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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

A Tirolese dinner

21 Jul

Last weekend my wife and I, along with some friends, drove around 450 km to visit a Cheese Festival (Festiqueijo) in the town of “Carlos Barbosa“, in a region colonized by Italians.  Our hotel was in “Bento Gonçalves“, the wine capital of Brazil, colonized by immigrants coming mostly from the Italian regions of Veneto and Trentino.

Looking for places to have a nice Italian dinner the restaurant “Pignatela” (no telephone, no e-mail, no web site) was recommended, and there we went on that rainy and cold night (don’t forget it’s winter here).

For those who may have the opportunity to visit the area, the restaurant is located right at the beginning of the road that gives access to one of the largest wine houses of the region, “Vinícola Salton” (everyone in town knows the place), on the right side.

The place doesn´t look or feel very comfortable, and in fact it is not, but we were greeted on the door by the owner with a smile that warmed up our bones and just made we want to get in and have our meal .

The owner (born in the Veneto) has a grape plantation and a small grape juice factory, but decided to establish this small restaurant in his own house to help spreading the Italian culture a bit more.  Since the region has already dozens of restaurants serving all kinds of pasta, pizzas and the usual stuff labeled as “Italian”, his decision was to explore the culinary of the Trentino-Alto Ádige, also known as Trentino Südtirol, and serve typical tirolese dishes, something not easily found (at least in Brazil).

Glad that no decision concerning the meal was necessary, as they only have one complete menu, displayed on a board right at the entrance door.

The menu at Pignatela, in Bento Gonçalves/RS, southern Brazil

As you can see the first dish was a Canederli soup.  Canederli are small balls prepared mainly with bread, milk, eggs, some bacon and spices cooked in a chicken broth.  This “primo piatto” was served with home-made bread.  The wine?  A Salton Cabernet Sauvignon (maybe not the best choice to go with these Tirolese dishes, but the best one available).

Canederli soup

Then follows “Bigoli al sugo”, a long pasta tube, similar to the bucatini, served with a chicken stew.

Bigoli al sugo

To be completely honest, the pasta was way overcooked and the sauce tasteless.  You won’t miss anything if you just let this one pass and save your stomach to the next one, a gnocchi con creme de Fontina.

Gnocchi with Fontina cream

This was, in my opinion, the best dish.  The gnocchi was made with tomato, what gave it quite distinctive color and taste.  Fontina is a cheese prepared from unpasteurized milk, with a wonderful earthy taste. It melts well and forms a nice cream specially due to its relatively high fat content (around 45-50%).

But that was not all.

Pork marinated in white wine and Italian lemon

This wonderful pork, marinated in white wine with some Italian lemon was not even on the menu.  A nice surprise.

Ravioli Valle d'Antiro

These ravioli (I know, the photo looks terrible as the dish was cold when it was taken – I’m trying to improve) had a most wonderful filling.  The owner defies you to figure out the main ingredients.  Some are quite easy to discover, but a few of them are just unbelievable.  I won’t tell you as I don’t want to spoil the surprise (guess you’ll have to come to go to Bento Gonçalves).

Another protein follows: steak marinated in wine and herbs served with a potato, apple and horseradish salad.

Steak marinated in wine and herbs with potato, apple and horseradish salad

Maybe this was the best dish?  Oh Lord, I just can’t make up my mind.  Guess I’ll have to start all over again. Please, bring me the Canederli.

Dessert.  Of course!   A milk custard (flan) with mollasses and tirolese (apple jam) pie.  Clearly the New World has its finger here, as I bet they don’t grow sugar cane in Südtirol.

Flan with molasses and apple jam pie

What a nice meal.  The price?  About US$ 20,00/person, including wine.  If I happen to be around, be sure I’ll visit the Pignatela again.

Alla carbonara

10 Jan

Today, and for the next 3 days, my youngest daughter (Joana) is going through several examinations, along with 32,000 other candidates, for a spot in one of the largest Brazilian Universities, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre, the capital of our state, as she plans to study Computer Engineering.  Today she had exams on Brazilian Literature, English and Physics, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and the temperature was reaching 95oF.  No need to say she left the exams pretty exhausted; and has to go through additional ones for the next 3 days, as I’ve already mentioned.  We ate something fast for lunch, but I figured she would need something more substantial in terms of energy for dinner.  Something like a pasta (full of carbohydrates, fast energy for the brain) with some fat (some lipids for slow burning metabolic processes).

Made a search on Foodista and decide to go for the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.  The result you can see below.

Penne rigatti alla carbonara

You sure have noticed I used penni rigatti instead of spaghetti (I didn’t have any).

I have to say that, although I didn’t have an Italian pancetta, the result was rather similar to the dish we had in Italy last summer.  We stopped at a roadside trucker joint between Assisi and Rome, and  they served the best spaghetti alla carbonara I’ve ever had.  I believe the secret was the pancetta, fantastically flavorful.

Spaghetti alla carbonara - The real thing

Spaghetti alla carbonara - The real thing

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara on Foodista

Uruguay, more than “parrillas”

25 Sep

If you’ve been following this blog you must have noticed my appreciation for a neighbouring country, Uruguay (I live in southern Brazil and only around 200 km from the Uruguayan border).  I’ve written about “parrilladas“, the national Uruguayan dish, as well as about my fishing experience in the Salto Grande dam.  Let’s return to this lovely town.

Salto (official site here – sorry, only in Spanish), was stablished in 1756 by the governor José Joaquim de Viana, who was on a mission related to the settlement of frontiers between Spanish and Portuguese colonies.  Salto faced a great population increase after 1860, with the arrival of  European settlers, specially  from Italy, Spain and Portugal.  Around Salto, one of the largest touristic destination in Uruguay, you can find several hot spring areas, particularly “Termas de Dayman” (around 15 km south of Salto) and “Termas de Arapey” (around 90 km north of Salto).

"Termas de Dayman" (hot springs around 15 km south of Salto/Uruguay)

"Termas de Dayman" (hot springs around 15 km south of Salto/Uruguay)

Today, with around 100,000 inhabitants, Salto maintains a charming and relaxing atmosphere.

Downtown Salto/Uruguay

Downtown Salto/Uruguay

Walking around downtown with my wife and some friends (Renan and Leila), on a beautiful  summer day, my attention was called by a small restaurant called “La Trattoria” (Calle Uruguay, 754 – GPS:  S31 23.245 W57 57.969), a clear reminder of the Italians who arrived after 1860.

La Trattoria - downtown Salto/Uruguay

La Trattoria - downtown Salto/Uruguay

We walked in and let me tell you, no regrets.  The food was very well prepared and the house wine just up to the Uruguayan tradition.  One distinctive feature of Uruguayan wine production is the Tannat, a red grape generally ignored in the rest of the New World but very important in this small and wonderful country.  It matched just fine the meat lasagna (a la Bolognesa), plenty of muzzarela and a rich tomato sauce.  Final price? Around US$12,00/person, wine included.

Lasagna form "La Trattoria" - Salto/Uruguay

Lasagna form "La Trattoria" - Salto/Uruguay

The whole experience in Salto was a definitive proof that Uruguay has much more to offer than just “parrilladas” (although they continue to be my favorite Uruguayan creation).

Tannat Grapes on Foodista
Lasagna on Foodista

Pesto alla Genovese

29 Jul

Ocimum basilicum, or basil, is a member of the mint family, or Family Lamiaceae, originated in northern Africa, but playing a major role in Italian cuisine.  It’s the central ingredient of “Pesto alla Genovese”, a mixture of first quality ingredients (basil, extra-virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese – Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino) made to a paste and typical of Liguria/Italy.

Ocimum basilicum (basil)

Ocimum basilicum (basil)

Although you can probably find industrial pesto in your neighbourhood supermarket, nothing really compares to the one you can prepare at home with fresh ingredients.  Even if you don’t have any culinary experience I believe you should try it, as I am 100 % sure you will end up with a much better final result.  If you want to know the secrets, history, recipes, etc, take a look at “Pesto Perfect“.

The best pesto I’ve tried was at “Trattoria da Maria” (Vico Testadoro 14 r), a small restaurant hidden in the dark streets of Genoa/Italy.

Trattoria da Maria - Genoa/Italy

Trattoria da Maria - Genoa/Italy

The pesto was served over a fresh, long, flat, narrow ribbon pasta, similar to tagliatelle, but typical of Genoa, the “bavette”.

Bavette con pesto alla Genovese from Trattoria da Maria (Genoa/Italy)

Bavette con pesto alla Genovese from Trattoria da Maria (Genoa/Italy)

For dessert Maria served some almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine topped with a mascarpone cheese cream.

Almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine covered with a mascarpone cheese cream

Almond cookies dipped in Marsala wine covered with a mascarpone cheese cream

The price was quite fair, around US$ 13,00.

Pesto on Foodista

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