Friday, April 30, 2010

More Rio and some grub in Sao Paulo

I'm just back from a great trip to Brazil.
Business was great and something nice happened along the way.
I spent no time at the beach other than a quick walk along the boardwalk, but I don't think any post regarding RIO can neglect a shot of Ipanema, so there it is.
I'm really starting to love the city.
And the people.
Man I love the people.The date stamp on this post is from some days ago and as I'm only getting around to finishing it more than a week later, its clearly been a work in progress.
I had the pleasure of awesome company on this trip and when you're with a Cariocas, you get to see things that most people don't.
One of those things was the Cafe du Lage.
It's located in the Parque Lage at the foot of the Corovado mountain and is the former residence of the industrialist Enrigue Lage and his wife the singer Gabriela Bezanoni.
In the 1960s the estate became a public park
The cafe is in a building resembling a Roman Villa, and serves light breakfast, sandwiches and salads. The building also houses a school of Fine Arts and I'm reliably told has launched the career of many a success story. Its a wonderful place to sit in the cool shade and have Sunday Brunch.
The surrounding park has wandering paths through a subtropical rain forest. The nooks and crannies house interesting things: from monkeys in the trees to cool dark caves and abandoned fortifications.
In Europe or the US it would be scrubbed to Health and Safety sterility.
This being Rio,there's none of that.
Not a "created" tourist feature in sight.
Just cool stuff, in a forest, in the middle of the city.
The weather during my time in Rio was mixed.
Its autumn in Brazil and the stormy sky just before the sundown gave up some cool pictures from the roof of my hotel.
You can see the scars of mud slides in the mountain slopes surrounding the city.
They're the result of the unprecedented heavy rains of 6 weeks ago.
To me they looked like the ski runs cut into the forests at home in Canada and in that regard their significance seemed benign.
The reality is they wreaked havoc on the Favelas perched on the hillsides.
Over 200 people lost their lives and many more became homeless.
I also went to Sao Paulo on this trip in the company of my colleague Luis Nicho.
He's as cool a guy as you'd ever meet and he treated me to an education in the delights of Peruvian grub.
No one could do justice to the food except Luis so I'll pass the blogger baton over to him for a little bit:
For most people Peru might be known for the Inca Empire of long ago or more recently for its runaway “Japanese” President. But there has been a well kept secret all Peruvians have known about for centuries. The secret has names such as cebiche, anticuchos, causa rellena, lomito saltado, chupe de camarones, ají de gallina, papas a la huancaína, arroz con pollo, arroz chaufa, or even Tacu Tacu. Yeap, we’re talking about food.
Thanks to its many distinct regions and climates Peru is able to produce some of the most exquisite ingredients used in the most fantastic dishes. From the coast the specialty is cebiche, a dish made with fish cooked by lime juice and mixed with onions and Rocoto, our special spice. There are hundreds of variations of cebiche, including seaweed cebiche, squid cebiche and many more. From the Andes comes the greatest gift Peru has made to the world (although most people do not realize it): Potatoes!!! Originally from the Peruvian Andes, potatoes were taken to Europe by the Spaniards over five hundred years ago. Almost every single dish is severed with some kind of potato – according to the International Potato Centre based in Lima there are over five thousand different varieties of potatoes. From the Amazon rain forest we have the greatest varieties of fruits, fish and meats (and insects too if that’s your thing).
In the past 15 years this well kept secret has been broken and Peruvian food has become known around the world.
Much of this thanks to the efforts of a man called Gastón Acurio, a Cordon Bleu trained chef who much rather be called a cook. Gastón comes from a family of local politicians and at an early age he was told he would need to study Law. Instead he followed his passion and decided to cook for a living. Now he owns over 50 different restaurants in cities like Lima, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile, Panama, Miami, and London. Gastón has become a Peruvian ambassador of sorts and there is even a movement in Peru to get him to run for President, although he has no interest in politics. Interestingly enough, as part of his philosophy he says that it should be a moral crime to have hungry and malnourished people in Peru since God has given us the best ingredients possible.
One of Gastón’s restaurants is called Cebichería La Mar and its specialties are cebiches and seafood. On the evening we visited La Mar Sao Paulo we had a sampling of the classic dishes I grew up eating.
We started out with banana chips, mixed together with camote chips. Camote is a type of sweet potato. And different types of sauces to dip them in.
Then we had "Causa Rellena de Camarones". Causa is made of puréed potatoes stuffed with shrimp, a little huancaina sauce and topped with seaweedWe also had Traditional Cebiche.
Fish cooked by the acid of pure Peruvian lime juice – no heat involved - and served with onions and rocoto, a pepper so spicy it has been known to choke people to death. Watch out for the rocoto seeds. Pop culture in Peru says that the best way to cure a hangover is drinking Leche de Pantera (Panther’s Milk) which is the white sauce at the bottom of the bowl where cebiche is served. If anything it will definitely clear up your nostrils. Finally we also had a variation of one of my favorites. Ají de Camarones. The original recipe is made with chicken, but since La Mar is a classy place they serve it with shrimp. The shrimp is mixed with a sauce made from ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper), nuts, onion and bread. And yes, somewhere in there you’ll find potatoes too.No one can enjoy Peruvian food without savoring a delicious Piscosour.
Made from Pisco, a distilled liquor made of grapes, it's got a very tame appearance – a creamy yellow body with a white head (thanks to egg whites) and a pinch of cinnamon. The first sip of a well prepared Piscosour always produces the same two simultaneous reactions: HMM, this is strong!!! and WOW, this is good!!! After three or four Piscosours anyone will bet they can find the next long lost city of the Incas. I’ve had the chance to eat at various Peruvian restaurants around the world and experience the many variances made to appeal to the locals-The food is 20 times more spicy in La Mar Mexico City than at La Mar Sao Paulo.
I'm proud to say that our food is like no other.
To Peruvians food and Pisco is a matter of national pride.
I am yet to find a person who can honestly say they did not like Peruvian food; with so many different varieties there is always something for everyone. Also, being from Lima, the self-proclaimed Gastronomical Capital of the World, I had the fortune of growing up in a city where any little dining dive serves classic yet exquisite dishes, all at very inexpensive prices. Of course if you want to be fancy, visit Gaston’s place and be ready to pay. One can say that the Peruvian National Sport is eating good food (maybe that is why we haven’t qualify to the Football World Cup in almost 30 years….)
If you want to give your taste buds an adventure they won’t forget, go eat Peruvian food. Or even better, go to Peru, where food becomes art….
Thanks Mr Nicho.
It was great.
The firewater devil juice was a wolf in sheep's clothing.
There's a coiled snake waiting to bite your ass in that glass.
You just don't notice it hidden amongst the sweet "innocent" taste.
One of the fixtures of meetings in Brazil is the over sized thimbles of coffee served up at every meeting.
The plastic cup is very thin.
The coffee is very hot.
And strong.
The trick is to hold it by the bottom or your scalded fingers squeeze the sides together and you spill boiling liquid all over your lap.
That isn't a good thing.
It results in a buttock arching dance which isn't the most dignified way to start negotiations.
I feel sorry for the tourists making their first trip to Rio as one of the city's iconic images is currently clad in scaffolding.
Big drag for them.
It must be a bummer to travel half way around the world and not be able to get the shot which says to the world "I've been to RIO!"
That's it for today.
I'm in the US until the 23rd and will be in Atlanta next week and NYC the next, then its back to Europe and a short flying visit to the Middle East.
Stay well everybody.


Anonymous said...

The bigger the Brazilian body, the smaller the Brazilian bathing suit...

Ceviche looks yummy, although Piscosour reminiscent of a gastric lavage sample.

Take care


LM said...

Quite interesting - food, sights, mood... narration.