Tag Archives: coffee

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.

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

About aromas and flavors

1 Oct

Lots of flavors, leathery beginning, but fairly quickly vanilla appeared to be the most ruling.  After one third dark chocolate, and dark roasted coffee appear to rule with vanilla, and during time reached the last third, leather, roasted coffee, and aroma almost like tar (or creosote) became indicators that every good thing is coming to end sometime. (Adapted from Review #179).

If you are a culinary fan, if you enjoy cooking and eating, than I`m almost sure that it has probably more to do with aromas and flavors than with feeding and nutrition.  As you can easily realize by the first paragraph, aromas and flavors are not exclusive of food or drinks, but may be present in whatever substance gets in contact with you tongue, palate or nose.  In fact, the first paragraph (which I slightly modified) was originally applied to the description of one of the best cigars in the world, the Cohiba Siglo XVI.

By the way, for those without any familiarity to this subject, cigar smoking has nothing to do with cigarette smoking.  Most cigar aficionados don’t smoke because they feel the urge imposed by nicotine to their poor brain (or any other related reason), but rather because of the pleasure created by the distinctive aromas and flavors, in this case generated by the slow burning of first quality tobacco leaves.  Isn’t this also the main reason we appreciate food after all, aromas and flavors?  Or is it simply for a question of survival?  No, I believe not.  A believe it has mostly to do with pleasure.

Cohiba with a glass of Kahlúa

My Cohiba with a glass of Kahlúa

Well, one of my brothers-in-law (Reynaldo), although a non-smoker (I just hope it wasn’t because of that), after a wonderful seafood meal he prepared at his home, offered me a Cohiba (simply the best), with a glass of one of my favorite liqueurs, the coffee based Kahlúa.  For me the perfect way to finish a meal, extending the pleasure I had at the table for almost one additional hour.  Can’t wait to pay him another visit.

Homemade Kahlua on Foodista

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