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

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.

Some Arab Contributions

17 Jun

Arabs have made very significant contributions to civilization, easily recognized if one sets aside present day politics and discrimination (see Arab Contributions to Civilization). I’d like to point just two them:

1. Arabic Numerals – Although originally developed in India (hence also Hindu-Arabic numerals), the system reached Europe in the 11th century, through Spanish Muslims, and for this reason the numerals came to be known in Europe as Arabic Numerals. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci, whom you may remember from Dan Brown’s ” The Da Vinci Code”, was instrumental in bringing the system into European mathematics in 1202.

2. Coffee – It’s generally accepted that coffee originated in Northern Africa, probably in Ethiopia, from where it spread to Egypt and Yemen. But it was in the later that it was for the first time roasted and brewed, originating the drink as we know today. By the 16th century it had spread all over the Arab world from where it reached Europe and the New World. Coffee is probably the world’s most popular beverage, with over 500 billion cups being consumed every year, around 1/3 of which is produced in Brazil (over 2.5 millions of metric tons).

To prepare a good coffee you just have to follow three basic rules: it should be “black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love“. Almost every Brazilian will have his/her own way of preparing it, I, for example, when not using an espresso machine of course, follow this simple original Turkish recipe:

1. A good quality, freshly and very finely grounded Coffea arabica grains are needed. Use around 1 teaspoon for every small cup of water (or at least 2 teaspoons for a regular cup).

2. Add the coffee to cold water, along with some grounded cardamom seeds (optional, but it adds another dimension to a regular coffee), and slowly heat it until it starts to boil and some foam is formed.

3. Remove from the fire for a few moments and let the mixture cool a bit (just a bit).

4. Put it back on slow fire and wait for the foam to form again. It’s important to have a nice brown foam.

5. Remove from the fire and serve in small cups.

A typical Brazilian "cafezinho" (small coffee)

Some powder in the cup is part of the ritual. You can use it to read your fortune later on.

In Brazil this small coffee cup is called “cafezinho”, and although preparation methods nowdays usually involve machines, they all share two common characteristics: they are rather strong and served quite hot.

Coffee on FoodistaCoffee

“Churrasco” em Porto Alegre

12 Jun

This is my first attempt of posting by e-mail.
Tonight I’m going to a “churrascaria” for the best and most traditional Brazilian BBQ. More on http://bit.ly/a6jFIP.

%d bloggers like this: