Finding positivity through food

Well that was a bit of a shock wasn’t it? I actually started writing this post before the US election, but what I started then seems to be getting more appropriate by the day. I hope you’re all hanging on in there – 2016 has been a real stinker hasn’t it? I can’t help wondering if this is the beginning of some larger process by which our civilisation destroys itself (there’s a cheery Friday Thought for you!). Or, who knows, maybe this painful shake-up is needed in order to fix some fundamental flaws in the system. Here’s hoping it’ll all work out for the best…

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Posts on Eat Rio have been pretty sparse this year for a couple of reasons. There were two very busy periods during which I just didn’t have time to blog – I was writing a guide book in the first few months of the year and then we had the mayhem of the Olympics.

But for the rest of 2016, things have been very quiet. Business has been tough for everyone working with tourism in Rio – guesthouse owners, tour guides, restaurant managers and even taxi drivers all tell me that things are slow. It makes me wonder whether the net effect of the Olympics was really as positive as many people seem to think. Sure a lot of people came for the event itself, but the Olympic spotlight meant that every negative story related to Brazil was picked up, magnified and printed in sensationalistic headlines across the world.

So why wasn’t I bombarding you with a plethora of posts during the quiet times? Well, to be honest, current events have been so depressing that it’s been hard to know what to say. Both in Brazil and further afield, you have to wonder if some kind of previously undescribed form of insanity is taking hold of the world. Symptoms include aversion to logical reasoning, intolerance, lack of compassion for others, angry outbursts and hysterical demands to return to “the good old days” (which actually weren’t that good when you stop and think about it). One small cause for optimism is that younger generations appear to be less susceptible to this worrying condition.

Well, whether it’s a nose-diving local economy or the direction of global politics (or a spouse living in a different continent!), I guess we all have to find ways of dealing with aspects of the world that make us miserable. My main source of positivity this year has been food.

 

Cariocas love Doubles!

 

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What do you think of the new logo? It’s another piece of brilliance from my super-talented sister.

 

I mentioned doubles in a post back in September – since that time I’ve taken Trinidad and Tobago’s delicious street food to a second Junta Local event and also to a private party.  As someone who loves cooking and sharing food almost as much as eating it myself, I’ve found this project to be hugely satisfying. Since the first event, I’ve learned a lot of lessons – preparing and serving food for upwards of 100 people, without access to a refrigerator or water supply, is quite a challenge. But with each outing I’ve learnt more and refined the various processes involved.

Most exciting of all has been the public response – people have been going crazy for the punchy flavours of doubles! There is now a Rio Doubles Facebook page (do me a favour – give it a like will ya?!) and I am cooking up some exciting plans for more outings and collaborations. Watch this space!

 

More Food Projects

Many people who move to Rio from other countries find that there are dishes and ingredients that aren’t available. Then there are the items that are available, but are so expensive that they are effectively off the menu. The response? Improvise. Or make it/grow it yourself. Whether you’re brewing your own beer, growing rhubarb or even serving up a whole range of dishes (like Dee’s Spice India project which operates on both sides of the Niterói Bridge), people all over the city are getting involved and filling in the gaps in the market.

In addition to Rio Doubles, I’ve got a few other projects on the go:

 

Sourdough

I’ve been on a quest to make delicious sourdough bread for years, but until recently I never got anywhere close to the kind of result I was aiming for. Rio’s fluctuating (and often very high) temperatures make it difficult to achieve consistent results. After tasting one too many dense, off-tasting loaves, Mrs Eat Rio gently steered me in other culinary directions.

Then, earlier this year, The Slow Bakery opened in Botafogo and reignited my appetite for naturally fermented bread. With Mrs Eat Rio safely out of the country, I decided to throw myself back into baking. I picked up a copy of Tartine Bread and within weeks I had a pretty decent looking sourdough starter culture. I’m now at the point where I’m making sourdough bread that I’m really happy with – this is a daily (sometimes twice daily!) source of joy that helps take my mind off rising sea levels and racist, misogynist world leaders.

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This is my favourite loaf so far – there is some rye in there to give it a little extra flavour.

 

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Holy holes! I finally nailed it!

 

A shameful admission

I have a guilty secret. I’m going out on a limb by sharing this with you so please try not to be too judgy: sometimes I buy a whole pack of prosciutto (100g) and eat it all within the space of 15 minutes. If I’m feeling particularly greedy I might even combine it with a tub of mini mozzarella balls, wrapping the slices of ham around the cheese, drizzling on a little extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lime and a twist of black pepper to make delicious mouthfuls of pure indulgence. I’m actually making myself drool here – yes, I have a serious problem…

Some time back, as I was guiltily disposing of an empty pack of prosciutto, it occurred to me that I should try making my own – 100g costs around R$24 (US$7 / £6) so this is an expensive habit. I looked into and it turns out that it takes 18 months or more of hanging in a temperature controlled environment before the ham is ready to eat. I decided to try something with a shorter production cycle: bresaola.

If you don’t know it, bresaola is an Italian air-dried, salt-cured beef made from the ‘top round’ cut. Generally you see it cut paper thin, drizzled in olive oil and served with a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a few shavings of Parmesan. It may not quite reach the heights of prosciutto, but it’s still pretty damn tasty and can be made at home in under 2 months. The curing process involves covering the meat with spices, salts and sugar and maintaining at a cool temperature for several weeks, then trussing and air-drying for a month or so.

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This stuff is delicious!

 

I’ve been making my own bresaola for a few months now and the results have surpassed my wildest expectations. Last week I took some samples to a local purveyor of food and wine and it seems that I may soon be adding ‘Charcutier’ to my CV! We’ve still got a few details to sort out before it’s official so I won’t get ahead of myself, but worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out and then I’ll have a whole lot of bresaola that I’ll have to eat myself. Doesn’t sound so bad…

 

Optimism through food

Mostly these little food projects are for my own sense of satisfaction (and to feed my greed of course), but, on a city-wide scale, I think food could be the one area of life in Rio which is giving some cause for optimism. The city’s food fairs continue to proliferate and draw enthusiastic crowds keen to try something new. Through these food fairs, I’ve met scores of local producers and cooks who are bringing new and exciting dishes and lovingly made ingredients to the local market.

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Void/House of Food – hipster hang-out with guest chefs galore.

 

I’ve also been enjoying some of Rio’s ‘shared kitchens’, such as Void/House of Food in Botafogo, which are providing outlets for people who aren’t ready to invest in a bricks and mortar restaurant of their own. You may also have heard of Refettorio Gastromotiva, a restaurant setup by Massimo Bottura to help feed some of Rio’s homeless with ‘waste food’ from local restaurants. Oh yes! Let’s not forget that friend of Eat Rio (and pizza maker extraordinaire) Sei Shiroma, has just opened a new pizza place, South Ferro!

So while the world continues to melt down all around us, I’ll do my best to keep my spirits up through the joys of food and drink. Cheers!

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