Archive for the Brazil Category

Chilling in Morro de Sao Paolo

Posted in Bahia, Brazil, Morro de Sao Paulo, Tinhare with tags , , , , , on May 4, 2012 by gannet39

2011-12-12 12.40.49I envy the football fans who draw Salvador for their group matches in the 2014 World Cup.

2011-12-15 12.25.01One of the reasons is that between matches they can go to Tinhare, an island off the Dende coast, about three hours queasy ride on a catamaran from Salvador.

The main town on the island is called Morro de Sao Paulo, and it’s very famous as a top destination for Brazilian beach goers. Because it’s an island, crime isn’t so prevalent and I felt much safer than I did in Barra (see last post).

Gate to harbourYou won’t find any motorised vehicles out here either. Instead there will be several guys holding wheelbarrows with ‘taxi’ painted on the side, waiting on the quayside. You may well need them to help you find your pousada  (guest house) but I had a small bag, so ran the gauntlet and just asked for directions along the way.

Morro has five beaches in all, called logically; First Beach, Second Beach…

Church in the squareThe first beach is located nearest the original village, so is the most developed and has the best restaurants and a lot of the less picturesque (cheaper?) pousadas.

2011-12-15 12.05.41The wide second beach is where most of the action is. The higher end guest houses are here, and lots of bars with their own private sun loungers and umbrellas on the beach.The beach of course provides lots of interesting sights, for everyone! Personally though I couldn’t keep my eyes off the amazing football games and Capoeira circles that sprany up along the water line once the sun came out (after three days of cloud in mid-Dec).

2011-12-14 14.00.26The third beach is the quietest and is probably the best place to stay if not to play. Most of the sand disappears at high tide.

Fourth beachThe fourth beach is huge and stretches off for a couple of kilometres into the distance. It has hardly any development at all, just a couple of bars at the beginning. I never got as far as the fifth beach but I presume it must be pretty much deserted.

2011-12-17 11.27.56I was staying at Chez Max which had a beautiful garden. You could stay in your own hut or get a room on the first floor of the block for $90 a night.

2011-12-17 11.24.18The second storey of the block has the same rooms for $140 because of the beautiful sea view but I got it down to $90 because I only wanted to be near the wi-fi hub (usually a good connection, though not very fast).

Nice bloomerMy room had an empty fridge, an aircon that didn’t work (I hate them anyway) and a separate bathroom with a decent shower. The breakfast is pretty comprehensive if a bit repetitive (coffee, ham, cheese, melon, cake). The best thing was watching the humming birds having their morning meal as they buzzed like bees around the flowers in the garden, too quickly for me to photograph.

I didn’t having an evening meal here due to them Humming bird's breakfasthaving live music every night (another pet hate). But I tried a few other  places in town:

FettucineAt Cafe des Artes in the main square I had a great Fettucine ai Frutti di Mare, consisting of small prawns, loops of squid and a crab sauce. The ratio of seafood to perfectly cooked pasta was about 50/50. If anything the sauce was a bit too intense, but I loved it (A-).

DessertTheir signature dessert (a slice of dry tart with cream sorvete, or Brazilian ice cream, served with swirls of toffee) was ok (B). They also do a tall strong caiparinha for $8 (A).

Old houseThe other posh place is in the old building that looks over the square. The name escapes me but it has changed since the Bradt guide was written.

Best argie beefI had a good Argentinian rump steak (A) when I was there but the portion of rice was a bit small and, with the salad as a the side, the plate looked rather bare (B) for what I paid, so I probably wouldn’t go back. The caiparinhas were pretty stiff though, especially the house version (A+).

2011-12-15 22.28.15

There’s some history here too. If you go through the old gate (bearing the date 1746) at one end of the square (down the side of the posh house above), you will enter the part of town where all the locals seem to live.

2011-12-15 22.23.28

Down this street (Rua de Ponte Grande) you will find the old water cistern, built by the Portuguese a few hundred years ago.

1746Also in the Bradt guide are Sabor da Terra on Rua Caminho da Praia where I had an excellent moqueca, and Tinhare, down some steps off the same road, where the moquecas are also good but the atmosphere was lacking.

2011-12-17 14.32.04I ended up eating lunch a lot at Recoletos, a bar on the second beach. The staff took great care of me, provided me with everything I needed and didn’t give me any reason to go anywhere. The food was fine if nothing fancy. Really, what more could you want for lunch than a couple of pieces of nice grilled fish, white rice, a big salad and a cold beer? Creamy mashed potatoes that’s what! They totally made my day.

Bobo de CamaraoOn another occasion I had their Bobo de Camarao, a prawn stew looking all the world like a moqueca, but then what do I know. As always this came with a nice salad, rice and vatapa.

Acai with pineapple and granola

For dessert I pulled up one of the vendors selling Acai. Don’t miss the chance to have it if you see it, or hear people shouting ‘ah-sa-ii’. This one had pineapple piled on top of frozen purple Acai juice and a scattering of granola on the top, which worked so well in combination. It was perhaps the most delicious fruit dessert I’ve ever eaten (A++), not least for it’s great thirst quenching properties.
Grilled fish with raisin rice

A nice place to eat, and possibly stay, on the fourth beach is Pimenta Rosa. It’s very peaceful here and there were monkeys in the trees all around.

I had a nice lunch here of grilled fish, rice and salad (B+). The rice had raisins in, an interesting idea that worked for me this time, although I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to eat a lot of (B-).

Choc cakeThis was followed by an indecently large slab of chocolate cake which was pretty good too (B).

Fruit barThe beach paths were slowly being redeveloped when I was there. They are just wooden walkways on the sand that help you move around a bit more quickly. Along the sides of the walkways there are lots of small fruit stalls that set up just in the evenings.

Boazinha cachacaSome of stalls double up as a bar and for the equivalent of three or four quid they will make you a caiparinha (or a batida, I’m still not quite sure where the line is drawn. In terms of fruit content, batidas have more) with the fruit and cachaca sugar cane rum of your choice.

Tatuzinho cachacaMore cachacaI asked for matured cachacas each time and these are some of the bottles I got. Tatu or tatuzinha is the word for armadillo, a animal you might possibly see on these islands.

Acerola & CajuSome of my favourite fruit combinations included Acerola (a small red fruit) & Strawberry or Acerola & Caju (cashew).

AcerolaCajuYou often see vendors selling Acerola alongside another small fruit (the size and colour of a Kumquat) called Seriguela (hog plum in English apparently) which consists of juicy citrusy flesh around a large seed. Very refreshing on a hot day.

SeriguelaJambo

There are hundreds of fruits in Brazil (this was just a tiny selection) but as if these weren’t enough, they have imported varieties too.

This fruit is called Jambo and is originally from Asia. It can come in other colours but this white version looked very much like a bulb of garlic bulb although it is actually hollow inside and tastes of very little.

Plum ice creamAnother favourite was Ameixa (plum) ice cream, just one of a multitude of flavours, some familiar, some not, that are available at the parlour off the square.

This sadly was the end of my trip to South America. Truth be told, I’d been pretty lazy and hadn’t gone to many of the places in Brazil I’d been planning to go to. After all that travelling it just felt so nice to sit and do nothing on the beach. Still, there’s plenty saved for next time.

The best guide book I found was for this region of Brazil was ‘Bahia’ by Bradt Guides (Alex Robinson 2010).

I also recommend the excellent blog site Flavors of Brazil.

Beach life in Barra

Posted in Bahia, Barra, Brazil, Salvador with tags , , , , on April 12, 2012 by gannet39

Barra (pronounced ‘ba ha’) is the beach neighbourhood of Salvador, about 15 minutes in a cab down the hill from the Pelourinho. It’s a popular area for restaurants and bars, especially along the water front and Rua Almirante Marques de Leao.

Like Salvador as a whole it has a bit of a rep for being dangerous, depending on who you talk to. If you read the reviews from Guardian readers on the Been There website, you would think it was a no go area after dusk, which certainly isn’t the case. However, two female Brazilian tourists that I met at my hostel felt it necessary to get a cab rather than walk around at night. On the other hand, Jorgia, my local friend, didn’t think it was dangerous at all but then as a local she probably wouldn’t be targeted.  It is an edgy area, but I think if you have some street smarts you will be fine. That’s not to say you can’t be unlucky though. It’s probably a good idea to only take what money you need out with you and keep a close eye on your bag at the beach.

The beaches here are quite narrow and some spots are unfeasibly busy, while just down the road there is plenty of space. Go figure. You can rent miniscule deckchairs that fold back and prop you up for two or three pounds for the day. There are signs along the waterfront indicating how clean the water is but on the one occasion I went it when it was supposed to be fine, there were bits of plastic and other ‘particles’ floating in the water so I didn’t bother again. There are quite a few homeless people sleeping rough down here too who probably, going on the smell, use the back walls as a toilet, so I didn’t sit too near them either. There was the odd drunken lunatic but besides that it was fine!

There are a few things to see, like the lighthouse, a small fort and a statue of Christ, all of which are on promontories along the shore line. The sand sculptures are pretty impressive too!

I stayed in a pleasant little hostel called Pousada Azul at 102 Dr. Praguer Froes, a back street just 5 minutes from the beach. The rooms are plain and simple but clean and have fans, aircon and a fairly good wi-fi signal. The breakfast was very good with fresh fruits and juices amongst many other things. None of the staff speak English but they were all friendly and honest. I was overcharged without either of us noticing and was chased after down the street with the extra money once the mistake was realised.

Caranguejo do Porto (Intermediate B) 819 Rua Oceania

I met Jorgina one evening in this big bar restaurant on the waterfront. There are a couple of similar places neighbouring it on either side, all heaving with people. At this one though, you can get a table by the rail on the top floor to catch the breeze, if you are lucky. We started with some cheese croquettes which were ok (C) but needed the addition of garlic and chilli molhos (dipping sauces) to bring the flavours out (B+). Thanks to Jorgia, I had my first Moqueca here, a seafood stew that is perhaps the most famous Bahian dish. We had her favourite; Moqueca de Siri, made with a small soft-shelled crab.  The place was resounding with the sound of people tapping crab shells with hammers. It looked like a lot of effort so I was glad we ordered the easier version.

Habeas Copos (Elementary B-), 172 Rua Almirante Marques de Leao

The first lunch I had here was very simple and nice; Carne do Sol, literally ‘sun meat’ (salted beef cured for a couple of days in the sun) with onions and Pure do Aipim (cassava flour puree, a bowl of chilli sauce and a cold beer. Good solid fare (B).

The second time I came I had grilled chicken, which was fine, but the chips and rice it came with were cold (C). So mixed results then but at least it’s cheap. As far as drinking is concerned, don’t believe the hype on Trip Advisor, the caipirinhias are ok but nowhere near as good as the (insider?) review makes out.

The Quattro Amici Pizzeria around the corner at 35 Rua Dom Marcos Teixeira is not bad (B) if you fancy a change.

On another night I had a snack with Jorgia at a local burger place on the waterfront. Jorgia told me that MacDonald’s are quite upmarket here and you only find them in malls. It was ok here though not particularly filling (C) and so cheap that I should have had two. The best thing was the bowl of frozen Acai (a delicious ‘wonder fruit’  from Amazonia), studded with sliced banana (A) that came as part of the meal deal. You can get it as a juice in supermarkets now but be warned, though full of good things, it’s highly calorific and extremely moreish!

Cultural Stew in the Pelourinho

Posted in Brazil, Pelourinho, Salvador with tags , , , , , , on April 11, 2012 by gannet39

The next part of my trip fulfilled a longheld ambition to visit Bahia and its capital Salvador which has the reputation of being the party capital of Brazil. In late February it hosts the biggest carnival on the planet with over four million people partying for a whole week along a 25km carnival route. It makes me tired just thinking about it!

The history of Bahia is essentially the history of Brazil as Salvador was the first city to be founded by the Portuguese in 1549.

Pelourinho is the oldest quarter of Salvador so it can be argued that the culture of the nation (food, folk music, Capoiera  martial arts, the Candomble religion, carnival etc) originally spread from this small baroque quarter. Little has changed here since the city was founded and it still retains its old cobbled streets, colonial buildings and stunning churches.

It’s also one of the more dangerous parts of the city (Salvador in general is very poor) but if you stick to the busier streets you should be fine. It can seem like everyone is on the hustle so you need to keep your wits about you.

Bahian cuisine is a rich mix of cultures as you’d imagine. The Portuguese habit of stewing lots of things together is applied to local and African ingredients. Manioc (aka cassava) was the staple crop of the Indians and replaced yam in the diets of the slaves. It usually finds its way into most meals at least once, most likely as a flour to mix with the sauce, pureed or fried as chips.

The frying medium of choice is Aziete de Dende, or palm oil, brought from West Africa during colonial times. This is such an important local ingredient that this part of the coastline is known as the Costa do Dende. It can be quite heavy, depending on how much is used, and the taste can take some getting used to.

Seafood is the thing, especially shrimp. Typical dishes are seafood stews like Moqueca  (made with coconut milk, tomatoes, coriander, palm oil, shrimp or crab and a multitude of other variable ingredients),  Ensopado  (very similar but using olive oil ), Bobo (with dende but thickened with manioc puree). It’s hard to tell distinguish between them sometimes as they look very similar but the flavours are subtly different.

Abara is made from mashed black-eyed or cheaper brown beans, which are formed into a dough along with grated onion, dried shrimp, salt and palm oil, and steamed in banana leaves. The same mix is used to make Acaraje,  where balls of the dough are deep fried in palm oil. Today the same food is still called Akara in southern Nigeria and both Acaraje and Abara are used in Candomble rituals.

Another side dish featuring with most meals is Vatapa, a paste of bread, crushed peanuts, shrimp, coconut milk and palm oil.

Mama Bahia (Intermediate C/D), Rua das Portas do Carmo 21, Open Mon-Sun 11am-12pm.

My first taste of Bahian food at this randomly chosen restaurant was disappointing but I didn’t know whether it was due to the unfamiliar ingredients or the cooking. I had the Couvert Baiano, or Bahian Appetiser, which included small Acarajes (B-), Abares (C), Vatapa (C) and Camarao (prawns fried in dende, a salty C). Everything was saturated in dende, the taste of which was overbearing. I did have had less oily Vatapa a few times after this and enjoyed it much more, so I think it was the chef and not me. If you like to choose your restaurants more carefully, I’d say this is a place to avoid.

My food experience on the second night was much better however. I had the good fortune to make two local acquaintances, Jorginha and Natalia, who I met through CouchSurfing, a website for linking up travellers with friendly locals who are willing to host them. Salvador has a very active group with over two thousand members and Jorginha is a local ambassador for the site. I found her by typing in the key words ‘English teacher’ (our common profession) and ‘food’! She was an absolute diamond and I wouldn’t have had half the experience I did without her. Thanks Jorgia! x

Ponte Vidal (Intermediate A), Rua Laranjeiras 23

On my suggestion, we went to Bradt guide-recommended place which was supposed to be great for local food but seemed very quiet for some reason. My new friends suggested I try Escondidinho (literally meaning ‘hidden little one’); a large earthenware pot containing chunks of Carne Seca (dried beef) covered with a puree of manioc, kind of like cottage pie. It was served here with side dishes of manioc chips, salad, chilli salsa, black-eyed beans and  a bowl of manioc flour for sprinkling on everything. It was fantastic (A), and I just couldn’t stop eating it.

In the Pelourinho, Tuesday is called Terca de Bencao or ‘Blessed Tuesday’  (due to a special Mass) and is one of the best nights to go out. So, after our meal the three of us went to check out a live Salsa band playing in one of the many squares. The audience was as much fun to watch as the band with everyone line dancing together at first, then breaking off into pairs for wild close dancing as things got going.

After this we went to a crowded bar that was playing live salsa but stood outside due to the heat and crowds. The narrow streets were so packed it reminded me of Notting Hill carnival on Saturday night, except this was a Tuesday! A pickpocket nearly had my notebook away here, thinking it was a wad of notes but I had my cash in an inaccessible pocket.

We also saw some live Batucada on the street, with the drummers tossing their instruments in the air between beats, an amazing spectacle of sight and sound.

Hotel Casa do Amarelindo (Advanced A-), Rua das Portas do Carmo 6, Tel. (71) 3266 8550

I treated myself to this top notch hotel for a couple of nights to make use of their services (baggage storage, tourist help in English, BBC on the telly and a small pool and gym) and would totally recommend it for a short (pricey) stay. It’s owned by a friendly French couple who have a great eye for detail. The bathrooms and beds are luxurious and there are wooden carvings of carnival costumes everywhere.

The food is pretty good, especially the breakfast which is excellent  (fresh fruit, yogurt, perfectly scrambled egg, ham, cheese, rolls, coffee, juices). This is also where my addiction to passion fruit Caipirinhas began, the first of many! You get great views over the bay from the bar terrace on the top floor, and the sunsets are just stunning.

Snacking in Sao Paolo

Posted in Brazil, Downtown, Jardim Paulistano, Liberdade, Sao Paolo with tags , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by gannet39

Just a short stay 36-hour stay here unfortunately, which hardly did the place justice.  Sao Paolo  is a huge mega polis, the main business hub for the entire continent.  Even flying over the city seems to take ages, so you can imagine what the traffic is like. Unlike Buenos Aires or Rio, there doesn’t seem to be much of a grid system and it’s basically a huge maze of traffic-packed streets.

I stayed at the cheap and cheerful but fairly central EZ Aclimacao Hotel at 668 Av. Armando Ferrentini, near Avenida Paulista. I didn’t have enough time to research a good place to eat so I went for the nearest one to the hotel that was listed in Frommer’s  top ten restaurants. Ideally I would have liked to get in at Jun Sakamoto’s famous Sushi restaurant but he only has 8 tables and likes to hand pick his customers. So instead I plumped for…

Antiquarius (Advanced A-), 1884 Alameda Lorena, Jardim Paulistano, SP, Tel 11 3082 3015

This place specialises in Portuguese cuisine (lots of codfish) and I would have preferred somewhere with more local food but I went as it was relatively near the hotel. It still took me nearly an hour though due to the Saturday evening traffic! It was a bit of a mistake to come here really as it’s very formal and they charge a small fortune for food which would be a fraction the price in Portugal. Still, the food is very good.

The service is pretty OTT and I had to deal with separate waiters for my aperitif (a very stiff Caiparinha (A)) food, wine, water and bread but eventually it settled down to just one guy. He was a Portuguese chap who spoke good English and who I presumed had escaped the economic woes at home to come and work in the former colony. The irony is very poignant. Surely no two countries have ever reversed roles so completely.

Several small plates of starters arrived first, which I presumed were only charged if you ate them. I scoffed the lot! They included pate, soft cheese (these first two being replenished if you finished them), garlic bread, three kinds of fritters (salt cod, fish and cheese), something non-descript I couldn’t discern. I doused the fritters in ladles of small hot peppers in olive oil from the small pot on the table.

I quite liked the soundtrack too, a breathy female vocal singing such classics as ‘I’ve got you under my skin’, ‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’. It got me humming anyway.

For my main I went for the steak with French fries and white rice.  This involved a very tender and bloody slab of beef (A+) with a brown gravy-like sauce (which the waiter could only tell me included herbs) and lattice chips (B). I had to remind them about the plain rice (B) I was craving, and which was the only reason I’d ordered the dish in the first place. I despair of my contradictory habits sometimes. I have a huge desire to go out and eat but often only want the simplest fare when I get there.

I still had half an imported bottle of average Vale de Mina red (B) so I asked for a little cheese to go with it. I got two large ice cream scoops of powerful ewe’s cheese which I could only manage a few small slithers of because the taste was so pungent(C+). I would love to be able to eat this stuff but I really don’t think it agrees with me. I nearly had a whitey once eating something similar in Paris whilst sipping strong wine and sitting in the sun.  I’m sure the cheese was the prime culprit.

My man kindly replaced it with a plate of Quejo Casteloes, which had been heated in the oven till it had a consistency similar to molten Mozzarella, very stringy and totally delicious (A).

The restaurant was heaving now so I vacated the table and went over the street to the Cuban cigar bar for a bit of secondary smoke and a couple more Caipirinihas.

The next morning I met my old friend Elcio and his lovely wife Mae, who took me out for the day. I had a great experience of SP thanks to them.

We went for a walk around the ‘old’ downtown financial district of Sao Paolo which was pretty much deserted on a Sunday (though the streets were still heaving with traffic). It’s a bizarre mix of architecture with Gothic churches neighbouring art deco apartment blocks.

Mainly though it’s all soaring New York style office buildings cluster around a couple of small parks and pedestrianised zones.

Some of the oldest buildings in the city are here but few of them have made it to a hundred years yet.

There are still a few nice ones though, like the Teatro Municpal,  which is modeled on the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. You can apparently get guided tours of the building but you have to book ahead so we missed out unfortunately.

The original financial district has been relocated now and the streets are heavily populated by large numbers of homeless people and ‘Oxi‘ addicts, either passed out on the pavement or walking around like zombies. It’s definitely not a place to come at night but we didn’t have any problems in the daylight.

We also took in the museum in the square of Pateo do Collegio, which is considered to be the original spot the city was founded on in 1554. The small museum has some interesting displays showing the growth of the city, and a collection of church artefacts. You have to pay in but it’s not much.

We also stopped in at the cathedral, a neo-Gothic pile of stone much like any other. The only item on display in the very plain interior was a glass case inexplicably containing a flagrum whip! In front of the church is the Praca de Se with a statue of Padre Jose de Anchieta, a Jesuit missionary who was one of the founders of both Sao Paolo and Rio. This area is as historical as it gets in SP.

 

 

The highlight for me however was the Mercado Municipal, an old European style market in the heart of the downtown.

The ground level of the huge central hall is a mix of greengrocer’s stalls stacked with huge piles of exotic fruit, Italian delis with hanging displays of sausages and cheeses, and a multitude of butchers and fishmongers who are gathered together in various corners.

One dried cod stall had the biggest fillets of bacalhau , I’d ever seen, about a metre long. It was labelled Gadus Morhau aka Atlantic cod, and so must have been imported from Norway.

On the first floor is the restaurant area with two blocks of cafes and snack bars and seating for probably about a thousand people. Elcio told me there were two classic Sao Paulo snacks I should try in order to become an honorary Paulista (someone from the state of SP, which includes Paulistanos, people from SP city itself). I couldn’t choose between them so the solution was to have both!

First off was the scrumptious Pasteis de Bacalhau, a deep-fried pasty stuffed with salt cod, sliced olives and parsley, something I’d had in Rio but is particularly well known here (A). Italian Brazilians say that the flat, envelope-like pasteis or pastel and the more bulbous fogazza were both derived from Italian calzone. Others say that it was the Issei (Japanese immigrants) who adapted Chinese wontons for sale on the street. Still others say that they are derived from Indian samosas. Anyway wherever it’s from, everyone eats it because it’s delicious.

To follow the legendary Mortadella Sanduiche, a hot baguette containing about twenty wafer thin slices of Mortadella (lard laced sausage, originally from Bologna), and provolone cheese, tomate caqui (‘persimmon’ tomato which we just call a salad tomato), oregano, lettuce and rocket. With a cold beer to go with it, this was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had (A+).

I didn’t know at the time but my food hero Anthony Bourdain filmed this fabulous sandwich for one of his No Reservations programmes (the sandwich is about four minutes in).

After these starters we walked a short distance to Liberdade, aka Japan town. Sao Paulo has the biggest expat Japanese community in the world and in this neighbourhood there are several streets of Japanese shops and restaurants.

I first came to Liberdade late at night in 2006 when Elcio took me for sushi in the early hours of the morning. The place he took me to is seared on my brain forever. As soon as you come in the entrance, you are immediately on the dance floor which, on the night I went, had several multi-racial couples (many mismatched in terms of height) close dancing feverishly to what Elcio described as Brazilian country and western music. Over to one side was the bar where a midget sushi chef was standing on a box and jigging around to the music while simultaneously moulding rice balls and raw fish. The back half of the room was a pool hall with an array of other unusual characters knocking balls around on the baize. All in all, one of the most bizarre restaurant atmospheres I’ve ever been in.

We sat down and I was introduced to the Mamasan who took our order (in Japanese);  a large wooden model boat crammed with the finest raw fish I’d had since I lived in Japan. That experience totally won me over to Brazil. Why live in conservative Japan when you could experience their fantastic food culture in much more relaxed social surroundings? Brazil has it all!

I was hoping we could go back there this time but there were so many other, equally enjoyable, things on offer that we didn’t have time.

On this muggy Sunday afternoon, we started off at the open food air market in Liberdade where there were many more multicultural examples of Brazilian food fusion. One stall was selling fogazza (deep-fried dough balls with fillings such as palm heart or ‘Calabrese’, a spicy sausage with origins in southern Italy) alongside Swiss crepes and ice cream tempura!

A lot of it looked pretty ropey to be honest so I saved my appetite for a proper restaurant, which prompted a debate about whether to eat Chinese, Japanese or Korean food, all of which was available in top quality. The choice was left to me in the end, and there could only be one…

Aska Lamen Bar, 466 Rua Galvao Bueno, Libertade, Tel: 3277 9862 (no reservations)

Ramen (also spelt Lamen) is one the food I miss most from the time I lived in Japan and I jumped at the opportunity to have it again as I’ve have never found a satisfactory place in the UK. This place is the real deal and has a great reputation, so there a small crowd waiting with us on the pavement for the shutter to come up at 6pm. On other days apparently there can be long lines along the street.

Mae told me that the old guy who ran it had gone to Japan to study how to make Lamen after he had retired from working all his life in a big company. He obviously does it for love as his prices are amazingly low when he could charge a lot more. You’d think he’d be taking it easy now but he’s there every day, working away in the kitchen with his chefs.

I had the Miso Tonkatsu Ramen (bean paste and roast pork) with a portion of Kimchi (fermented Korean chilli cabbage)  The noodles were thinner than I’m used to, like vermicelli, and you had to eat them extra fast before they get too soggy. Japanese people slurp their soup noodles loudly, which makes them taste better due to the intake of oxygen, as well as cooling them down. The stock is the key to a good ramen (many of the best places in Japan have secret recipes) and this pork-based broth totally hit the spot for me (A).

We also shared two great portions of Gyoza (steam fried dumplings), one pork filled (A+), the other veg (B+). Both had a delicate skin which had to be treated very gently to maintain their structural integrity when dunked in the dipping bowl of soya sauce and chilli oil. An ice cold bottle of Brahma completed one of my favourite meal combinations of all time. Pure heaven.

Sadly this was the end of our little tour as we all had to make our various ways home. Every time I’ve been to SP I’ve eaten fantastically well, which might justify Paulistano claims to have the best food and restaurants in the country. Mae and Elcio did their best to prove this theory correct. Thanks guys, it was great!

The boy in Ipanema

Posted in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro on October 31, 2011 by gannet39

Ipanema beachJust three nights in Rio, wish it could have been longer, what an amazing city! The coastal neighbourhoods are crammed between soaring tree-covered hills and mountains on the one side and the sea on the other. There are miles of long white-sand beaches with enough room for everyone, and everyone is there; rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight. I’m not saying there isn’t prejudice but they seem to have got it right more than anyone else.

Bonita

Day 2 125

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I stayed in Ipanema at the Hostel Bonita. It’s nice enough with simple clean rooms (and dorms), friendly staff, a basic breakfast and just two streets away from the beach. They have a sister hostel up the road but I chose this one because it’s near the metro station for town and also because the famous Bossa Nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim lived here for a few years in the sixties. His tune ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ has the distinction of being the most recorded song in musical history.

Breakfast at CafeinaI arrived at about 8 in the morning, well before check-in, so I went round the corner to Cafeina for breakfast. They had several variations on the menu but I went for the ‘Natural’, consisting of a flat white, granola and yogurt, two kinds of bread with two kinds of cheese, smoked turkey breast, butter, jam, honey, orange juice and half a papaya, phew!

Orange peelChristophenesLinguica sausageSardinesRed mangoYams and sweet potatoesPassion fruitChilli stallAfter this I went to the food market in Placa General Osorio for a nosey. Most of the produce was familiar, pretty much what you’d get in a European market or international store.

There were a few South American fruits and vegetables that I couldn’t identify though. Any ideas what some of these are?

NopeMaybe maniocNo ideaCow peas perhaps


One of the stall holders persuaded me to buy a few strawberries and a Custard Apple by pushing free samples into my hand. They tasted amazing so how could I say no? 

Cheese pastyDraining a coconutI also had a Pasteis, a deep-fried filled pasty, in this case filled with cheese, which I had with a glass of freshly poured coconut milk.

Butt cakeThere are lots of Confeitarias or cake shops all over town, which is a great Portuguese tradition, but which also showed some Italian influences like pizza and foccacia.  I’d really like to sink my teeth into this cake.

The WallpaperIn the evening I had my first Caiparinha and a cocktail called ‘The Wallpaper’ at Astor, a posh bar next to Ipanema beach where you can sit outside (if you get there early) and watch the sea.

For dinner I went to Brasileirinho, a small rustic restaurant with traditional decor at 10 Rua Jangadeiros. It’s a recommended place to eat Feijoada, the Brazilian national dish, basically a pork stew made from black beans and different parts of the pig.

BatidaThe aperitif for this is usually a Caiparinha but I was given a Batida, also made with Cachaca (sugar cane rum) but with the addition of various fruit juices. This time it came in a small shot glass and seemed essentially to be half Cachaca and half lime juice, ie strong and sour just how I like it.

Caldinho de FeijaoThe first stage of Feijoada is a small bowl of Caldinho de Feijao, a thick soup made from the black beans, which should come with a side dish of pickled chillies to perk it up.

Feijoada completaFor the main event the meat and the beans are served in separate dishes. Originally it was a slave dish and as they were only given the offal to eat, ear, tongue and trotters can all feature. I wasn’t in the mood on this occasion so I stuck with the less offaly option which had fresh beef, pork jerky, tail, two types of sausage and some other things I couldn’t identify.

Kale and maniocFarofaOther sides are traditionally a portion of Farofa (fried manioc flour) for sprinkling over the stew, as well as kale fried with garlic, fried manioc root, white rice and pork scratchings. You also get a plate of sliced orange which helps to digest it all apparently. Together this would have been enough for four people but I gave it my best shot and ate about a third!

MeatScratchingsThe dish originally comes from the Portuguese who like to mix several ingredients in their stews. The manioc (aka cassava) element comes from the local Indians and the spices are an African influence. So a true fusion dish, unique to Brazil.

Cheese with Guava jamFor dessert I had some white soft cheese with Goiabada (Guava) jam which was delicious but I couldn’t find room to finish it (B).

DomecqWith this a glass of Domecq which seemed to be a kind of local cognac (conhaque) but with a spiced flavour reminiscent of vanilla, which is just wrong in my book, avoid (D).

Forte de CopacabanaThe next day I hired a bike and took the cycle path along the beaches for several hours. After riding along the waterfront in Ipanema my first stop was the Forte de Copacabana, an old fort on a strategic promontory between the two famous beaches.

Big gunYou have to pay 4 reals to get in which gets  you access to the military museum (I gave it a miss) but I was there to go to Confiteria Colombo, a branch of the famous Belle Epoque cafe in town (Rua Dias Gonçalves, in the Centro). It’s in a pleasant spot where you can sit outside and get a great view of Copacabana.

Beer and a tartBohemiaI had a Tarte di Camarao (prawn pastry) and a cold bottle of Bohemia beer to wash it down.

Brazilian beer is pretty good, Bohemia was my favourite bottle and Brahma is ok too. The name for draught beer is Chopp (pronounced ‘shop’).

ChoppDevassaDevassa is a chain of bars you will see all over town that brews its own Chopp on the premises. They have about six varieties including an IPA. I went to the one at 416 Rua Prudente de Moraes for a glass of Serara, a wheatbeer. It was very good but cost about £4 for a small glass. And that’s the main downside about coming here, it’s really pricey!

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Leblon Bar Crawl

Posted in Leblon with tags , , , on October 29, 2011 by gannet39

BracaranseLeblon neighbours Ipanema to the West and seems to be where most of the drinking holes are.  I started off at Bracaranse (85B Rua José Linhares); a buzzing neighbourhood bar with a comfortable well-worn feel.

Bolinhas in BracaranseThe Bolinhas de Bacalau (deep fried balls of salt cod) are reputed to be some of the best in town and I couldn’t disagree (A).

The selectionAfter this I headed to Acadamia da Cachaca round the corner at 26 Rua Conde de Bernadotte. They claim to have over 100 varieties of the sugar cane rum.

Cachaca varies from normal rum in that it’s made from fresh sugar cane that is fermented and distilled whereas other rums are made from molasses, a by product from making sugar. it was banned in Brazil for many years and it has over 700 other names as inventive Brazilian home distillers to deceive the authorities! Now Brazil produces 1.3 billion litres of it every year.

Caiparinha ProvidenciaI started with a Caipirinha Providencia; made with brown sugar rather than the usual white which gave it a pretty murky appearance, but it tasted pretty good (B). They have lots of other unusual combinations too like orange and ginger, passion fruit or honey, as well as Caipiroskas which are made with vodka instead of Cachaca.

Pitanga BatidaAfter this a Batida made with Pitanga, which was described as a Brazilian cherry but tasted quite differently, in a good way (B).

JacutingaFollowing on from this a ‘dose’ (shot) of matured Pitu Gold, which smelt sublime (A). I followed this with a 16-year-old Jacutinga, one of the oldest ‘maturadas’ on the menu, which again had a great nose  (A). Most of the choices were between £2 and £6 a shot but there were some matured Cachacas that were as much as £15!

You can also buy whole bottles to take away. For the record the most expensive (and best?) were the Piragibana (225 reals a bottle), Gosto Requintado Mundial (260 reals), Anisio Santiago (265), Armazem Viera Oni (320) and the Germana Heritage (395).

Zona sul SupermarketJust down the road (290 Rua Dias Ferreira) there is the flagship branch of Zona Sul supermarket. If you want to buy some Brazilian ingredients to take home (eg special sugar for making Capirinhias), this is the place to come. They were open at midnight when I was passing.

Bar VelosoI had one final Caipirinha in Bar Veloso on Rua Aristides Espinola (corner with Avenida General San Martin). It was buzzing when I was there with a smart young crowd. It takes its name from the original bar (now called Garota de Ipanema at 49 Rua Vinicius de Moraes) where Carlos Jobim wrote the lyrics for his most famous song.

Flamengo & Cocovado

Posted in Brazil, Flamengo & Cocovado, Rio de Janeiro on October 29, 2011 by gannet39



One day I'll fly away
You can’t really go to Rio and not go up the Cocovado to see the huge iconic statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) which looks out over the city.hand of God

It’s the biggest Art Deco statue in the world but surprisingly only the fifth biggest statue of Jesus.

Cristo

Ipanema lakeSugarloaf MountainMake sure you go on a clear day because the views in all directions are amazing. It was a bit hazy when I went but I could still nearly see my house.

TicketYou can drive up in a van but I took the old cog train (first electrified train in South America) to the top. It runs every half hour and costs about 40 reals.

Acai with a view on the sideThere’s a cafe under the statue where I had an iced smoothie made from Acai, a delicious Amazonian jungle berry, while taking in the stunning view of Ipanema below. It can be pretty busy up on the belvedere but it really is worth all the time and effort.

BelmonteBelmonte interiorAfter coming down the mountain I got a cab to Belmonte (300 Praia de Flamengo) in Flamengo which is a classic old Bodeca (Brazilian bar with open sides). It’s a succesful chain now but this is the original.

Gilo


I had some great Bolinhas de Bacalau and a Gilo, a fruit looking like a stubby courgette but tasting a bit like marrow.

Cod ball

It was pretty good with some good Portuguese olive oil and a cold glass of Chopp (draught beer).

Nice oil
After these starters I went round the corner to Cafe Lamas (18A Rua Marques de Abrantes), one of the oldest restaurants in Rio (since 1874) and historically frequented by presidents, bankers, writers and poets.

Cafe Lamas

It looks like a bar from the front but go inside and there’s a huge dining room in the back. It’s definitely seen better days but keeps up a good pretence of being posh with waiters in white tunics and gold buttons attending you silver-service style. My guys were very nice and friendly and looked after me very well.

Linguica Frita a la BrasileiraI had Linguica a la Brasileira, with a side order of Batatas Fritas, essentially sausage and chips but also with a portion of manioc flour fried with more, smaller chunks of sausage. The sausage tasted very North European and went very well with the kind of mild mustard they have up there (B+) although the chips were pretty average.

Delicia do LamasTo finish, a decadent dessert called Delicas do Lamas, a chocolate parkin topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce and Chantilly.

Cachaca maturadoOn the side a Cachaca Maturada, wood aged sugar cane rum (B).

Flamengo is the oldest neighbourhood in Rio and is said to be the site of the first Portuguese-built house. It was once the posh area but became dilapidated when the tunnel to Copacabana was built and all the middle classes moved to Zona Sul in the south of the city. It’s a pretty nice area to walk around if you like old architecture.

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