Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Saturday, 9 October 2010
One of Brazil's greatest gifts to the world is the Caipirinhia, along with passionate music and football magic.
What could be simpler than the Caipirinhia? Cachaça, lime, sugar and ice. The combination is nothing but delicious. It's also available everywhere in Brazil. However due to the divine smooth taste, there is a risk of loosing count how many you have had. The other problem is that most places use the cheapest brands of cachaca that can hit you hard the next day when all you want to do is enjoy a day in the sun out on the beach.
Cachaça means firewater in Portuguese and fuels passion in Brazil. It is distilled after being extracted from crushed sugarcane. The harvesting of sugarcane originated from when the colonial Portuguese put the local slaves to work. The whiskey-sipping middle and upper classes have long looked down on cachaça as a drink for the poor. Accordingly, the name Caipirinha means poor little peasant girl.
A Caipirinha recipe from Brazil's Beaches
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Sugar
- Crushed Ice
> Quarter the limes into small triangular wedges. Mash them together with a wooden pestle in the serving glass, then fill it with crushed ice to the brim. Add the cachaca and shake or stir vigoruosly.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
The Churrascaria - I had learned that the picanha cut of beef is the most celebrated in the land – homework pays off sometime. The carne do sol was equally tasty with it's surface covered in flavoured salt. The table is covered in side dishes. The grillmasters return as soon as there is space on your plate to offer sausages, steak, chicken until you are almost dizzy with delight. Some good advice I was also given from a friend was to refuse the early cuts of beef until they bring the good stuff. Dan also advised to go either late for lunch or early for dinner, so as to avoid being knocked out into bed by a beef-enduced coma.
Like in Argentina, the grillmasters here have their techniques down to a science.
Topped with a dizzying aray of sweet brown sugary garnishes. Brazillians put sugar on everything, and sometimes use a liquid sweetner that comes in what looks like a dish liquid bottle on the coffee counter.
One new-best-friend Brazillian man at the corner juice shop advised me to try the smoothie version the way he liked it best (blended up with granola, bananas and crushed ice). It was equally delicious, filling and maybe even healthy? Depends how much sugar they put in, I suppose.
Pastéis - While waiting at bus stops and the like I tried the pastels (battered and fried pastries) with meat, cheese or shredded chicken filling (which sometimes seems to be the only method of serving chicken here).
Thursday, 30 September 2010
What I had read was a little intimidating. An introduction to Sao Paulo read like a list rattling-off records that the mammoth city has eclipsed. Firstly, the 29 million people who live here are only overshadowed by Tokyo. You name it and the Paulistanos probably have the most of them in Sao Paulo. The city is also defined by it's physical size - three times bigger than Paris and growing every day. Everything is enormous.
I'm willing to bet that your first impression will be none too charming on the way into town. You might be met with the world's longest stretches of snarled-up traffic (São Paulo redefines rush hour). Otherwise you will soon be greeted by the endless forest of grey tower blocks across the Blade Runner city-centre. I had read that this may be the ugliest, most dangerous city I'll ever love. What Sao Paulo lacked in physical charm, it was about to make up in flair.
The Mercado downtown - We were staying out in Vila Madelena the city's arty quarter, which is both a bit more leafy and completely safe to walk around. São Paulo does have its share of crime, but unlike Rio the worst of it takes place far out from the centre of town.
There were many reasons for our short stay but I won't go into those now. Steph also had a reason to be tired since our 1am departure to Brazil was delayed until 3am giving us a lot of terminal time in the small hours of the night. When she returned to the world of the living, we headed directly downtown on the metro for a bite to eat at the Mercado Municipal before walking around the old city centre. I asked a man on the platform if we were taking the right connecting train. We then got not only his help, his life story, but also an insistance that if we ever needed any help in Brazil, to call him. This experience (in our first Brazilian hour on the street) was not a one-off at all. It was to happen regularly during a week of warmth and incredible friendliness.
Sao Paulo turned out to be a city is filled with energy and sophistication. The Mercado Municipal blew my expectations away. This was no grimy street market or crumbling market hall. It was a pristine, clean and grand old Victorian building filled with Italian wine, meat and cheese shops. We were here in search of one thing only - Sao Paolo's famous mortadella sandwich! This towering masterpiece of hot meat is the official sandwich of the city. And the terrace of Hocca Bar overlooking the market hall was the perfect place to begin our whirlwind tour of this country. The sandwich melted in our mouths almost as fast as it arrived. Some waitors reckon this cafe constructs up to 1500 of them each Saturday.
We went to walk off our snack around the Luz quarter to the north. This was once the grandest of all neighborhoods in Sao Paulo. The dual railway stations around a pristine park square then slipped into a red light slum. Today it is just now beginning to regain it's elegance.
Next we popped into Bar Leo where I heard we could learn how a Brazillian will masterfully pour a chopp glass of beer (pronounced shopee). The objective is to create as much moose (foam) as possible in the glass - a concept that is pretty much opposite to what Americans and English strive for.
The next day again started out with advice from our hostel owner and a true gentleman giving us directions when we were totally lost. Both people were so friendly that I think it would be considered stalkerish anywhere else. I had been told about people's passion to be friendly, and that in Sao Paulo this is even more true since it is such a large city that attracts relatively low number of tourists, compared to say Rio.
Now let me then tell you about my favourite place to visit in Sao Paulo. I can only describe The Museu do Futebol as the louvre of sport, built only last year inside the municipal stadium. Whoever dreamt up this interactive shrine to the beautiful game was an absolute genius. It's design led you through the legends of Brazilian football, who are projected in holograms like Greek gods, through chambers underneath the cement stands of the stadio that echoed with chants from the crowd. World Cup history is documented meticulously year by year as well as visual displays of every aspect of how the game is played. There was even a penalty simulator that also measured the strength in mph of your shot - I got up to 97 kph while Steph peaked at 68.
Brazilian football is the best reminder of why this is known as the beautiful game. I didn't realize that soccer legend Pele was also Brazil’s first black government minister.
We now had to rush off to meet, Vinicius, a Brazilian I had met in a hostel in Argentina, who wanted to take us to lunch. True to form – we got lost again and showed up late. Brazilians do talk about “pontualidade britânica” (British punctuality), but luckily for us turning up 20min late is the norm and traffic is usually the excuse. Vinicius had just arrived to pick us up anyway (due to legitimate traffic) and drove us to lunch to introduce his country famous beans. Now I vividly remembered how passionate Vinicius was about Feijoada and would not stop talking about them a few months ago in Argentina. Any beans that could arise this amount of enthusiasm had to be tried. It was great to know a local friend and fellow traveller. But here Vinicious was in his element as a true Paulistano ambassador who took great pride in entertaining us as his guests.
Then came an afternoon of very successful shopping in Jardins (the Avenue Montaigne or 5th Avenue of Brazil). The neighborhood is not afraid to show of it's bling as the rich and beautiful strut their stuff. Some boutiques are so exclusive that customers even arrive by helicopter. Steph picked up a knockout dress and I opened the floodgates to buying flip flops from the Havaianas shop, I've heard their third quarter earnings were some kind of record).
This city reminds me only of New York when it comes to the pace of museums-dining-shopping. No sooner than we could catch our breaths back at the hostel were we due at one of the best pizza restaurants in town. Finding a good restaurant by the way is like finding hay in a haystack or sand at the breach. Tonight we were to meet our friends Kirsten and Dan who incidentally just moved to Sao Paulo to teach at the international school. We learned that their expat arrangement came with incredible benefits, notably a highrise apartment with a pool terrace. Dinner was a chess match trying to extract one another's exciting stories. It was so wonderful to see them.
Let me also tell you something about the pizza in Sao Paolo. Forget the national bean dish. This is by far the favorite food in the city, and it is taken extremely seriously. Apparently there are 6,000 pizzerias that combine to make over 1 million pizzas each and every day. Our restaurant, Braz, is responsible for up to 800 each Sunday night, not to mention the 1000+ that they deliver. I know this is one of the biggest cities in the world, and there is the largest Italian population in South America, but how could they possibly eat that much daily? When I put this question to Vinicius at lunch, he simply shrugged and professed his love for a food that he does indeed eat almost every day.
Today was a sneak peak of what how this was not going to be a cheap place, but the quality would be outstanding. I desperately wanted to stay another day in Sao Paulo but my conscience told me to give the rest of the country a chance. Next time we will take a spin around the Interlagos F1 track (when we can afford it). We still must see the city from the top of the Edifício Itália and the green masse that is Ibirapuera park, Oscar Niemeyer's modernist answer to central park. We return with enough time to hit the nearby Bonete beach - one of Brazil's finest. And I just know we will be back to take another heavy dose of what Sao Paulo does best: museums/shopping/pizzeria/chopp.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Charqui > If you like beef jerky in the states (or peperami* in England) then you are in for a treat in the Andes. It was the foodtech-savvy Incans who actually invented "charqui" which is what we now know as beef jerky and the word jerky is a derivative of this Quechua word for dried meat. It was typically made of dried alpaca or lama meat back then. Today various forms and preparations of charqui exist in the Andes with the meat of animals such as cows, pigs, and horses.
*Peperami was a “charqui” dried spiced sausage originally manufactured by Unilever for the German market. When the company accidentally sent a shipload to England that was mis-labeled pate, they tried to sell off the shipment by branding it “peperami” which turned into an accidental success.
Coca Tea > The coca leaf helped us in the more strenuous high and low altitudes of the Tren del Sierra and the trek in the Colca Canyon by calming the stomach and alleviating headaches and nausea. A box of coca tea costs next to nothing. However I'm not sure how legal it is to bring too much of this out of the country since coca leaves are what cocaine is made from. Apparently traces of the drug are detectable in your system for two weeks after drinking the tea too.
Friday, 24 September 2010
The sounds of Peru > Ducking out into the city street I would always first hear the rumbling of semi-broken down collectivos. Then came the street vendors, several mumbled “Dollars-Euros” others often blared “Mandarinas!” into a megaphone. Oddly, shops would sometimes have an English Language learning tape broadcasting on a stereo system into the street for reasons I have yet to understand. The city markets had more sights and smells than sounds. It was surprising to hear Quechua, the ancient language of the Incas, when one stall owner would translate our garlic request to another who didn't speak Spanish.
There were two tiny regrets I can think of (very rare in Peru). One was spending time in Ica desert and the other was running out of time to see Nazca. The journey along the desert coast itself was more inspiring than the tourist trap at the Huacachina oasis. Darwin didn't particularly like it (rare) and nor did I. Yes it is a unique place but maybe it just paled in comparison to more inspirational parts of India that we had already seen. Unfortunately we later had to make a tough decision about seeing these mystical lines of Nazca. Apparently the flights overhead are unreliable due to weather and we couldn't afford to gamble our remaining days away. The closest we got to them was when our night bus bisected the monkey's tail on the Panamerican highway late into the night and without us even noticing.
Central to a kitchen was the large brick oven, underneath this sometimes were the dens for Cui who, along with chickens often roamed around the kitchen floor freely. Here a guide shows us how Cui have lived in the kitchen since Pre-Incan times.
The Sights of Peru > Most towns we visited would have Spanish colonial architecture towards the center and Plaza de Armas. Looking down these streets one can often admire the dark wooden bay windows jutting out. Approaching the market, miracle doctors would entertain me with their tonics. I also enjoyed guessing whether the brightly coloured blanket sacks on women's backs contained potatoes from the market, corn or their little child.
The festive Peruvian people were my favourite to observe in the markets, towns and mountain roadsides. One image really stuck in my mind on a bus journey when I saw a smartly dressed band playing outside a bright blue village church, with smiles on their faces almost as big as their sombreros. In the blink of an eye they were gone.