The Olympics, Eat Rio food projects and New York

Hello Eat Rio readers! After another prolonged break I’m back. Let’s kick things off with the Olympics. What were your impressions? To me it seemed like things went pretty well – I was working non-stop so didn’t get to see any actual sporting events, but I picked up a lot of feedback from my food tour guests and generally people had very good things to say. I also managed a quick visit to the Olympic Boulevard one afternoon.

Olympic-boulevard-2016

On a rare day off I got to see the Olympic Boulevard. Despite the warnings of Zika, crime and deadly pollution, everyone seemed to be having a thoroughly nice time.

 

Certainly the dreaded Zika epidemic didn’t happen and although there were a few robberies, I think Ryan Lochte did Rio a great favour by acting like the archetypal ‘idiot abroad’ and so grabbing all the headlines (thanks Ryan!). Of course we could argue for days about whether the Olympics were a good thing for Rio and whether the entire Olympic machine needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with renewed focus on its original ideals (can you guess where I stand on this question?), but let’s leave that for the comments section!

Kobra-mural-olympic-boulevard

A small section of the enormous and beautiful mural by Kobra. This is now officially recognised as the largest in the world (there are 5 faces in total). I felt pretty grouchy about the fact that Brazilian food was almost completely absent from the entire Olympic Boulevard area (instead it was all Coke and burgers), but the mural made up for it.

 

Off to New York

The last few months have been pretty bizarre. Mrs Eat Rio moved to New York in July to do a very prestigious Masters degree at Columbia University so we’re in ‘long-distance relationship mode’. It’s pretty miserable to be honest, but it’s just a year and I’ve taken the opportunity to throw myself into a bunch of projects (more on that below). It also gives me a nice excuse to spend some time in New York which I’ll be doing as much as my schedule and bank balance allow (please feel free to bombard me with your NY recommendations – especially little family run restaurants, food stands and unmissable stuff which doesn’t cost a fortune).

 

Brazil’s Annus horribilis and some extra special tours

But let’s go back to the Olympics quickly. It felt like the stakes were especially high – we needed this thing to go well as we’ve had a very difficult year here in Brazil. Amongst other things we’ve had Zika (both the outbreak itself and the outbreak of overblown media hysteria), political turmoil, protests both for and against impeachment (strangely the police brutality only happens at the latter),  continued economic recession, steeply rising unemployment figures (now above 11.5%) to name a few.

My little culinary tour business also felt the effects of all this Brazil-negativity – bookings for most of the year were very low – so I was delighted to have a big upturn in reservations for the 3 weeks of the games.

Atmosphere-wise, it felt a lot like the FIFA World Cup of 2014 – people from all over the world came to Rio and had a fantastic time. Here are the things I heard again and again from all these international visitors:

  • All this fuss about Zika and we haven’t seen a single mosquito! I’m so glad we ignored all the warnings.
  • No one speaks English here! But we’ve been getting by just fine with sign-language and a smile.
  • People here are super-friendly and do their best to be helpful.
  • The food at the Olympic venues is terrible.
  • Getting between venues has been OK, but the lines to buy food and drinks (etc) have been a nightmare.

As well as taking out our everyday culinary tour guests, we also did a couple of extra special tours during the games. I led a tour which was filmed by NBC (you can see the little video they made here).

Then there was the time I took out the GB women’s 8 rowing team.

Team-GB-rowers-silver-medal

What an inspiring group! Here you see the Team GB silver medal winning womens 8 rowing team with assorted partners (plus a chubby impostor!).

 

They booked early and were due to take my tour about 5 days after competing, so I was watching their progress carefully to see if I’d be greeting them with congratulations or commiserations. Happily they won silver medals so it was a very upbeat day. One of them was even nice enough to let me wear her medal – those things are heavy! Also, I discovered that professional rowers eat about twice as much as normal humans…

As fate would have it, my final tour of this very punishing Olympic stint coincided with my 40th birthday. With Mrs Eat Rio away, I was afraid it would be a rather miserable day, but that was before I met my tour group!

Eat-Rio-Food-Tours-Jamaica-group

Top birthday tour group: 8 chirpy Jamaicans and 2 lovely Germans. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to turn 40.

 

There was a time when I thought Brazilians were the most popular nationality in the world, but that was before I took 8 Jamaicans on a tour through Rio. I lost count of the number of shouts of “Boltche!” (that’s ‘Bolt’ in Portuguese speak) and the number of grins and Bolt poses we were greeted with during the day. There was even an impromptu singalong/dancealong with the Rasta busker outside Glória metro station!

 

Doubles at Junta Local

A while back I mentioned the excellent Junta Local food movement and food fairs. Having been impressed on my first visit, I returned on numerous occasions and always enjoyed the food, the prices and, perhaps more than anything, the ethos of the organisation (supporting local growers, suppliers and artisans – always with an eye on social and environmental responsibility).  For a long time I harboured a secret desire to cross over to the other side of one of these food stalls and on the final Sunday of the Olympic games, along with my friend Laura, I got my chance.

Doubles-Junta-Local

Laura and I had almost no time to prepare so we were light on marketing material, but as a ‘proof of concept’ exercise it was valuable. Note the Trini flag bandana!

 

For years, I’ve been obsessed with a delicious Trinidadian street food called ‘Doubles’. I was introduced to it by a friend back in London and a little while ago it occurred to me that the people of Rio might like it as well. The food takes the form of a sandwich. Lightly spiced, fried dough ‘barras’ surround a yummy chickpea curry, a spiced, green mango ‘kuchela’, a zingy tamarind sauce and optional hot sauce. It only occurred to me quite late on that this delicious snack is 100% vegan! I think many people see the ‘V word’ as a total culinary turn-off, so I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but if ever there were proof that you don’t need animal products to have delicious food, this is it!

Eat-Rio-Doubles

A Doubles. This was an early incarnation and still a bit of a work in progress – the ‘barra’ (bread) should be softer a less puffy – but it was a solid start I’m hoping continued improvement.

 

To cut a long story short, the day went well. People were curious and a little tentative at first, but over the course of the day word spread and things got really busy. We even had several people come back for a second serving which must surely be the highest compliment. We did have a few hiccups – high winds and falling branches made it quite a challenge and at one point all our money flew away on the wind – but overall I think we did pretty well. We also learned a lot of lessons so that next time (hopefully there will be a next time) it’ll be a much more professional operation. Rio locals: look out for us at future Junta Local events and come say hi!

 

Eat Rio Bacon

With all my newfound free time I’ve also been working on other food projects. First off, bacon. I have a smoker, I have a ton guava wood, I love bacon and I like the idea of making it myself so I know exactly what’s going into it. Making it yourself also means that you can experiment with different flavourings and curing techniques. So far, so delicious (and I need to start running regularly again).

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When you make your own bacon you can decide how to flavour it by tinkering with the cure mix.

 

eat-rio-bacon

After 5-7 days of curing, the pork belly comes out of the fridge and is ready for hanging and smoking.

 

eat-rio-bacon

The finished product was rustic but delicious! In future I’ll be using a single, large piece of pork belly and will have it sliced properly. I’m also hoping to find a source for organic pork – if any of you know of anything in or around Rio then let me know!

 

Eat Rio Beer

I bought a lot of beer brewing gear last year and then somehow never quite got around to actually doing anything with it. Finally I kicked things off just before the Olympics and the results have also been surprisingly good (I was expecting disaster – most instructions suggest there are a million ways to mess it up). I ended up with 32 x 600ml bottles of an American Pale Ale (that is pronounced ‘appa’ if you’re Brazilian). It came in at 5.2% abv so it gets the job done! Next up, a pilsner perhaps? Or maybe a red ale? Watch this space!

Eat-Rio-Beer

Excuse the mess. This is the stage where you cool the ‘wort’ as quickly as possibly using iced water and a copper serpent. At this point I was pretty sure I had screwed up about 10 things and the end result would be undrinkable. But having spent this much time and effort on it I decided to plough on…

 

Eat-Rio-Beer

Mmmm, lovely, delicious beer! After what felt like forever, it eventually came time to taste it. It looks like beer, tastes like beer and gets you drunk like beer. Success!

 

Eat Rio Salt Beef

If you’ve ever visited Brick Lane in London you should have seen an ancient and very famous bakery called Beigel Bake. It is especially famous for its bagels and salt beef (this is what Americans call ‘corned beef‘, a term which means something slightly different, and slightly disgusting, in the UK). Whenever I go back I always make time for a fat salt beef sandwich with lots of fiery English mustard and pickles. Well in the spirit of ‘Why can’t I do that here?’, I decided to have a go at making it myself. If anyone in Rio has a hankering for that Brick Lane-style salt beef sandwich then let me know and I’ll sort you out!

Eat-Rio-Salt-beef

I’m still working the get the bread just right, but the salt beef is just how I like it – tender to the point of falling apart, salty and satisfying!

 

Back soon

OK, that’s more than enough food bragging for now (and by the way, I’m not claiming to be in any way skillful with any of this stuff – I just had a go and it turned out to be surprisingly easy). Expect to see some snaps and updates from NYC in the coming weeks – updates will go to Facebook and Instagram first. Proper blog posts (as you’ve surely already noticed) tend to be more sporadic.

10 replies
  1. carlos
    carlos says:

    Bacon and beer. Hmmm….. I agree that adding regular running to that mix might be a good idea. Jog down that long winding hill to Praca Paris, make maybe 10 laps inside the Praca, and then cool down by walking back up the long and winding hill. If I was in Rio, I’d do it with you.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Jeez, you’re a hard task-master Carlos! 10 laps?! I do occasionally run around Praça Paris, but normally stop after 3 laps. On the other hand, 10 laps would justify even more bacon and beer – maybe you’re on to something!

      Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Sam – I haven’t lived in London for more than 7 years so my knowledge is definitely NOT up to date. However, you could try Roti Joupa which is right next to Clapham North tube station. I’ve been told there is also a woman selling Doubles at one of the markets near Dalston (Ridley Road, I think). Good luck! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Judith Harvey
    Judith Harvey says:

    Hi Tom,

    Many years ago my sister lived in SoHo NY and a pilgrimage was to Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes 137 South Houston Street. I don’t think knishes are great food but it is still there and worth a visit. I know the address is correct because I still have one of their pan holders and the writing hasn’t quite worn off.

    Dean and Deluca deli in SoHo in those days was the only place in NY (in the USA?) where you could get proper cheese. I think the laws have changed and (more) Americans now realise that processed rubber is not cheese!

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Judith! Lovely to hear from you. What a great NYC tip – I’ve got plenty of time here so I’ll go take a look for sure. According to Wikipedia “the United States underwent a knish renaissance in the 2000s driven by knish specialty establishments [in Baltimore, Washington and California]”. The place you mention sounds like it wouldn’t have much time for ‘renaissances’! And all the better for it I’m sure.

      Reply

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