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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.


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.

Mocotó – Ready for the Brazilian hangover medicine?

25 Jun

Friday, Central Public Market in Porto Alegre (GPS 30.027512 Lat. S; 51.227875 Long. W), capital of our state (Rio Grande do Sul), 350 km north of where I live. This Market was opened to the public 140 years ago, and is one of the most traditional places in that city for buying regional products. It also has a couple of delicatessen, where you can find from dried Norwegian codfish to Arabian dates and French “fois gras”. For me, who live in a small town, such market is always a wonderful source of food and ingredients. I enjoy the vision, the atmosphere, the noise and the smell of such formidable place. My money is never enough to buy everything I want, but luckily always enough to fill the car trunk.

Central Public Market of Porto Alegre - Southern Brazil

Central Public Market of Porto Alegre - Southern Brazil

Inside the Central Public Market in Porto Alegre - Southern Brazil

Inside the Central Public Market in Porto Alegre - Southern Brazil

Since it’s winter on this side of the globe I went there to have “mocotó” with my wife and a couple of friends.

“Mocotó”, which literally means “cow’s feet”, is a traditional Brazilian white beans soup. The basic ingredients are cow’s feet, of course, cow’s stomach (tripe – “dobradinha”) and white beans. In southern Brazil we also add sausages and olives.

Mocotó - Cow's feet

Mocotó - Cow's feet

Folded cow's stomach

Dobradinha - Cow's stomach (tripe)

Sausages - with and without hot chili

Sausages - with and without hot chili

Preparation is rather time consuming, and involves a lot of washing and cleaning the feet and stomach with acidified water (using lime juice or vinager) and then cooking for about 1 hr in a preassure cooker. The feet are then refrigerated overnight and the protein (collagen) then carefully scraped out and used to prepare the soup. The stomach and sausage are sliced into bite sized pieces. Meats are then fried in olive oil with onions and garlic. Water and white beans are added and left to cook until beans are soft. When ready the soup is served very hot (after all it’s a winter’s dish) garnished with green olives and chopped parsley and boiled egg. A few drops of a very hot chili sauce are added just before eating to improve its power of heating the body during these cold winter days.

A "mocotó" dish - The best medicine for hangover

A "mocotó" dish - The best medicine for hangover

There are several small restaurants in the Market which serve this dish, but we chose “Naval”, a rather typical place, since they have been around for over 100 years.

The food was wonderful and at a very nice price, as we spent around US$ 12,00/person, including a couple of beers.

In Brazil it’s believed that mocotó is one of the best medicines for hangover, but I bet you won’t regret trying it even if you’re sober.

Tripe on Foodista

Chinese Style Chicken and Noodle Soup

4 Jun

I don`t like even the idea of having a hot liquid sliding down my throat in a hot summer day, but everything changes during the winter.  It`s the only season I find a soup acceptable.  And since winter is back to the south side of the planet, lets make it tasteful and simple.

Prepare a good chicken and vegetable stock.  You can make one by boiling for 45 min to 1 h (depending on the size and type of the vegetables used – do not overcook) a chicken breast , some vegetables (carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, etc) with the spices you like (cloves, black peppercorns, finely sliced ginger, etc).  I usually drop a small piece of star anise in mine. Don`t forget the salt. Pour through a fine strainer and you`re done. Separate the chicken breast and cut it into bite size pieces. You can keep the stock frozen for one week or two.

Interesting to mention that Chinese don`t really make their stocks spicy, as they believe that spicing may mask the flavor of the chicken.  Spices may be added later depending on the use of the stock.  Such thin soups are even employed as beverage during a meal (no, they usually don`t drink jasmine tea with their meals).  Also, employing the whole chicken, rather than specific cuts or the bones, to prepare the stock, as done in Europe, is much more common.

Put the stock back in the pot and bring it to boil.  Place a Chinese steamer over it and cook, for a few minutes, some sliced carrots, green beans, etc. Put the noodles in the stock and let them cook for a couple of minutes.

Place the noodles in a bowl and add the chicken breast and vegetables.  Some sliced red pepper (I usually unseed them) and coriander (or parsley) are added on the top.  Pour some hot stock in the bowl and add 1-2 spoons of soy sauce.  You`re ready to go.

My Chinese chicken and vegetables soup bowl

My Chinese chicken and vegetables soup bowl

After eating the chicken, noodles and vegetables with the aid of your chopsticks (筷子 = kuàizi) drink the stock directly from the bowl. By the way, a few words on chopsticks from “Study in China“:

When the Chinese began to use chopsticks as an eating instrument is anybody’s guess. They were first mentioned in writing in Liji (The Book of Rites), a work compiled some 2,000 years ago, but certainly they had their initial form in the twigs which the primitive Chinese must have used to pick up a roast after they began to use fire. It is likely that people cooked their food in large pots which retained heat well, and hasty eaters then broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food. The earliest evidence of a pair of chopsticks made out of bronze was excavated from Yin Ruin’s Tomb 1005 at Houjiazhuang, Anyang, Henan province, dated roughly 1200 BC.

The pieces of food were small enough that they negated the need for knives at the dinner table, and chopsticks became staple utensils. It is also thought that Confucius, a vegetarian, advised people not to use knives at the table because knives would remind them of the slaughterhouse.

Simply a pair of chopsticks can fulfill all the functions at table, and compared with western table wares of “waving knife”, they have a sense of “harmony.” And chopsticks are seen as lucky items in ceremonies by many nationalities.

Chinese chopsticks are usually 9 to 10 inches long and rectangular with a blunt end. Bamboo has been the most popular material because it is inexpensive, readily available, easy to split, resistant to heat, and has no perceptible odor or taste.

Some Chinese bamboo chopsticks

Some Chinese bamboo chopsticks

The use of chopsticks requires some etiquette, with small differences among distinctive countries.  Some Chinese rules are:

  • Don`t  tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl, as beggars make this noise to attract attention;
  • Don`t spear food with a chopstick;
  • Don`t  point chopsticks towards others seated at the table;
  • Don`t stuck the chopsticks vertically into a bowl (specially of rice) as this resembles incense burning, which remindes death in general.
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