When we drove to New York last month, our route took us through Newark. Newark has a very large Portuguese community, and as a result, has some of the highest per capita availability of Pasteis de Nata (in our estimation). The Ironbound neighborhood, in particular, is a stronghold of Portuguese identity, and is home to dozens of bakeries serving these Portuguese cream tarts. While traveling in and out of Newark, we were able to sample a variety of local bakeries, from the under-the-radar, to the more well-known. As with our previous Pastel de Nata ratings we assessed the pasteis on the texture and consistency of the filling, the flakiness of the crust, the value, and of course, the overall flavor.
Among those pasteis de nata sampled in Newark, the clear winner was Canela (180 Wilson Avenue, Newark, NJ). When we sat down at Canela, they were out of pasteis, and cooked us up a fresh batch from scratch. The name of the bakery means “cinnamon” in Portuguese, and the tarts are given a customary dusting of cinnamon when fresh out of the oven. It is not advisable to eat pasteis de nata piping hot, so we let them cool down a little bit before tasting. Though perhaps a little bit deeper than those we have eaten in Lisbon, the crust was flaky and solid, the cream was smooth and flavorful, and the nata boasted a nicely broiled top. All of the elements added up to more than the sum of their parts, the true test of a successful pastel de nata. These were some superlative pasteis, and we had to struggle in order to not eat all of our pastel haul at once.
On the second time we visited Canela, we chatted with the proprietor who said that he himself once worked at Pasteis de Belem, perhaps the most famous purveyor of pasteis de nata, located just outside of Lisbon. However we found that Canela’s were much better! And the quality was no fluke, Canela’s offering were just as good the second time around. There are other pastries, coffee, and salty snacks (salgadinhos in Portuguese) available at Canela, including coixnhas, however we were so enchanted with the Pasteis de Nata that we didn’t even sample anything else. Canela is cash only so make sure you are prepared in advance, and the pasteis will only set you back $1.75 apiece. Trust us, it will be worth the trip: this was definitely one of the best pasteis de nata we have ever had in America!
We were lucky enough to visit the Queens Night Market when we went to New York this July, our first trip outside of the Midwest since October 2019 (when we last visited New York, incidentally). The 100% outdoors Night Market is held weekly on Saturdays at Flushing Meadows Park, next to the New York Hall of Science (site of both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs). You can purchase $5 tickets in advance for admission at any time during the night (currently 6 to midnight). The Fair is slated to run until October this year, though it would be wise to check for updates.
Visually, the Queens Night Market looks like your typical outdoor food fair, with several rows of tented booths and signs advertising their wares. However, the type of food on offer was nothing like the average food festival, and we were absolutely floored by the scope and variety. The restaurants and catering companies featured were selected for their international flavors, and dozens of countries were represented on the night we visited, from Belize to Burma. We were most pleased that we got two new countries under our belt in one shot: Sudan and Antigua & Barbuda. Each booth had a short menu of offerings, most ranging from $5 to $10, making it one of the most reasonable eating options in NYC.
The Sudanese booth – Sambuxa NYC – had a truncated menu featuring meat and vegetable sambuxas, lending their name to the restaurant. Sambuxas are the East African cousins of Indian samosas, deep-fried phyllo dough pockets full of savory fillings, brought to Sudan through trans-Indian Ocean migration. These surprisingly-light, tasty morsels came served with two sauces: yogurt and garlic.
The Antiguan & Barbudian booth, La’Maoli had a large variety of dishes representing the small island nation. The codfish fritters, rum bread pudding, and blood sausage all looked enticing, but we settled on the ducuna and saltfish, which was was billed as one of the national dishes of Antigua & Barbuda. Ducuna is made with sweet potato and is something akin to a slightly-sweet Caribbean take on a tamal. Along with the ducuna and saltfish was a generous helping of sauteed greens and veggies, also known as chop-up. The key to this super-flavorful dish was getting each of the components together in one bite, the resulting combo was an explosion of sweet, salty, and savory tastes.
Bangladesh was well-represented at Jhal NYC, where we sampled Jhal Muri, a puffed rice snack mix filled with contrasting salty, tart and spicy flavors. However, our absolute favorite dish of the night was the classic Peruvian ceviche from Don Ceviche. We couldn’t believe the price: a made-to-order, restaurant-sized amount of high-quality ceviche for just $6! This was a delectable dish with tender fish, a citrus-filled tiger’s milk marinade, all topped with the requisite accoutrements of sweet potato, onions, and choclo (XL dried corn kernels).
There were a variety of sweet options at the Night Market as well, which as you know is one of our weaknesses. We loved Moon Man‘s avant-garde Southeast Asian sweets. We sampled an enticingly-green steamed pandan cake that had a light, citrus-forward flavor. Moon Man was also selling jarred versions of some of their wares, including their pandan, ube and original Kaya Jam. Another surprise for us were the hard-to-find-in-the-US pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) from Joey Bat’s Cafe. Even in the inhospitable format of an open-air booth, these tarts were delicious! For those seeking a cooler treats, bubble tea and Filipino Halo-Halo were also on offer.
The best part of the night market was that, in a single place, you could sample dishes from around the world for a shockingly reasonable price. We enjoyed trying old favorites and new-to-us dishes, and our group was happy with the variety, including the ample options for vegans and vegetarians. Granted, some of the more popular booths had lines, which only grew as the night went on, but they moved relatively fast. Towards the end of the night we were getting pretty full, and therefore were not able to sample everything, including the two most popular booths: Treat Yourself Jerk Chicken and Gi Hin Mama Food (Squid & Lamb Skewers).
If you are planning to visit the Queens Night Market, we recommend perusing the list of vendors in advance so you can note which ones will be must-dos. The vendors also appear to change from week to week, so some of my picks may not be there when you visit, though many vendors also have physical locations scattered throughout the city. It is also worth it to check out the line-up of live entertainment, when we were there we enjoyed the all-female Brazilian samba drumming group Batalá. If you won’t be in NYC and are looking for a taste of the Queens Night Market they even have a recipe book featuring some recipes from the Night Market, The World Eats Here. We hope to visit again next year!
You may have noticed that I have been back to posting on ETW more frequently recently. I will admit that things had been busy in the past 6 months with a cross-country move, purchasing a house and starting a new job, and ETW has fallen by the wayside. Just as things were starting to settle down, Coronavirus hit the US, and now it looks like all of our traveling will be curtailed for the foreseeable future. As you may have guessed from this blog, some of our favorite things are traveling, dining out at restaurants, and planning future trips, none which are possible or safe in this current environment. Thank goodness for the internet, where there is a wealth of information, videos, etc., which allow you travel virtually (and at a safe social distance!). So, at least a few times a week I will be highlighting some of my favorite videos, recipes, and other resources in a new series, “ETW Armchair Travel” so we can all be armchair travelers for a while.
Our first ETW Armchair Travel link comes directly from my sister, and is a mesmerizing video of Portuguese Custard Tarts – Pasteis de Nata – being prepared at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal, which we visited several times when we lived in Lisbon. We must admit that Belém does not have our favorite pastel de nata, but you can’t argue with their scope of production or longevity! Hope you enjoy the video, and stay safe inside!
We love hearing about treats that are a result of cross-national food pollination. One of the most fascinating examples of this is the Castella cake from Japan aka Kasutera (カステラ). Castella is a simple, light sponge cake often served in rectangular loaves and sweetened with honey. Intriguingly, the history of this simple-seeming cake is a lot more complicated: it actually arrived in Japanese via Portuguese traders in the 1500s! Unlike Macau, I don’t really think of Japan as having a lot of Portuguese influence. However, it turns out the Portuguese were in Japanese port of Nagasaki by the 16th century, and the cake, known by the Portuguese as Pão de Castile (literally “bread from the region of Castile”), was brought on these early ships. This Western-style cake really caught on in Japan, and the rest is history. We have tried Castella cake a few different places – but a good place to get it in the Chicago area is at Handsome Bakery (204 E Golf Rd., Schaumburg, IL). if you are hankering to make your own Castella, check out the instructional video below from Just One Cookbook.
There is nothing better than enjoying a meal at a rooftop cafe in beautiful weather. However, sometimes that beautiful view also comes with hype and inflated prices, but not so at Cantina das Frieras (Travessa do Ferragial 1, Lisbon), located at the foot of the Chiado district in Liscon. In fact, this is actually a barebones cafeteria run by nuns that just happens to have some of the best views in Lisbon. The Cantina is only open weekdays for lunch, so plan ahead, and if it is raining, visit on another day, because you are going to want to sit outside. It is a bit difficult to figure out how to get into the Cantina, and the nondescript entrance in the side of the brick building advertises the organization with only a small sign for the A.C.I.S.J.F. (Associação Católica Internacional ao Serviço da Juventude Feminina / International Catholic Association for Women’s Youth Service), the organization that runs the Cantina. Though it is a bit of an open secret nowadays, there is still an air of mystery around the place.
To reach the Cantina you climb the steep stairs to the top floor, where you will find yourself in front of a tiny coffee bar (feel free to order a coffee or tea), and beyond that a simple dining room. Going through the dining room you will reach the Cantina itself. This is really a “canteen” in the truest sense of the word, you take a cafeteria tray and let the nuns behind the counter know what you would like (it is Portuguese only but you will be able to make yourself understood). The menu is limited but includes hearty Portuguese classics like cod fritters, baked fish, ham and cheese sandwiches as well as lighter options like veggie lasagna, minestrone soup and salads. To round out the meal you can get an array of bottled drinks, fresh fruits, and dessert including cheesecake and puddings. You can even get wine! The menu changes daily, so you don’t know exactly what you will get on any given visit. However, the prices are insanely reasonable – we are not actually sure how much any of the unlabeled items cost – but for less than 10 Euros for both of us had a huge 3-course meal.
Now for the REALLY good part – the view. After ordering and paying, you can take your tray out to the rooftop terrace where there are probably about 10 plastic tables with umbrellas. Out on the terrace you have a beautiful view of the Tagus river and the red tiled rooftops of Chiado. We enjoyed our simple hearty meal shoulder to shoulder with students, local office workers and a handful of other foreigners. This is really the perfect place for lunch – cheap, tasty and with an amazing view! If we lived in the area we can see ourselves eating there every day. If you are looking for a real slice of Portuguese home cooking with a view you definitely have to go to the Cantina. Psssst…. keep it a secret!
When in Portugal we are constantly amazed at all of the different pastries that have emerged from a simple combination of eggs, sugar and flour. Every time we visited a bakery there we were pretty sure to find something new. This next, new pastry intrigued us by its name – “Fofos de Belas” -which literally means “Cute things from Belas.” The fofo consists of two small sponge cake layers filled with a pastry cream, and are often served in miniature sizes. They come from Belas, basically a suburb of Lisbon, but we have now seen them in Lisbon itself at the Sacolinha bakery chain. Apparently, the history of the sweets goes back to 1840, when the predecessor to the current Casa dos Fofos de Belas started making them to sell at fairs and pilgrimages around the Lisbon area. If the name seems a little modern, they were originally known as “Fartos de Creme” meaning “stuffed with cream.” The Sintra area is known for its pastries, and has also given the world travesseiros and queijadas. Unlike many Portuguese pastries, fofos are actually pretty simple to make, and if you know how to make a sponge cake, you’re mostly there. I have only found recipes in Portuguese: here from No conforto da minha cozinha and Receitas da Tia Celeste.
When driving back from Sevilla this summer, we visited a small Portuguese border town in the eastern Alentejo region – Elvas – which turned out to be much more interesting than we were expecting – check out their medieval forts. While there, we decided to get a snack in the town square, and discovered by happenstance another unique Alentjan treat – the Delecia deBolota. Unlike many other regional sweets that date back centuries, this one was only recently invented [pt link] by a bakery in nearby Alandroal [pt link]. The Delecia de Bolota is a riff off of the well-known Pastel de Nata, but instead of a vanilla and cinnamon custard cream filling, the cream is full of acorns! “Bolota” means acorn in Portuguese – and this tart is indeed made of acorn meal and flour. Though these bolota acorns from the Emory Oak are now uncommon as food in the US, they were formerly eaten by Native Americans in the Southwest. The flavor of these acorns is nutty and rich, and not as sweet as hazelnuts or almonds. It is also worth noting that this is the same type of acorn (“Bellota” in Spanish) that is fed to the famous Iberico pigs of Spain, a fact that was particularly salient to M. Though you are unlikely to find these treats outside of this region of Portugal, you can see them being made here (video in Portuguese).
If you want to eat at Boutequim de Mouraria (R. da Mouraria 16A, 7000-585 Évora, Portugal) you have to plan in advance. There are only nine seats, and a single seating for lunch and one for dinner. Moreover, there are no reservations – you have to wait. Our party of 4 got there at 1130 AM for the 1230 opening on a weekday, and there was a family of four already there waiting. Despite these restrictions, we really encourage you to go – this was probably the best meal we had in all of Portugal. The Botequim de Mouratia is basically a bar, where you sit at the counter and watch the master of ceremonies, Domingos Canelas, and his wife Florbela cook a classic Portuguese meal and entertain. The bar itself is tiny and old fashioned, lined with vintage photos, wine bottles and the flags of the nations of every visitor that have dined there (a lot at this point).
The menu is small and simple, and at first glance does not really seem like anything different than at any Portuguese corner restaurant. However, you won’t feel lost, and you are free to pick and choose and customize. In essence you just ask Domingos what is good, and he will make it for you. What really sets this place apart is the level of detail paid to every single ingredient and preparation. For example, when picking out the fresh figs to serve with our presunto (jamon serrano) he threw out at least three because they were not up to his standards before settling on the perfect picks. He carefully sliced off each slice of presunto by hand. Our first course was a classic: of fresh figs, melon and hand-sliced presunto from a leg kept right in the middle of the bar (13€). The figs were the best we ever had and the combination of all three together was divine. Next, we sampled a local goat cheese baked with marjoram (4.50€) . The ultimate farm to table appetizer, this goat cheese is from a local farm only a few miles away. I could have eaten this whole dish myself, though we shared it between us. As a complement to the cheese there was fresh crusty bread and fig jam that was delectable enough to eat on its own.
Seafood is an art in Portugal, so we knew we had to sample some here. We each ordered a langostine, which was advertised as “shrimp,” with a whopping price of 80 Euros a kilo. Domingos told us that each shrimp was about 500 grams, which is about half of a pound – so HUGE, but of course we were not envisioning the proper size – even when given full information. So lo and behold that we were surprised when a giant shrimp came out for each of us – to the tune of 20€ each. However, even with that steep price tag – it was worth it – these shrimp were the most delicious, tender and flavorful ones we had ever eaten. We could have made an entire meal out of these alone.
For mains we tried the wine-braised pork loin (14.50€), other options included fish and steak (13-16€). The pork loin was a simple cut, but deliciously prepared in a clean wine sauce. One order was more than enough to serve the both of us. On the side were homemade chips and a simple vinaigrette salad. This was the best version of the classic Portuguese meat and two sides we have ever had. Though each sounded simple, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. Throughout the dinner Domingos chatted amiably with guests, and plated, served, and described everything himself.
All of the desserts were displayed on the back of the bar, and they all looked delicious – we didn’t know what to choose. Of course, Domingos then suggested that we tried one of everything. The mixed dessert plate consisted of: a fresh fig in syrup, a queijada, fig and chocolate cake and an almond and coconut Morgado cake. The fresh fig again was a revelation. Before this trip to Iberia I don’t think we had every really had fresh figs (certainly not common in the Midwest), and now we can’t get enough of them. We also like the appearance of the figs in the pound cake with chocolate chunks.
There is an extensive wine selection and Domingos will happily will choose a wine for you, and of course he is extremely knowledgeable about the wide selection of Alentejan wines. Our dining experience lasted about 2 hours, and we never felt the least bit rushed. You can tell all of the pride that Domingos and Florbela take in their restaurant, and it really shows through in the service and the food. The lunch reminded us of the Japanese dining experience presented in Jiro Dreams of Sushi – a master at the height of his craft in a tiny, well-curated restaurant. If we went back to Portugal, this would definitely be our first stop. Boutequim de Mouraria serves amazing, simple Portuguese food that is worth waiting for!
The call is coming from inside the house! This may be the first time that I have written a post about a place from inside the place itself, so here I am sitting in Copenhagen Coffee Lab (R. Nova da Piedade 10, 1200-298 Lisboa) writing this post! The coffee scene in Lisbon is very particular. The coffee is very strong, comes from only a few national producers, and is usually taken in tiny shots like espresso standing up at a bar. Barring that, you can get various dilutions with milk and sugar. When espresso exists it is often in the form of Nespresso pods, which seem to have taken the entire city by storm. All of this is fine, but sometimes you just want some really good coffee. Thankfully, Copenhagen Coffee Lab, a new third wave coffee shop, has opened in the cute neighborhood of São Bento.
In Scandinavia coffee is king. While in Copenhagen we tried what was purported to be the best coffee in the world. Copenhagen Coffee Lab makes no such bombastic claims, but I can definitely say that this is the best coffee I have had in Lisbon. And, this place is actually run by two Danes, and imports all of their coffee from the Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Copenhagen, making it sort of a cross-country mini-chain. At Copenhagen Coffee Lab (Lisbon) you can get your full range of espresso-based drinks, from a single shot to a flat white to iced coffee, a dirty chai latte and beyond. For those with more refined tastes you can also get filter coffee made in a V60 (4€), Aeropress (4€) or French Press( 6/10€).
For the non-coffee drinker there are hot teas, chais and house-made iced teas (a rarity here). They get their Chais from David Rio in San Francisco, and they are very tasty, though sometimes they will run out for a week when more is being ordered from San Fran. Along with the full coffee, there is a nice selection of foods and snacks including Swedish style kanellebullar cinnamon rolls, muffins, knækbrød flatbread with spreads, yogurt, oatmeal and creative salads for lunch. This is the perfect place for vegans or vegetarians, or anyone who wants a laid-back brunch with great coffee.
Moreover, what drew us to Copenhagen Coffee Lab is that it is also a great place to study and work, which is no secret because the place is full of people with laptops on most days. True, this may also be a little off putting (and we are contributing to the problem) but there are still plenty of people just chatting. There is also a larger communal table in back where those working tend to congregate. The crowd seemed to mostly be foreigners, and my hunch is that Lisboetas have not quite embraced this type of third wave coffee that deviates so far from their traditions (and there are no pasteis de nata sold here). Whether you are looking to use the free Wifi or not, Copenhagen Coffee Lab is a must for any coffee fiend in Lisbon.
On every corner of Lisbon there are little family restaurants – tascas – that serve a small menu of Portuguese classics with a wine selection. Often the menus (bacalhau, grilled fish and steaks) and atmospheres at each of these places are pretty similar (though the quality certainly runs the gamut), and it is hard to know which one to try. When attempting to cut through the dizzying quantity of tasca, we got a tip though, the the best tasca in town is Crisfama (R. Cruz de Sta. Apolónia, 58/60A, 1100-188 Lisboa), where everything was fresh, high-quality and cooked to order. Crisfama is on a backstreet on the outskirts of Alfama, the medieval quarter of Lisbon. It is a little bit of a trek to get there, but getting off the tourist track when it comes to food is definitely a good thing. The restaurant has only a handful of tables in the simple, clean dining room, so it is absolutely essential to make a reservation. Moreover, Crisfama is only open for a few hours for each lunch and dinner, so be sure to plan accordingly. The restaurant seems like a two-person show with the affable owner and his wife running the front and back of the house, respectively. The owner/waiter Fernando is an amiable host, ready to give recommendations, pour wine heavily and exchange in some witty banter in English or Portuguese while his wife mans the kitchen.
For starters you get the typical Portuguese couvert of bread and olives, along with a choice of local Portuguese cheeses (€2-3). We ordered a round of soft goat cheese with herbs and a semi-hard sheep cheese. We are constantly impressed by the huge varieties of goats cheese in Portugal, and it is always fun to try a new variety. For mains, you can get either seafood or meat dishes for prices so reasonable that they will astound you. Everything is less than €12 (the bacalhau tops out the menu at €11.50), and for that price you can get a whole fish or a huge steak. Other specials included grilled octopus, bitoque (steak with an egg), bifana (pork sandwich), and duck with rice. Side salads are a shockingly low €1.25, and you can even get fresh fruit by the piece.
In the mood we for seafood, we ordered sea bass, tuna, dourada and the ultimate Portuguese classic, grilled sardines (€8.5 for each seafood plate). Each came with a side of potatoes and green beans, and the sardines came with a side salad. Each fish was cooked perfectly to order, and this was some of the best, freshest fish we have had in Portugal – everything was absolutely delicious. And as you can see, they didn’t skimp on portions. To wash down your meal, each glass of house wine is only €1.
For dessert there is a refrigerator case with an appealing variety of cakes, tarts and semifreddos. We heard that the chocolate orange semifreddo was sublime – so we ordered two – and it lived up to the hype and was basically the perfect treat for a hot summer day. From start to finish, we enjoyed the attention to detail at Chisfama, and it was definitely the best traditional Portuguese food we have had in Lisbon. With great prices and great quality for classic Portuguese food – you won’t find a better deal in Lisbon.
I have been diligently eating my way through the sweets of Portugal and Spain, but haven’t got around to posting much, so as a result, I have a huge backlog of sweets to share with you. When in Lisbon previously, I had been concentrating on some of the more iconic sweets available in the city’s myriad bakeries. This go around, however, especially as we have seen more of the country, I have branched out into some more specialized local treats. While in Évora, a picturesque, architecturally-interesting (even including a Roman temple) town located east of Lisbon, the key place to sample regional or convent sweets (doces regionais or conventuais) is the Pastelaria Conventual Pão De Rala (Rua do Cicioso 47, 7000-658 Évora).
Queijinho do Céu (pictured below – recipe in Portuguese)– This name translates as “little cheese from heaven,” a name given to the sweet by the Clarissian nuns that invented it. Queijinho do Céu is basically an almond, marzipan-like paste that is super dense and fudgy, formed into small, flattened rounds, filled with egg yolk cream. There is also a treat with the same name from another region that does not contain almonds.
Cericá / Sericaia (recipe in English) – This sweet takes more of a basic cake form, with a fluffy souffle-like texture, lightly flavored with citrus. We have seen this cake dusted with cinnamon, but this version was not. This version was also served with a fig drenched in syrup – there is nothing quite like fresh Iberian figs!
Pão de Rala (recipe in Portuguese)- The Pão de Rala, from which the bakery gets its name, is a brioche-like sweet made from eggs, sugar, lemon, almonds and filled with its most unique ingredient – gila – or squash, with a spaghetti-like texture. Sweetened squash fillings are surprisingly common in Portugal, and are found in a variety of treats throughout the country. I have even seen the squash filling for sale alone in small cups, or in jam form.
If you can’t get to the Alentejo, in Lisbon there is a place to sample some of the convent sweets and other rare regional desserts from around Portugal: Pastelaria Alcôa (R. Garrett 37, 1200-309 Lisboa) in the heart of the bustling Chiado district. Alcôa has some treats from the Alentejo including the egg custard Encharcada (recipe in English) and Torrão Real (recipe in Portuguese). Torrão Real is a concoction of egg yolks, sugar and almond, that is almost pudding-y in consistency. The Torrão Real we got at Alcôa was cut into neat squares and topped with a fancy burnt sugar decoration. However, it was basically impossible to eat a without a spoon – so it makes a bit more sense that it usually served in a bowl or a deep plate with utensils.
This is only scratching the surface of the sweets of the Alentejo – we are constantly surprised just how many permutations of egg yolks, flour and sugar the nuns in Portugal were able to come up with. I am sure there are still hundreds we have not tried. Which of these sweets would you most like to sample?
One of the most interesting things about the Lisbon food scene is the proliferation of restaurants with foods from former Portuguese colonies. Brazilian, Angolan, Cape Verdean and Goan foods and restaurants abound in the city. When we were showing some friends around town, we wanted to find a place that would give them a taste of food from around the Lusophone world. We stumbled upon Mesa Kreol (Arco Portas do Mar, 1100-035 Lisboa). Mesa Kreol gives you that around-the-world trip by offering only the most iconic dishes from several former Portuguese colonies, all with a contemporary twist.
Mesa Kreol is located at the foot of Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon, which is perhaps more known for its fado music and small restaurants serving grilled fish. The restaurant is clean in tidy, and only foreigners were eating at the absurdly early hour of 7 PM (like 4 PM in the US), though the restaurants seems to be popular with a mix of locals and visitors alike. The menu was brief, and was divided into starters, meat and fish. For starters we had to sample the strawberry gazpacho, not traditional at all, but spicy, delicious and refreshing. Other starter options included an octopus escabeche or linguiça sausage with goat cheese. For mains we went with the more traditional dishes, Moamba from Angola, Caldo de Mancarra from Guinea-Bissau and Brazilian shrimp Moqueca. Other national dishes included the cachupa bean stew from Cape Verde. Less traditional offerings included the tuna steak, Mozambican shrimp, and a Moroccan tajine.
Moamba is the national dish of Angola, and is made with whole chicken, drenched in palm oil, tomatoes, okra, spicy malagueta pepper, bell peppers and other veggies. We were warned by the server that this was a “greasy” dish, which may have been a needed warning for those not familiar with palm oil, but it was not really a greasy dish at all. The Caldo de Mancarra – a rich peanut stew with whole chicken – was delicious, and reminded us of other groundnut stews from West Africa. We sopped up every possible bit of sauce with the rice.
However, the hit of the night may have been the shrimp moqueca, a classic Brazilian dish of coconut milk, palm oil and bell peppers that we have enjoyed many times in Brazil. M deemed deemed Mesa Kreol’s version as one of the best moquecas he had had outside of Brazil, which is pretty high praise. This version came with delicious fresh shrimp and it was replete with palm oil, which is a necessity. We were too stuffed for dessert, but tempting options included Brazilian Sagu (tapioca pudding) and chocolate cake. Mesa Kreol is a great introduction to the foods of former Portuguese colonies. It is a true culinary trip around the world in only one place!
We are currently in Portugal for the 4th of July, which got us thinking about whether or not we could put together a US-style cookout here. Being abroad has definitely enlightened us to what other countries think of American food, and what American foods have just not crossed the ocean. Previously, we had lamented the lack of peanut butter – we had found some at an Indian grocery – but now we have found jars twice at run-of-the-mill grocery stores at semi-reasonable prices. So it seems that peanut butter is making in-roads, but there is still a dearth of BBQ and tacos. At the Continete megastore (think WalMart) in the gigantic Colombo Mall we saw an American food section in the “foreign foods” aisle – but it consisted mostly of Old El Paso products. Burgers and craft beer, two staples of the 4th of July cookout are actually getting to be pretty popular in Lisbon, especially burgers. Case in point, the aptly named “American Music Burguer” we spotted near the University.
Though cookouts in Portugal usually include fish, if you are planning to do an American-style 4th of July cookout, most fresh meats, fruits and veggies should be readily available. However, we have also found a resource to get the esoteric-to-Portugal ingredients you may need – the “American store.” Yes in Portugal, there is a such a thing as an American store – Liberty Store(Largo de São Sebastião da Pedreira 9D, 1050-010 Lisboa). Liberty Store is stocked with such goodies as Pringles, Pancake Syrup, Beef Jerky, Barbecue Sauce, Funfetti cake mix, and the like. The strangely-named Glood (several Lisbon locations) has products from all over the world, including a sizeable US selection, with a few slightly healthier options. The products available at either store are only the most mass market of mass market – but each definitely carries products you cannot find elsewhere. Liberty Store even has solo cups, an essential to every 4th of July cookout!
The eaters are going to be spending our Summer in Portugal, with a few side trips to the South of Spain and Barcelona. This means we will be taking a brief hiatus from blogging until we get settled and return from Andalusia – probably until Mid June. After that we hope to start chronicling our Iberian adventures. We have been to Portugal for an extended period of time (and have sampled dozens of pasteis de nata), but are relatively new to Spain and are especially looking forward to delving into the rich food scene. We see a lot of tapas and jamon in our future. Do you have any favorite recommendations in either country?
When we heard that there was a Peri Peri chicken place in Skokie we were pleasantly surprised. Peri Peri is a Portuguese/African dish of spicy peri-peri pepper marinated chicken, popularized in the US and throughout the world by the South African Nando’s chain. We had tried Peri Peri chicken before, but only at Nando’s, which coincidentally now has 2 locations open in Chicago (when Fogo opened there were no Nando’s in the area).
Fogo’s seemed to be set up in a similar mold to Nando’s. Like Nando’s you can order the type of chicken pieces you want (breast, thigh, etc.), and then select the sauce, ranging from a mild lemon to super spicy. Fogo’s boasts that all of their chicken is marinated for 24 hours. We thought the chicken was slightly more reasonably priced than Nando’s, and you can get a quarter chicken for less than $5. Other options include chicken wings and chicken strips, and a surprisingly large vegetarian section with many wraps and sandwiches filled with paneer (an Indian curd cheese). There were also some unusual sides, like yucca fries and corn on the cob. Customarily L ordered a quarter chicken with medium heat, and M ordered spicy (is there any other way?)
There had been some previous complaints about slow service, but we thought it took only a little longer than a typical counter service place for the chicken to be grilled-to-order. This chicken was flavorful and well-spiced, and we appreciated the nice char from the grill. M was also happy that the spicy was actually pretty spicy! The sides were not as successful, so we suggest getting your fill of the finger-licking good chicken. We are happy to have another option for Portuguese chicken in the Chicagoland area. Nando’s fans will be happy to know that Fogo’s is comparable to Nando’s (one can’t help but compare), but with more reasonable prices and more vegetarian options.
One of our first stops in London was the venerable British Museum, where they had a delightful museum cafe run by the local cafe chain Benugo(various locations throughout London). Imagine our surprise when we saw the iconic Portuguese pastry, the Pastel de Nata, being advertised proudly front and center alongside muffins and scones, as a “Panata.” We certainly weren’t expecting to see one of our favorite Portuguese treats in this location! The panata from Benugo was actually pretty good, and once we saw our favorite treats there, we started seeing them in shops all around town. Who would have thought it would be so popular in London?
I jumped out of a moving car to get a table at Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL ). That is how crowded the place can be get, and how legendarily hard-to-get the tables are. But at 5pm on a Wednesday we need not have worried, as we easily got a table for 2 just when walking in (we were some of the first people there, and by the time we left at 7, it was still not full). The tables at Fat Rice are communal, and the decor is simultaneously sparse and kitschy, with golden pigs, Chinese pottery and a Portuguese rooster holding pride of place.
Fat Rice has received a slew of accolades, including being one of Bon Appetit’stop new restaurants in 2013. The menu features the cuisine of the former Portuguese colony of Macau, a history that lends it a unique fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines. Short of taking a trip to the luxurious island, there aren’t many places to sample Macanese food. To help, the menu at Fat Rice is broken into several sections, small plates, noodles and entrees to share. There were also a rotating number of specials.
The squash special – those aren’t noodles – they are ribbons of squash!
We had a tough time deciding what to order, and we went with a few specials, since we hoped the other dishes would be there on our next visit! Some of the items that stood out (that we did not get) included the linguiça appetizer with ginger and olive ($8), the piri-piri chicken with spicy tomato and peanut sauce ($24) and the Malay vegetable curry with sweet potato and cashews ($16). However, when making our order, our waitress pushed us to order a vegetable dish, saying we had too many heavy foods (not sure if this was a personal thing or a management directive). In the end, she may have been right, but we were not super excited to be told multiple times we had ordered incorrectly. I think she was also a little crestfallen when we substituted vegetables for one of the more expensive meat dishes….
Rolled rice noodles
To start off with, we ordered a classic dish, the handmade hand-rolled rice noodles, which came either with XO sauce or mushroom and egg ($14). This was the first time we had tried XO sauce, the famous Hong Kong umami bomb, tempered with hot chilies. We absolutely loved it! At the nosy behest of the waitress, we did indeed prefer a vegetable: the special Summer Squash stir fry. The squash was cut into thin ribbons and dressed with a light sauce, tianjin (pickled cabbage) and basil. It was super light and delicious, while also being complex. Finally, we tried the special entree, the whole Branzino. This was definitely the star of the night, with an inexplicable combination of flavors: Thai lime, tamarind and cilantro.
Whole Branzino in foil
Another thing that really impressed us was the list of rare and unusual teas available, provided by the Rare Tea Cellar. We knew we had to get a pot of tea. Like wine, each of the teas had tasting notes to go along with them. We were intrigued by the “Freak of Nature Oolong” tea ($9) which boasted tasting notes of popcorn, shortbread and watermelon. The cute teapots came with unlimited refills and most cost between $5 and $10, which we felt was reasonable, because the servers do actually do come and refill the teapot.
Pigs, figurines and rooster keeping court at Fat Rice
By the end of our meal, the communal tables had begun to fill up. The people at the end of the table did in fact order the signature item at Fat Rice and its namesake, arroz gordo. There is a charming little illustration depicting all of the myriad ingredients that make up one order of fat rice: prawns, squid, mussels, rice and more ($48). It looked like it took about 3 people to truly handle the dish. We were actually really impressed by Fat Rice, one of the recent places where we felt the hype was warranted. We are excited to try brunch, where our favorite items in the world are featured: egg tarts!
We were enjoying a coffee at the quiosque by the Santa Catarina Miradouro, a classic Portuguese lookout point, when we noticed Noobai (Rua de Santa Catarina, 2715-311 Lisboa, Portugal), a location with an even BETTER view. We knew we had to get there on our next visit to the area. Noobai has two tiers of terraces, so obviously the best time to visit is on a nice day (or night – Noobai is open most days noon until 10 PM or later on weekends). However, even if you are not lucky enough to be in the area on a sunny day, there is also indoor seating and a retractable tarp cover on the lower balcony. We ended up visiting Noobai on a day with patchy rain so we were grateful for the tarp – we stayed dry.
The menu at Noobai is pretty diverse, in the quiosque model, focusing on coffee drinks and fresh-squeezed juices including papaya and pineapple. There are also plenty of sandwiches and more substantial options like Thai noodles or a hamburger (more and more popular in Lisbon). They also have brunch, another American import that is starting to catch on in Lisbon. The small “Vitamin brunch” was billed as yogurt, granola and fresh fruit, accompanied by a peanut and chocolate cookie. Check out the size of the yogurt we got – it seems like there was at least a pound! We were not expecting the giant size (€8.50) so unless you are super hungry maybe consider splitting one. There is also an “Energy brunch” with eggs, salmon and bacon for the heartier appetite.
Noobai is a modern version of a quiosque, and it is a perfect place to while away the afternoon, with either a full meal or just a drink. We enjoyed our mint and pineapple juice as we watched the boats and construction on the Tagus river. Set right in the side of the hill, you get a view of Lisbon that is second to none. Even if it raining, you can enjoy yourself.
The bolo de bolacha, which means “cookie cake,” is a Portuguese version of the classic icebox cake. This iconic cake uses “Maria” cookies, versions of which are available in pretty much any Latin grocery store, and typically is made with condensed milk and coffee. We tried this mini bolo de bolacha at the Ribeira Market in Lisbon, and we were instantly sold on the comforting dessert with a coffee kick. Unlike many Portuguese desserts, this one is simple enough to make at home. Here is a super-simple butter-free recipe from Dreaming Drawing, and a version with eggs from Portuguese Diner.
We’re two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.
To contact us for partnerships or just to say hi, email us at eating the world (at) gmail.com
Eating The World · We're two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.