Category Archive: Food and drink

Jul 25

Acarajé Recipe: a delicious labour of love

acarajé-recipe

This how the pros do it – the acarajé of Nega Teresa.

 

I think it’s fair to say that not everyone loves Brazilian cuisine. Accusations/complaints I hear from time to time include that it is heavy, overly rich and boring. I’m not going to tell you Brazilian food is light and zingy in the way we think of Thai or Peruvian cuisine, but if you take the time to get beyond the obvious stalwarts like feijoada and the churrascaria meat orgies then things get a lot more interesting and, potentially, lighter too. Most dishes can be given a lighter touch with a few tweaks and recently I’ve been playing around with one of Brazil’s most tasty (and interesting!) dishes.

Eating acarajé is like taking a delicious bite out of Brazil’s past. When I first started learning about Brazilian cuisine one of the things I found most fascinating was the clear links back to West Africa that were still very evident. Acarajé was brought to Brazil by the slaves taken from Ghana and Nigeria – I’m told you can buy Akara (as it is known there) on the streets of Lagos to this very day.

For those unfamiliar, acarajés are fritters made from black-eyed beans – the finished item (somewhat reminiscent of a falafel) is split open and filled with dried shrimp, a nutty, shrimpy paste called vatapá, an okra based mix called carurú, a dab of hot sauce and, optionally, a salsa-like mix of tomatoes, cucumber and coriander/cilantro. They come from Bahia, Brazil’s heartland of Afro-Brazilian culture, and are traditionally sold by baianas, the hugely photogenic women dressed in the traditional garb of of the state (vestuário).

At first sight, making acarajé seems like so much work that it’s one of those things best left to others (see also: puff pastry). But the nice thing about doing it yourself is that you get to tweak the recipe, play around with the flavours and generally make it just the way like (and most likely annoy the hell out of the purists). There’s only one hassly step but once that’s out of the way it’s a really enjoyable dish to prepare:

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Jun 25

The best coffee in Rio

coffee-crema

Mmmmm, crema

 

On my last visit to Melbourne I was reminded of a couple of things. Firstly, Australians are obsessed with coffee (a little too obsessed in my opinion, but I guess that just makes me a coffee philistine). Secondly, Brazil produces more coffee than any other nation on Earth (this was mentioned on a poster in some uber-cool coffee shop I visited). So you’d think coffee would be a big deal back in Rio, right?

Hmmm, not so much actually. That’s not to say Cariocas don’t drink coffee – they do, gallons of the stuff. But if picky antipodeans (Kiwis are at least as bad as their Australian cousins in my experience) come over here expecting decent flat whites in every street café they’re in for major disappointment.  While the general standard of coffee here isn’t bad – at least it tends to be reasonably strong, not that wishy-washy ‘diner coffee’ that I’m told is quite common in the US –  it’s usually pretty forgettable.

Then not so long ago my friends Isabelle and Helena told me about a place that they confidently proclaimed to serve ‘The Best Coffee in Rio’. Not only that, but the establishment in question was doing something rather interesting with its business model.

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Jun 03

La Veronese and a different kind of pizza

la-veronese-ipanema

La Veronese – looks aren’t everything!

 

One of the lessons I’ve learned on my travels is that some of the best places to eat look so unimpressive that you’d walk right by if you didn’t know better. Many people visiting Rio don’t know better and so they wander into the flashy places that look inviting and end up disappointed (and a lot lighter in the wallet). Just a couple of weeks ago I received an email from an exasperated tourist saying “I’ve wasted too much money and too many calories on mediocre meals in Rio. Please tell me there’s more than this!”.

Luckily for us (residents and visitors alike) there is more than this! Sometimes you just have to look past the ugly exteriors to find the best food. For example, my favourite bolinhos de bacalhau are served in a slightly shabby looking building in Lapa with frosted glass windows – not the most inviting scene for the uninitiated:

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May 12

Making Tapioca from scratch

tapioca

 

Have you ever made fire the old fashioned way? You know, by rubbing two sticks together or using some other cunning bush-craft technique? I haven’t done it myself, but it appeals to me greatly. I like the idea of doing it at least once just to prove that I can and also to experience the magic of what is really quite an amazing process when you stop to think about it. After that I expect I’ll be happy to go back to using a lighter or matches.

I’ve noticed recently that my will to do things from scratch has been extending into the culinary world too. I’m not quite ready to butcher a cow’s carcass, but I wouldn’t rule it out one day. For now I’ll content myself with smaller achievements – like tapioca extraction!

For those who don’t know, tapioca is the starch that is extracted from the cassava root. Cassava goes by many names – manioc and yuca are two of the most  common and in Brazil we have (at least) three: mandioca, aipim and macaxeira. Tapioca starch can be used to thicken sauces in much the same way as corn starch (known as ‘cornflour’ in the UK, fécula or amido de milho here in Brazil). It can also be used to make a delicious pancake known as beiju de tapioca or just tapioca. They’re a big hit with most people who try them.

Most of us buy our tapiocas from street vendors or market stalls – whether topped with something sweet or savoury, it’s a delicious and satisfying snack (you can also buy the hydrated starch powder in supermarkets so you can make your own tapiocas at home). Until recently there had always been a missing step in my knowledge and experience of this operation – how do you extract the tapioca starch from the cassava?

Turns out it’s pretty easy and rather a fun little project – here’s what you do:

 

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Apr 16

Recipe: Dadinhos de Tapioca com Queijo

International-Club-Rio

A few members of the International Club of Rio (InC) discussing their latest events and fundraising activities.

 

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve changed quite a lot since I came to Brazil. It’s hard to know how much of that change has been due to actually being in Brazil and how much it’s been just the natural process of getting older or various other possible factors. But regardless of the reason(s), the extent of the change really hit home a couple of weeks ago when I found myself giving a talk to around 50 members of the prestigious International Club of Rio (InC) – currently in its 50th year.

Late last year one of my food tour guests, Susan, mentioned that she was a member of this group which aims to create a community of English speakers in Rio. The group (formed of many different nationalities including Brazilians) gets together for social events, helps newcomers settle in and raises funds for philanthropic activities and services. “We’d love it if you came along to one of our meetings and gave us a talk about how you came to Brazil and some background on Brazilian food,” she said. “Our guest speakers usually speak for about an hour”.

Now if this proposition had been put to the old Tom who lived in London you can be sure he would have run a mile! I was never a big fan of public speaking – even a 10 minute presentation to a handful of work colleagues used to give me palpitations back in those days. But with hardly a moment’s hesitation I found myself agreeing to Susan’s suggestion and a couple of months later I was standing in front of a large group of women of all ages and telling them my story. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed the entire experience. I don’t suppose it’s really for me to say, but it felt like the group enjoyed the presentation too (at least they laughed in all the right places and gave me lots of positive feedback afterwards). How times change.

dadinhos-tapioca-queijo

I first tried these tasty, cheesy ‘dice’ in Café do Alto in Santa Teresa.

 

A couple of days before the talk, it occurred to me that it might be fun to make something for the audience to eat while I spoke. I guess the idea was that even if they hated my presentation at least some tasty food might put them in a forgiving mood. The response on the day was so positive and I had so many requests for the recipe that I ended up promising to put it up on the blog. So here it is:

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Mar 17

Junta Local – A food event in Rio that actually works!

junta-local-eat-rio

I’ve had some very disappointing experiences with culinary events held in Rio. Not long after we moved to Santa Teresa, Mrs Eat Rio and I were really excited to hear that there was a kind of ‘eating market’ event being held in the nearby neighbourhood of Lapa. Various restaurants and other food producers would be selling small dishes at stalls – it sounded like the perfect way to sample lots of different dishes/ingredients and simultaneously have a fun and gluttonous day out. In short: just my cup of tea.

We skipped down the hill with empty stomachs and high expectations. Then we saw the line and our hearts sank. There must have been nearly 500 people waiting, the line snaking up through the Lapa Arches and then doing that miserable switch-back thing that tells you you won’t be getting in any time soon. With the heat of the afternoon sun beating down on us, we decided to find our culinary entertainment elsewhere.

Fast forward to late 2014 and the culinary events that everyone was talking about revolved around one thing: an exciting ‘new’ concept called Food Trucks. It may have taken a while for food trucks to reach Rio, but the idea still held quite a thrill for me. I was picturing amazing pulled pork buns, kimchi slaws, artisanal beers, kickass cocktails and a million other foodie clichés tasty treats.

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Feb 09

Balas Baianas – ‘sugar glass’ coated coconut candy

Feira-de-rua-Rio

 

Did I ever mention how much I love Rio’s street markets? Hmm, only about 20 times in the last year I suppose… Still, I’m sure that anyone who’s had the pleasure will agree that they’re utterly awesome. I visit these feiras da rua at least 3 or 4 times a week and although most of the markets are fairly similar, there are always a few variations depending on which location/day of the week you happen to be visiting.

One of my favourite markets is held in Glória on Thursdays and that’s all down to the availability of a rather delicious bala (candy / sweet / lolly) (USA / UK / Aus). Regular readers will know that I am not a sweet-toothed person – when it comes to Brazilian ‘classics’ like brigadeiro and quindim, I tend to agree with Jamie Oliver – and yet this item of confectionery has me hooked. It’s a sweet, creamy coconut centre surrounded by a thin, glass-like coating of caramel-candy. Adriana, the woman who sells these balas, calls them Balas de Coco, but that name is also used for another candy which is quite different, so I’ll be sticking with the alternative term, Balas Baianas.

In the interests of being self-sufficient, I decided to have a go at making these sweets myself and it turns out they’re not that tricky.

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Jan 20

Taking Brazilian cuisine to New York with #SkypeMoments

skypemoments-dinner-nyc

Ah well, so much for my high hopes of two posts on a Friday. I was actually kept very busy on Friday night by a rather exciting project. For anyone who hasn’t read my previous posts on the subject, some time ago I became Skype’s ‘Brand Ambassador’ for food. They have quite a few different Brand Ambassadors – travel, photography, sports and film to name a few (see the full list here).

In the build-up to Christmas, the good people at Skype got Frank Bell (Skype’s Music Ambassador) and me together to come up with a plan. The idea was to stage some kind of fundraising event that would involve music and food as part of Skype’s ‘Social Good‘ project. We eventually decided to host a dinner party at Haven’s Kitchen in New York. Frank would be performing live, both on his own and also accompanied by a collaborator over Skype. I was given the task of designing the menu for the night and Skyping in to oversee the preparation on the night and also to say hello to the guests.

Of course I’ve put menus together in the past – I guess every time any of us have guests over for a meal we have to decide on a series of things to eat, right? But this was a different proposition. My menu was going to be prepared by a professional chef (David Mawhinney) and his team and served to around 40 influential New Yorkers who had been selected to attend the event. I was definitely feeling the pressure.

Chef-David-Mawhinney

David Mawhinney of Haven’s Kitchen doing his thing.

I decided to opt for a menu inspired by Brazilian cuisine – I have always thought that many of Brazil’s best dishes are better suited to chilly winters than stifling summer heat, so New York in the depths of winter seemed perfect. Here is the final menu:

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Jan 16

A Chowzter Balti Mission in Birmingham

Balti-Birmingham

 

To finish off the tales of our recent trip to England, I wanted to tell you about an unexpected culinary adventure that took Mrs Eat Rio and me to Britain’s second most populous city: Birmingham.

A couple of things to quickly say about Birmingham. Firstly, unlike its Alabama namesake, you don’t pronounce the “h” when saying the city’s name (here’s how it’s done – North American visitors: learn this before you arrive to avoid ridicule). Secondly, despite the recent report from satirical news agency, Fox News, non-Muslims are very welcome in the city. This is a constant source of relief to the 79% of Birmingham’s residents who are in fact non-Muslim themselves…

It was almost 2 years ago that I first met Jeffrey Merrihue, founder of Chowzter. Before long he had signed me up to curate the Chowzter list for Rio. I also do occasional writing jobs for them and take part in their awards events. Jeffrey is one of those people who is described by many as ‘larger than life’ – full to bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, particularly when it comes to great food from across the world. Jeffrey left his home in the US years ago and today lives in London, so when he heard we were in town he came up with a typically crazy plan. We would go on a Balti Mission to Birmingham.

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Jan 09

Christmas Culinary Adventures in London

sloane-square-christmas

 

Hi everyone! Remember me? Well I wouldn’t blame you if you’d forgotten all about Eat Rio – it’s been a shameful 4 weeks since my last post. I’ve never left it that long before and such a long hiatus deserves an explanation. How about tell you what’s been going on since this time last month?

 

Eat Rio Food Tours

eat-rio-food-tours

Going from strength to strength. Eat Rio Food Tours are currently sitting at #14 in TripAdvisor’s list of activities in Rio!

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