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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.

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Chicken Korma

15 Sep

“Korma” (also kormaa, khorma or kurma)  is a dish from the Muglai area, now partitioned between India and Pakistan.  It’s made with yogurt, nuts, several spices (cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, red pepper, coriander, cumin, and turmeric yellow, among others), coconut and coconut milk.

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians kormas exist.  I had chicken korma, at Raja Rani (Friedrichstrasse, 15, Heidelberg/Germany), a restaurant I’ve mentioned in an earlier post.

Briefly, diced onions are fried in clarified butter (“ghee”) to which the spices are added.  The chicken,which in some variations is previously marinated in yogurt, is then added and left to cook until tender (keep it moist adding water as needed).  When almost ready it’s time to add fresh coconut and coconut milk.

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

The dish was served over Basmati rice with some sliced almonds on top.  The overall impression was very nice, although I believe the chef abused a bit too much on the coconut, which dominated the dish almost entirely.  It was a bargain though, only about US$ 5,00 for a “small”dish (enough to feed one hungry traveller – as a matter of fact the difference between “small” and “large” seemed to me to be the size of the plate itself, as food portions were rather similar).

Korma on Foodista

Chicken tandori masala

22 Jul

I just had my first experience with Indian food, on a restaurant called Raja Rani (Friedrichstrasse, 15, Heidelberg/Germany) and, although I don’t have any parameter for a fair comparison, I enjoyed it. The chosen dish to start this experience was the famous chicken tandori masala.

Raji Rani, place of my first experience with India food

Raji Rani, place of my first experience with Indian food

I’m quite sure everyone knows what a chicken is, although I can’t even imagine how many do know that it’s a member of the Phasianidae family of the species Gallus gallus.  Anyway, I’ll not waste my time (or yours) talking about that. On the other hand, I’m also not sure of how many of you do know the meaning of either “tandori” or “masala”.

Tandori refers to a traditional way of preparing food in several Middle East countries, as well as in India and Bangladesh.  It’s based on the “tandoor”, a cylindrical vertical clay oven where the heat is generated by charcoal or wood fire. That’s where the traditional chicken tandori is cooked.

Masala is a mixture of spices, with variations throughout India, usually containing cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, chili and turmeric (curcuma) yellow.  In this case it’s a mixture used to cook in the tandoor, hence, “tandori masala”.

For this dish, typical of the Punjabi cuisine, the chicken is covered with a mixture of yogurt and the tandoori masala, and then slowly roasted in the tandoor.

It’s usually served with Basmati rice, a long grain delicate rice grown mainly in India and Pakistan.

Chicken tandori masala over Basmati rice

Chicken tandori masala over Basmati rice

I really enjoyed the dish, the chicken was tender and the sauce full of taste.  It mixed quite well with the Basmati rice, kind of breaking its natural delicate taste.  The price was also quite interesting, around US$ 5,00 for a small portion, which was more than enough for a single person.

Tandoori Chicken on Foodista
Indian Masala on Foodista
Tandoor Cooking on FoodistaTandoor Cooking

Sushi

17 Jul

Last Wednesday I was walking around a shopping mall (Brasilia Shopping, Asa Norte) in Brasilia (the capital of Brazil, around 2,500 km from home) and saw “Fuji Sushi“, a sushi bar.

Although usually associated to Japan, sushi has a Chinese origin, where it developed basically as a fish fermentation and preservation method.  Around 2,000 year ago the method arrived in Japan and besides rice vinegar and probably sugar, sake was added to the recipe.

Presentations was not bad, but the taste was disappointing.  Believe it or not almost every sushi had cream cheese in it (I don’t have the slightest idea why they spoil fresh tuna and salmon with that).  The only thing that was not bad (although it looked so) was a caramelized ginger.  It was relatively cheap (around US$ 0,50/piece) but I’m not willing to repeat the experience.

Smoked fish "Nigiri" sushi tied with pieces of nori (a type of algae)

Smoked fish "Nigiri sushi" tied with pieces of "nori" (a type of dried algae)

Salmon "Nigiri" sushi.  On the back a tuna "Uramaki" plenty of cream cheese (Urghh!!!)

Salmon "Nigiri sushi". On the back a tuna "Uramaki" plenty of cream cheese (Urghh!!!)

Homemade Sushi on Foodista
Sushi Rice on Foodista
Nigiri-Sushi on Foodista

More basic impossible

7 Jul

Nothing much to say about that.  Fried fish (mullet in this case), white rice (fry some diced onions before cooking the rice) and black beans is a basic meal for Brazilian fisherman, and that’s what I had for lunch a few days ago.  If you’re a farm person substitute the fish for a steak, if you are an urban fellow add some french fries and if you’re specially hungry lay a fried egg on it.  One thing can’t be changed:  you have to have white rice and black beans.  Salads?  Yes, usually tomatoes and lettuce with some oil, vinegar and salt (I was not in the mood for that, though).

tainhafrita

Fried mullet, white rice and black beans

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