet friends, dance, sing, and specially to eat and prepare yourself for the harsh times that may be arriving soon.  As the small towns become large cities, as the population (and its needs) increases, such places become permanent, originating central markets, which up to this day play key roles in the supply of food for people who no longer knows how to plant a tomato or to kill a chicken.

In São Paulo, by the beginning of the last century, when the city that today is the largest one of the southern hemisphere (population over 20 million) had around 1 million inhabitants, the municipal administration decided to build a Central Market.  The chosen location was on the banks of the Tamanduateí River, were most of the food-producing properties were located.  The building, today in the heart of the city, with 12,600 m2, holding around 300 commercial spots with 1,600 employees, still plays a key role in the supply of food and as a meeting point for the local population, not to mention that it’s an unmissable tourist attraction.

São Paulo Municipal Market (photo from http://www.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/)

One of the corridors of the São Paulo Municipal Market

Today the market has 4 main areas:

1. A delicatessen area, where you can find first quality products from all over the world, like Parma hams, Portuguese and Spanish olives, Norwegian cod, etc.

Delicatessen at the São Paulo Municipal Market

2. A fruit and vegetable area, where you can find tropical as well as temperate climate products;

Fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

Apples, guavas, figs and other fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

3. A butcher area, where you can find beef, pork, chicken, and almost any product of animal origin;

Pork anyone? A butcher shop at the São Paulo Municipal Market

And 4, a food court, were two dishes simply can not be missed, the Bologna sandwich and the cod “pastel”.

The food court at the São Paulo Municipal Market

The Bologna sandwich is prepared by placing, in a French style bread, thinly sliced hot or cold Bologna. It’s considered the most typical dish of the market.  Don’t leave withouth trying the hot version (along with a cold draft beer).

A Bologna sandwich (cold version) at the São Paulo Municipal Market

A cod "pastel" at the São Paulo Municipal Market

“Pastel” is fried fine pastry which may have several fillings, like cheese, ground beef, prawns and, the most famous one at the market, cod. For this preparation salted cod is left in cold water for a couple of days, boiled and then mixed with hot olive oil and spices.

Next time you go to São Paulo don’t leave without visiting the market in downtown and trying these 2 amazing dishes, the cod “pastel” and the Bologona (mortadela) sandwich.  I had both at the “Hocca Bar”, which is supposed to have the best cod “pastel” around (in fact they are the creators of this dish), and let me tell you, it’s really, really, really good.

Mortadella (Bologna) Sandwich on FoodistaMortadella (Bologna) Sandwich

Almanara – The Beacon

11 Sep

Almanara, in reality Al Manara (Arabic: المنارة‎), literally means “the beacon”, but in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, it’s synonym to Arabian food.

In 1876 the Brazilian Emperor D. Pedro II visited Lebanon resulting, among other things, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants, which was quite intense until 1890, and lasted until the mid-50’s.  Most of them were running away from the Turkish-Ottoman politics with its lack of perspective.  In Brazil, most of them started small industries and commercial establishments.

Around 1950 one of these families, which had a few years earlier disembarked at the port of Santos (to this day Brazil’s largest port), decided to spread in São Paulo one of the treasures they had brought from Lebanon – a collection of traditional Arabic recipes. The Restaurant Almanara was created.

Around 28-30 years later, by the end of the 70’s, I was in São Paulo as a graduated student (I’ve told you that already – See “The Best Chinese Food Ever“), and to have a meal at the Almanara was something I could only dream of.  Definitely, that was not a place for students.

Well, another 30 years have gone by, and now I can afford to turn some of old dream into reality, among them to have dinner at the Almanara.  So, there we went (my wife and myself and, our friends Renan and Leila).

We ordered the sampling menu composed of:

1. Antipasto

The Almara salad

The Almanara salad, nothing special about it.  A few vegetables with a rosé sauce.

2. First Courses

Babaganuche, curdled milk and homus

Babaganuche (eggplant patê), curdled milk and homus (chickpeas paste) served with pita bread, probably the best dish of the whole dinner.

Sfiha and kibbe

Sfiha, a dough folded in a triangular shape and filled with ground lamb, and kibbe (or kibbeh) a mixture of bulgur and ground beef stuffed with minced lamb.  Not bad, but you can find better ones in literally hundreds of small diners and snack bars in São Paulo.

Kibbe and tabbouleh

Kibbe  and tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, chopped parsley and mint, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Raw kibbeh

Raw kibbe, what I’ve classified as a Middle Eastern steak tartare.  Not that I’m a very good cook but, honestly, a can prepare a much better one.

3. Main Courses

Dolmas

Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.  The leaves were quite old and bitter, while the stuffing had too much rice and almost no meat at all.

Kousa mihshi

Kousa mish is a dish of Syrian origin composed of a zucchini stuffed with ground meat and rice. At Almanara it was served with a tomato sauce.  Quite tasteless, I’d say.

Kafta and michui

The kafta, grilled ground beef seasoned with Lebanese spices, and the michui, chicken breast skewers with onions and red bell peppers were way too overdone.

To finish the dinner a black coffee, which unfortunately can’t stand up to the Brazilian, and specially to the Arabian, tradition (see Some Arab Contributions)

Coffee

In conclusion, this visit to Almanara was quite a deception.  Wish I had kept my student dream undisturbed.  Will try to keep that in mind for the future.

Malaysian Style Sweet Pork Ribs

9 Aug

A few years ago I was watching a cooking show on TV when the host prepared a Malaysian style sweet pork. ribs I’m really sorry, but I just can’t remember neither the name of the show nor of the chef (all I do remember is that he was wearing a T-shirt that looked at least 2 sizes smaller). As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure if it was a Malaysian dish or from some other oriental country. Even the recipe, as I didn’t write it down, may now have somewhat evolved. I really don’t know. We at home call it “Malaysian ribs”.

A piece of advice: do it! It’s a question of “taste it and love it”. Up to now it has 100% approval among my friends (ok, give it a discount, after all friends are expected to support you).

Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, chili pepper and cinnamon sticks

Start by sautéing in a large wok, with vegetable oil, some diced onions, garlic, ginger, 1-2 sliced chili peppers and 1-2 cinnamon sticks. Add some pork ribs individually cut and seal them for a couple of minutes. After that add 1/2 cup of soy sauce and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add around 1-1.5 cups of sugar.

Sealed pork ribs covered with 2 cups of sugar

Immediately after the sugar add 2 cups of a good quality white wine (or apple) vinegar and cover the ribs with cold water.

Pork ribs covered with cold water

Now let the low fire do its thing. Go read a book, watch TV, write a comment on my blog… Ah, the smell may be a bit awkward while the vinegar evaporates.  Don’t pay attention to that.

After around 1 hour this is how they should look like.

Pork ribs after around 1 hour

Hang on, keep leaving your comments on my blog, the ribs are not ready yet. You’ll need around another 30 min. But be careful now, you won’t want the sugar to burn and spoil the whole thing. No, not after all the prep and cooking time. So, watch out for the sauce consistency, specially around 1.5 hours.

Ok, they're ready after around 1.5 hours

If they look like the ones above, getting loose from the bone and with the sauce at the right point, prepare to lick your fingers.

Serve over white rice with some diced scallion.

Malaysian style sweet pork ribs

If you don’t fall in love with that I think you should start looking for a psychiatrist.

Pork Ribs
Malaysian Food

The Best Chinese Food Ever

5 Aug

I have a quite long relationship with the Chinese cuisine.  When a graduate student (around 30 years ago) Chinese restaurants were my favorite ones, and for very practical reasons, they were cheap and didn´t charge for white rice. Thus, we used to go in small groups, usually three or four students, order one single protein dish and fill our adolescent and always empty stomachs with lots of starch.  By the way, the jasmine tea was also free.

After I got my first job and moved to Rio Grande I became friends with a Chinese family, the Chao (Labish, Lien and Don), who then introduced me to Chinese cooking.  With them I’ve learned to prepare several dishes, including a beef and pork dumpling which is a regular part of our family meals in very special occasions.  Once I even prepared a Chinese dinner for them, so that Lien could evaluate my cooking skills.  She approved my cooking, of course (I bet she did it not because they tasted good, but mainly because she was a good friend and didn’t want to hurt my feelings).

A couple of years ago we’ve received a Chinese exchange student, Becky Feng, who besides teaching me some authentic dishes also served as a judge of my Chinese culinary skills.

This continuous relationship with Chinese people and cooking has already produced two posts in the past: Chinese Style Chicken and Noodle Soup and Another Chinese Inspired Meal.

So, no wonder I had to visit a Chinese restaurant during my last trip to São Paulo, where Brazilian largest Chinese community lives.

A general view of the "Liberdade" neighborhood in São Paulo/SP/Brazil

A chose the restaurant Chi-Fu, at Praça Carlos Gomes 200 – Bairro da Liberdade, mainly because I’ve been told that the Chinese Mafia holds its meeting on the upper floors of the restaurant. If Chi-Fu food is good enough for the Chinese Mafia, than it’s good enough for me.

Front of "Chi Fu" restaurant, in São Paulo/SP?Brazil

Let’s make it clear from the start:  I don’t know if the Chinese Mafia meets at this restaurant, in fact I don’t even really care if they do, but let me tell you, I had my best restaurant meal ever.  No, not only the best Chinese meal, the best restaurant meal of any origin. The food was superb.

Choosing the dishes was a hard task, as a wide variety of mouth-watering offers are part of the menu.  After some discussion we (my wife, our friends Renan and Leila, and I) decided to play rather safe and ordered 3 dishes:  noodles with beef (the safest choice), sweet and sour pork and roasted duck (a special offer that day). Tea was already on the table, and bowl of white rice was also ordered.

Noodles and beef (Chi Fu Restaurant - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

The pasta was prepared in the house and cooked properly. The vegetables were crispy as they should be.  There was a nice smoky taste on the dish which I believe may be the result of toasted sesame seed oil.  Perfect.

Sweet and sour pork (Chi Fu Restaurant - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

I don’t really know how to describe this dish, as it was, as the name implies, made of perfectly batter coated  pork, with a very well balanced sweet and sour taste. The meat was so tender it nearly melted in your mouth. I could spend days eating this pork non-stop.

But for me the real star was the duck.

Roasted duck (Chi Fu Restaurante - São Paulo/SP/Brazil)

Roasted to perfection… and the skin, oh Lord, the skin…crispy with a layer of fat underneath…shinning like the jewel it really was.  Just priceless.

As I mentioned above, I’ve had Chinese food prepared by a variaty of people, from humble restaurants when I was a student, to home cooking at my friend Chao home, I’ve also been to Chinatown in New York and London, but I had never had any experience like this.

I’m more than sure that the chef and cooks from Chi Fu will go heaven when they die, as that’s the food God will want to be served at his home.

Peking Duck

Sweet and Sour Pork

Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork

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