Thursday, December 31, 2009

Inaugurating a Kitchen

I cooked for the first time in mama's new kitchen, and for the first time in over two weeks since I didn't have a kitchen while in Brazil.

It was five of us so I needed to make something easy but something big enough so that there'd be enough for everyone. And so, I decided to make brick chicken with apricot couscous. I've had my eye on this recipe for a while and I hadn't had a chance to make it. And now I have. And I butterflied my first chicken cause mama was too lazy to ask the butcher to do it (she claims there were a lot of people at the store).

I'd forgotten how much I like couscous cause I don't make it too often, but I really should. It's a perfect accompaniment and doesn't take more than 10 minutes to make (thats considering you add things to it that are sauteed, plain couscous takes 5 minutes). But the thing that made this dish was the mint cilantro sauce. It was super refreshing on top of the spicy chicken and mixed in with the couscous (we only put in half the amount of honey but I'd completely omit it).

Also, as happens every winter holiday season, I overdose on clementines. Clementines consumed today? Oh too many to count, but I'd probably say somewhere in the vinicinity of 10. I am expecting to wake up with a rash since I'm actually allergic to citrus. Fantastic. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tchau Brazil!

Finally back in New York City. Oh how I miss you even when I'm not gone too long. Sigh.
A couple of final snapshots:

Bridgadeiro - a traditional Brazilian candy made from condensed milk, butter, cocoa and SPRINKLES. They also use the base mixture (minus sprinkles) as a filling for cakes and I saw it in little plastic cups at a bakery as well.

Guarana soda - very Brazilian drink made from the Guarana plant which apparently has more caffeine than a comparable amount of coffee...but it didn't keep me from falling asleep. And you think its called Guarana Antarctica? No, its pronounced something along the lines of "goo-AR-anah an-ta-CH-ka". Yea, I had trouble reading Portuguese too.

Churrascaria meat - finally, a churrascaria on my last day in Brazil when I was in Belo Horizonte for a client meeting. This wasn't one of those buffets, but instead you order meat a la carte. So we got this, which was beef. They cut you two thin slices and then take it away to put it back on the grill and then come back and cut you some more, and then back on the grill and so on until its finished. Mmm, meat.

Oh, and the strangest thing is seeing Christmas trees and lights and decorations while wearing a tshirt and shorts. Merry Christmas!

Pão de Queijo Taste-off

I sampled several pão de queijo (its pronounced KAY-zhow, not KAY-ho) over my last few days, taking a bite of each right when I got them, as they are best eaten fresh and hot (they get stale really fast, I mean imagine congealed melted cheese….not pretty). And so, I present, the results:

The Restaurant Pão: A Figueira Rubaiyat

This is the plate of pão I got as part of the couvert at A Figueira Rubaiyat. They tasted very fresh, but the condensation from the hot bread and the plate made the bottom of the pão wet (not very pleasant). Actually, the small ones were ok. The big ones however were insanely good. I’m not sure what they were as they were completely hollow inside and only the shell had that chewy texture. Maybe not true pão de queijo but wow, those big ones are awesome.

The Institution Pão: Haddock Lobo

There were a lot of articles on the walls of this little storefront on Haddock Lobo between Oscar Freire and Lorena streets. I only looked it up after I got back to my room, but apparently, this is the best pão in all of Sao Paulo, some even say the country! So good thing I stumbled upon it. The place is has been an institution since it opened in 1968 and they put out a fresh batch of bread every 15 minutes, keeping them in a wicker basket covered with a cloth towel (how cute and old school). I bit into the warm pão to reveal a soft, chew interior. I really liked how they didn’t look uniform, but were kind of a big pão attached to a smaller pão. Unfortunately, someone dumped an entire container of salt into the batter and it tasted like I had just licked the top of a salt shaker, although the texture seemed there: a nice warm gummy inside that isn’t too soft nor too fluffy, and a nice, crispy outer shell.

I had them again the day I went to the MASP. This time they were hot out of the oven, so hot I couldn’t hold it in my hand and had to use a napkin to eat it. Same chewy, gummy interior, way less salty but I think overall, still a little salty for me. Darn that rogue salt shaker...

The Chain Pão: Casa do Pão de Queijo

See the bag? They put a picture of a grandmother (apparently the mother of the founder) on it, making you think that the pão you are eating is like your granny used to make. Well my granny never made something that tasted underbaked on the inside, and smooth cardboard on the outside. Better than the mini pão I had gotten there previously, but I don’t understand what’s with the industrially smooth outer crust, whose texture reminds me of those satellite wafer candies that I think I had once and spat out. Plus the inside, while fluffy, was too gummy, almost to the point of raw dough. Grandma never did this.

The McDonalds Pão:

Even at McDonalds they give you pão! It’s on the menu in their McCafe. Its actually not too bad, except that its not fresh out of the oven (they microwave it) and it has some kind of flour coating that comes off a little bit. It also didn’t look like the other pão I’ve had, you could see bits of cheese on the outside, but I liked how even though the shape was uniform, the outside was a little bumpy, making it texturally more interesting. 

The Starbucks Pão:

The taste of this was spot on in my opinion. Not too salty, not to sweet. Unfortunately, its not poofy enough! What kind of pao isn't poofy?! Way too dense making me feel like I was eating a brick. Also I don't like how it had little raised dots on the bottom, reminds me that its commercially produced

The Supermarket Pão:

This is apparently a chupa de queijo (or something like that). Whatever, its still queijo pao. And even if it doesn't taste that great (it tasted better heated up in the microwave), I'll still eat it. Warm or cold. 

My favorite was the restaurant pao (the larger ones) that weren't even real pao. After that, probably Starbucks for the taste (blasphemy, I know) and Haddock Lobo for the texture. McDonald's had the weird coating I didn't like and the chain pao was meh. And the supermarket one wasn't even a real one but I'm a fattie and I eat everything in front of me. But thats not my conclusion. My conclusion is that I think you should eat as many pao as you can if you're ever in Brazil. Don't worry about your tummy, it'll be fine. And even if its not, its worth it. Damage done? +3lbs.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nagayama + dinosaur shirt = Japan in Brazil?

Did you know that Brazil has the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan? That meant that while in Sao Paulo, I had to try some Japanese food. Unfortunately, as you all know, I don't do raw fish. Fortunately, I eat pretty much everything else. And, luckily for me, apparently there's a really good Japanese restaurant a block and a half from my hotel. So that was my dinner tonight. And this was my outfit:

Hahahaha. I thought it would be highly appropriate to wear this t-shirt to a Japanese restaurant. Japanese people like Godzilla, cartoons and cute things. My tshirt has a pink cartoon dinosaur with tiny arms!!! Perfect.

I sat at the sushi bar and everything they sent out looked so gorgeous that I was contemplating forcing myself to eat some raw fish just to get pictures of these platters. But no, I ordered mushrooms, a cucumber roll (how typical of me) and vegetable tempura.

The mushrooms were some of the best mushrooms I've ever had. I think they were sauteed in tare sauce or something but they were meaty, chewy and sweet. I ate the entire thing. The best part about the cucumber roll was the rice, it also had a really nice, subtle sweetness to it. And the tempura? Well I always crave tempura for some reason and when I get it I only eat a piece and then I'm satisfied for a while. They brought me a HUGE bowl of tempura, so big it looked comical to see me sitting in front of a bunch off deep fried veggies. But they had awesome veggies including eggplant (don't hate, eggplant is delicious), green beans and sugar snap peas.

I kind of wish I didn't get the tempura and at least tried the salmon roll or some of the yakisoba but oh well. Although there is no next time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Açai - my newest obsession

Newest obsession: frozen açai pulp with granola and strawberries. I prepared myself when ordering this, and when they told me they didn’t speak English I knew what to say – Açai com granola y morango!

LOOK AT THAT. Ok, fine, you can’t see the actual açai but it’s like eating really smooth frozen sorbet that isn’t too sweet and has a slight bubblegum flavor. Mix in some granola for texture variation and some strawberries, and oh dear, that is GOOD. Plus, it’s healthy! Have you not seen all those awful açai miracle berry weight loss ads? I highly doubt this thing makes you lose weight but it seems healthier than eating ice cream and it’s packed with a bagillion anti-oxidants. MMMMMM.

And heres açai na tigela (in a bowl) from a juice stand in the food court behind my hotel. They ran out of strawberries, so the other traditional fruit topping is bananas. Too bad I only discovered this after already being here a whole week. I could’ve eaten this for dinner every night!

Update: My coworkers told me this is super calorific. Sigh, I knew it, I just didn't want it to be true! I'll be on a quest to find some frozen pulp at Whole Foods while in NYC (WITH calorie count).

Monday, December 21, 2009

The #1 Restaurant in São Paulo (according to Tripadvisor)

On Saturday while walking around, I turned onto the street where Dior, Louis Vuitton, Van Cleef and Arpels and all the big names stand next to each other and expensive cars line the streets. But this was the street where the restaurant I wanted to go to the next day was. And while walking by it at 4pm, I saw a good amount of people outside. Who eats at 4pm? I don’t know but I decided to make reservations and good thing I did because apparently they’re required. And while walking back out, I had to weave myself between a Maserati and an Alfa Romeo.

So I made it there on Sunday, not in a fancy car but in a taxi and you totally don’t need reservations at 7pm because no one eats at 7pm here, they all eat around 9pm. But moving on. The restaurant is gorgeous, built around a giant fig tree (over 100 years old), allowing it branches to poke through the roof and walls.

A Figueira Rubaiyat is essentially a steakhouse, whose meat all comes from the owner’s cattle ranch. All the food is cooked in wood burning ovens using traditional tools and methods. And I got to sit right under the figueira (fig) tree. And they put a plastic tie around your bag and your chair so it won't get stolen.

To start: a passion fruit caipirinha, assorted breads and anti pasti.

I think I only realized this recently (as in today) but there’s usually an item labeled “couvert” on the bill. Essentially, it’s a cover charge charged by the restaurant, but they give you bread in return, so you could say that’s what you pay for the obligatory basket of bread, whether you eat it or not. Here, it was the anti pasti, the pao de queijo, the huge cracker bread, the toasts and the grissini. I really liked the bigger pao de queijo, which were actually hollow on the inside, and the eggplant anti pasti which came with sultanas and raisins. And that sketchy man in the picture, and his date who is hiding behind the breadsticks kept looking at me all the time. It was annoying, but whatever, if I want to eat alone, I'll eat alone, so let me be (not that I had a choice, haha)

Appetizer: Heart of palm roasted in a wood burning oven with olive oil and sundried tomatoes

Not those hearts of palm you see at salad bars or that you get in cans. This was the real deal! Pretty much a palm tree trunk, split laterally and carved out of the bark in front of me, topped with tiny pieces of sundried tomatoes, and accompanied by some kind of green whose taste was somewhere between arugula and horseradish; very peppery and little spicy. I was incredulous and my eyes widened when they brought it over, because I did not think I was getting a huge chunk of a palm tree but it was delicious! Soft with an earthy sweetness.
After I devoured it:

Entrée: Master Prime Beef (medium) with Souffle Potatoes

Another one of those “OMG WHAT ON EARTH DID I JUST ORDER”. Look at that thing, ITS HUGE! I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when I was being served. But oh my, was this ever good. Look at the char marks! The huge bone! The piece of meat! The potatoes! Who cares about the salad on the side?! Salty crunchy crust with a juicy buttery inside...mmm. Although my jaw started hurting from all the chewing cause it was so much meat! The soufflé potatoes were essentially two pieces of potato chips stuck together on the sides and filled with air. Maybe the best potato chips I’ve ever had.
But poor meat, look what happened to it after I was through:

Dessert: They gave me the menu but I knew better. I headed straight to the dessert buffet! Over 25 different kinds of dessert! I steered clear of the chocolate ones, and tried to stick with ones that seemed more exotic or what I couldn’t get in NYC. So no to brownies and chocolate cake but yes to passion fruit mousse, dulce de leche, whipped cheese with guava syrup and coconut pudding!

I couldn’t get a good shot of my plate but the best were the whipped cheese thing in the little bowl and the passion fruit mousse.

And, as luck would have it, while I was pigging out at the dessert buffet all by myself, a group of model-like girls sat at a table near mine so I had to walk past them with my overfilled plate of sugar and cream. What a fail. But it was so worth it!

MASP and Paulista

My last free day in Sao Paulo. I wanted to relax by the pool but unfortunately I didn’t have time before they closed for the day. I went to the MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), which houses some European art (even a few Manet’s and Renoirs! And they had a comprehensive Rodin exhibit, but I’m not a fan). The coolest thing about the MASP was the actual building; it’s a giant concrete and glass box, divided into two floors, and supported by two huge lateral beams (the red things).

The museum itself is a lot smaller than other museums I’ve been to but apparently this one houses the most comprehensive European art collection in all of Latin America and one of the top ones in the Southern Hemisphere.

I also dropped into Trianon Park which is a leafy jungle oasis, complete with Santa’s workshop (I didn’t know he lived in tropical climates), and walked around Avenue Paulista which is completely decked out in holiday decorations.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day (and Night) out in São Paulo

So many things to do, so little time to do them. Finally went Ibirapuera, which is filled with couples, families, and everyone in between strolling, exercising and just hanging out. It’s like the Central Park of Sao Paulo.

And while you all are freezing in NYC or wherever, I enjoyed 78 degree weather, walked around some reservoirs, and got lost. I thought I was leaving from one exit, but apparently I was leaving from another one. I would never have gotten where I wanted to go since I was going North, instead of West. Thankfully, the heat got to me and I saw a taxi stand, got into a taxi and asked to be taken where I was heading, decided to check the map and thought “huh, that’s interesting, no wonder the walk seemed so long, I would never have gotten there!”

In the evening, I dressed up and headed over to Hotel Unique. I’d seen pictures of the skyline and was told I really shouldn’t miss it.

Although I personally think going to a hotel rooftop bar by yourself is a little sketch, I went early enough (6:30pm) for it to not be so bad as there weren’t a lot of people. The view was fantastic and the drink, passion fruit and basil, was delicious (I really like that combination, there’s a passion fruit basil macaron at Gerard Mulot in Paris)

After finishing my drink, I headed over to Tordesilhas, which was also profiled by the NYT in that same article as the restaurant I went to last weekend. The restaurant was incredibly charming on the inside, with a covered courtyard and walls painted a sunny yellow. I especially liked the water fountain feature (unfortunately it wasn’t turned on) and mini bananas growing on their plants (see if you can spot them!).

I had the 7 course tasting menu, but, unfortunately, it didn’t blow me away. But, I can’t complain when a 7 course tasting menu is only R$100 (that’s about $55), so, here we go!

Drink: Caipirinha (this wasn’t part of the tasting menu)

Accompaniment to the tasting menu: Three types of marinated peppers

Not knowing what they were giving me, this is a retelling of what happened in my brain: “Oh hey, what are you? Let me put you in my mouth to find out! Oh you’re very spicy. I can’t spit you out now. Oh this was a bad idea…oh I wonder when the waiter will come with my water…”

Appetizer #1: Tasting of tropical fruits with cachaca and small pieces of chicarrones. I did not drink that cachaca shot.

Appetizer #2: Cheese with honey made of sugar, and fried manioc balls with parmesan

The cheese felt like rubber, so much that is squeaked on my teeth. But a very palatable, somewhat salty rubber, with a sweet coating. The manioc balls had the texture of warm deep fried smooth mashed potatoes, with the outside delivering the satisfying crunch and saltiness of a potato chip

Appetizer #3: Duck cooked in Tucupi, served with Manioc to mix into the broth

The texture of the manioc was a bit like gravel and even after I mixed it into the broth, I was a little afraid I might chip a tooth while chewing it. The greens themselves made my tongue tingle so I freaked out a little thinking I was having an allergic reaction. Apparently, that’s supposed to happen; the menu online in English says “tucupi is a liquid extracted from manioc and the jambu, a vegetable that provokes a light and pleasant numb sensation on the tongue”. Great, and I thought I was going to die. At least I had my epi pen with me!

Entrée #1: Grilled shrimp with thin slices of marinated squash served with tiny greens

Those are totally not tiny greens, and I don’t eat shrimp but wow, that marinated squash was delicious (its hiding under the tiny giant greens).

Entrée #2: Barreado (meat simmered for 12 hours in a closed clay pot)

This was so cute! It came in a mini clay pot and the waiter first poured some manioc flour into my bowl, then ladled some of the stew, mixed it, and topped it with plantains. And wow, those were some good plantains, counteracting with the saltiness of the stew. I love well prepared plantains!

Dessert #1: Two kinds of Amazonian fruit ice crema (açai and cupuaçu)

MMM, açai, that’s getting a post of its own later. I have no idea what cupuaçu is but it had a really pleasant, milky taste with a bit of a tang (ok I just read apparently its an Amazonian fruit that’s related to cocoa and has the most free-radical killing power, meaning, it’s the healthiest superfruit). That green stuff? I didn’t know what it was. At first I thought it was some kind of passion fruit but those things aren't seeds, they have the texture of tapioca and it made my tongue itchy so I decided to stay away. Then I asked the waiter. It’s that dreaded jambu tongue numbing thing again! Damn you unknown Amazonian plant!

Dessert #2: Chocolate with a touch of tamarind and pepper, served with coffee

I don’t drink coffee but I liked the messy chocolate thing! Does anyone else think the presentation looks a 

And now my tummy is happily poofy and stuffed. Not nearly as good as my outing last week, but completely palatable and a great deal. However, I'm left wondering whether I would've been better off ordering a la carte, although I think this was a better choice since it lets you try more.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pão de Queijo

Each morning (as long as I wake up early enough), I get to eat Brazilian cheese bread for breakfast! I love it, its so good and chewy. Apparently its because its made with manioc flour (cassava / yucca). So far, the best cheese pão (hah, that sounds funny, pronounce it!) I had was at a restaurant next to the hotel, but that’s not saying much. There’s also a chain called Casa do Pão de Queijo but they totally disappointed!

I might give them another chance though, but even the supermarket bakery’s pão that I had tonight was better…or perhaps I will have to do a cheese bread taste-off post before I leave!

Also, if you are going to join my tentative NYE party (by tentative, I mean it isn't 100% planned yet, but it will happen), prepare to eat this for dessert:

Yes, all of it is going in my suitcase back to the U.S. and I will be hoping it doesn’t get crushed. Maybe I should put everything in my carry-on.

And, on a side note, I only have two free days (this weekend) and so much stuff I still want to do and places to eat! There are three restaurants I want to go to, all of which would have heavy food (one is a traditional feijoda restaurant, another is a steakhouse, and the last is a traditional brazilian with a modern twist). And on top of that, I still have to go to the park, to buy my mama Havaianas, to go to Avenue Paulista just to check it out, and lounge by the pool because I brought three bathing suits. Well, if I have to look not so great in my bathing suit while I lounge by the pool on Sunday, so be it! Food comes first!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mercado Municipal

In a city with 15 million people, you’d think there’d be some life on the weekends. But no, not really. Yesterday while walking around I didn’t see too many people. And today, for most of my taxi ride to the Mercado Municipal, I barely saw a person (lots of cars, sure, but no one out and about), until we got to the market.

A little overwhelmed at first, I walked around and decided to get some fruit after I saw that they give out samples! I love samples.

So after trying a bunch, I settled on jaboticaba (look how crazy it grows, on the tree trunk!), sweetsop, a cashew fruit (I just wanted to try it, no samples of that) and a mystery fruit an orange passion fruit that just looked cool.

I think they charged me more than it was, but whatever. The interesting thing is that if you don't have exact change (lets say R$12), they'd rather take less (so R$10).

Then I made my way to the second floor of the market where there are food stalls and seating; super crowded and super loud. I got a mortadella sandwich at Hocca bar which is apparently “the thing” to do there, and I like doing “the thing” to do in places I don’t know.

And again, I don’t speak the language but they insist and ask questions and I don’t know what they’re asking! And then the girl behind me was like “he’s asking where you’re from”. But if I already told you I don’t speak Portuguese, shouldn’t you realize I don’t know what you’re saying? Sigh, I’m helpless over here and all I can do is say “ingles” and smile and shake my head apologetically and use hand gestures. It works for the most part.

For the most part, I’m fine taking pictures but sometimes I feel bad and feel the need to buy something from the vendors whose goods I take pictures of. Spice stalls:

The spices here are so cheap, so I got 8 different spices for R$12 ($7!). I couldn't help myself - I'm like a kid in a candy store when it comes to spices. You can probably read the labels and understand what they are.

Guarana to add to drinks for a caffeine boost, garam masala because it was so cheap, cinnamon sticks for the same reason, as well as fennel, bacon soup mix because adding that to sautéed veggies will make them taste delicious (in my opinion), pink peppercorns just because, and powdered spinach and beets as coloring agents for ice creams and baked goods.

Some other market scenes:

On a side note, it’s in such a sketch area, that when I walked out trying to find a taxi, I had no idea where to go and hoped that I would be OK. And then I saw a taxi stand with one taxi. And again, they start speaking me to in Portuguese, I say “INGLESSSS, fala ingles?” they say “nao” and then continue speaking to me in Portuguese. Sigh. But at least this taxi driver said things I kind of recognized, as in he pointed out sites to me like Praca de Se and the cathedral there, and the MASP.

And I just thought this was funny and accurately described what I was after I finished eating and shopping: