myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Puffy Puris Popcorn Popovers and Pommes Souffles

It’s all hot air. Hot steam, to be exact. But what delicious results!

Puris AKA Pooris

Puris AKA Pooris

Popovers

Popovers

These starchy treats from all over have one thing in common: They became puffy because of trapped moisture which exploded and the starch quickly solidified. And it’s universal, from street food for the poor in India to elegant French restaurants, from mum’s home cooking in England to theaters.

Popcorn

Popcorn

Everyone knows about popcorn, but consider Yorkshire pudding, known in the United States as popovers. This is simply a batter which holds together as it quickly rises, making a crispy outer shell filled with steam. Visit any British supermarket, and you’ll find bins of them in the frozen food section.

Two of myMEGusta’s favorite steamy/crusty treats are Indian puris, also known as pooris, and French pommes soufflés.

Making puris

Making puris

The former is truly a poor man’s food, a simple, whole grain bread which delivers an extra wallop of calories (and flavor!) by being fried. You’ll find this humble bread as an a la carte option in many of the world’s finest Indian restaurants, as well as a staple among the poorest of the poor, sometimes accompanied by a stew (meat or vegetable) and serving as a main meal.

A recent street puri sighting was in Udaipoor, Rajasthan, India, on the day of a Hindu festival during which it was especially important for believers to give to the poor. At one temple, a group was gathered making large pots of (VERY appealing looking and smelling) curry, while a man sat nearby cranking out hundreds of puris in anticipation of the meal to come.

On the other end of the spectrum, although very similar in appearance, is the soufflé potato. Having nothing to do with the traditional eggy soufflé, these are simply twice fried disks of potato which puff up to elegant crispness. Rarely found outside of restaurants, pommes soufflés are time consuming and really messy to make, but OH SO good. Curious readers can find several good how-to videos can be found on YouTube.

Pommes Souffles with Steak at Cabana Las Lilas

Pommes Souffles with Steak at Cabana Las Lilas

One of myMEGusta’s favorite restaurants in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is La Cabana Las Lilas in the Puerto Madero district, a classic parilla specializing in wood grilled meats of all sorts. What makes this dining experience really special is their signature pommes soufflés, perfectly executed every time. http://restaurantlaslilas.com.ar/EN/

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Perky Peppercorns

We all know that the ubiquitous black pepper grinds have nothing to do with bell or chili peppers, right? (*Scroll down if you don’t…)

But, did you know that black peppercorns originated in Kerala State in Southern India, where they still grow wild? Vietnam is now the leading global producer/exporter of traditional peppercorns, but they are still a very important crop where they first grew.

Peppercorns

Peppercorns

Peppercorns on the vine in India

Peppercorns on the vine in India

On a recent visit to the village of Komarakom, situated in the middle of a giant rice paddy and Lake Ashtamudi, the largest in India, myMEGusta saw peppercorn vines slinking up trees, looking very innocuous, although the unripe, green corns are very powerful (which she learned a few years ago dining on a green peppercorn garnished Thai Curry in Bangkok, and won’t make that mistake again).

The green corns mature and are dried to make this very familiar spice. But what about the other kinds of peppercorns?

Green Peppercorns

Green Peppercorns

White peppercorns are merely regular ones whose hulls have been removed. They have a slightly different flavor than the black, but are mostly used when a dish, such as a French Bechamel (white sauce) would suffer cosmetically from black flecks.

Dried green peppercorns are less common (and not a myMEGusta favorite), but can be found at retailers such as www.penzeys.com . They are also available packed in brine.

Szechuan Peppercorns

Szechuan Peppercorns

Szechuan peppercorns, or numbing peppers, are not peppercorns at all, rather an unrelated species, and it is the “pericarp” or exterior hull which is used in cooking, and as an ingredient in classic Chinese Five Spice powder.

Pink peppercorns are natives to South America, and are the dried berries the Brazilian and Peruvian pepper trees, not remotely related to any of the other peppers.

Pink Peppercorns

Pink Peppercorns

They all play together nicely in spice blends which make for an interesting grind on some dishes if you’re looking for a change from the everyday. A four pepper blend will contain black, white, green and pink; the five pepper blend usually contains allspice, not a pepper at all but tasty.

Mixed Peppercorns

Mixed Peppercorns

But, please don’t ask myMEGusta if she wants “fresh ground pepper”! What is that, instead of the stale stuff you usually serve?

*The vegetable peppers, ranging from paprika peppers in Hungary to Italian peppers to mild green/red/yellow peppers to fiery Indian dried chiles, are native to the Americas, and are part of the culinary diaspora started by Christopher Columbus. Like potatoes, they were eventually embraced throughout the Old World, to the degree that most people (including people who live there) do not know that they are imports.

The Coolest Lunch Delivery in the World

Whether you like Indian food or not, journey with myMEGusta to Bombay, India, where an amazing network brings home-cooked lunches every day to over 200,000 office workers (and returns to bring the containers back home, saving the commuters from hauling them on crowded trains).

Tiffin

Yummy  Tiffin

Known as dabbawallas (lunch box deliverers), this network of messengers spreads throughout the metropolitan area mid-morning, picking up lunch boxes, moving them from one transit location to another, often 3 – 4 times, and delivers them to hungry workers by mid-day.

On a recent trip to India, we stopped at an official meeting point, no signs of organized action other than lunch packages lining the sidewalk while workers methodically eyed their markings and loaded them for travel by trains and bikes. From there they may have gone to a final destination, or perhaps to another distribution center (in a different neighborhood).

Dabbawallas Exchanging Dabbas

Dabbawallas Exchanging Dabbas

Each dabba is marked with a unique code, indecipherable to us, but which indicates the pickup location, transit spots and final end point. Remarkably, they rarely make a mistake. And, they never get stolen.

The boxes used to be tiffins, cylindrical metal boxes with compartments for different items, but today they are more likely to be insulated containers (to hold the heat), although a traditional tiffin might be inside.

Dabbas

Dabbas

So, why “dabbawalla”? The word for lunch box is dabba, and for delivery, walla. You may remember that the protagonist in Slumdog Millionaire was taunted by the quiz show host for being a chaiwalla, or tea deliverer in a Bombay call center.

As often happens with packed lunches, from kindergarten throughout life, people don’t necessarily eat their own, sharing portions or tastes with their friends. Sometimes, office workers join forces, and each person is responsible for feeding the gang on specified days, especially when someone’s mother or wife is well known for a favorite dish. What do people who live alone do on those occasions? Maybe order in for the group on a specified day, just like anywhere else.

Dabbas on the Move

Dabbas on the Move

And, what about working women? Because people usually live at home prior to getting married, and at that, live with an extended family, there is almost always a mother or an auntie at home to prepare that lunch (or more than one when people work in different locations) every morning, and have it ready for dabbawalla pickup.

Prince Charles visited Bombay (aka Mumbai, and both are correct) prior to his marriage to Camilla, and he was so fascinated by this that his people set up an audience for the Chief Dabbawalla, who would only agree to a ten minute meeting, and stuck to it. Subsequently, he was the only Indian invited to the Royal Wedding, and he went.

 

LDNY The Next Big Bite: The Media’s Influence on What We Eat, Drink & Crave in 2017

the-next-big-bite-logoIt’s not even Thanksgiving, but as we look forward to the onset of winter, we can also look ahead to 2017, and anticipate what the New Year will bring us.

To that end, Les Dames d’Escoffier New York again presented experts to prognosticate about food and drink trends in the year to come.

The audience was treated to commentary and a panel discussion moderated by Martha Teichner, correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning. Participants included Carla Hall, Co-host of ABC’s The Chew and owner of Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen restaurant; Kate Krader, Food Editor at Bloomberg Pursuits; and Talia Baiocchi, Editor-in-Chief of Punch, an online magazine about wine, spirits and cocktails.

 

The presentation kicked off with a robust discussion of what constitutes trends, versus fads, and how they are picked up, or not, as well as the importance of authenticity in today’s food world. They then discussed how they personally research and learn about trends, and the importance of journalists’ conveying and challenging authenticity in the food we eat and the restaurants we patronize.

 

Summing up the Top Ten Trends for 2017:

 

Authenticity and the existence of a story behind the food or drink matters

 

Fermented food and drink, such as the bases of the new cocktail movement

 

The drinks movement toward low alcohol beverages with abundant flavors

 

Hybrid cooking: elements of great food from everywhere coming together

 

Peripatetic chefs make previously unknown dining destinations now the places to dine

 

The focus on Terroir, a sense of the chefs’ heritage

 

Nostalgia and time travel, recreating the past

 

A simpler America, both in the food and in the ambience

 

Taking a page from major global cities as international flavors are incorporated into new dishes

 

To experience this lively conversation in delicious detail, visit Heritage Radio: http://heritageradionetwork.org/the-next-big-bite-2016/

To learn more about Les Dames d’Escoffier New York and to read the full press release about the event, go to www.LDNY.org .

And, come to www.LDEI.com to read about the umbrella organization, Les Dames d’Escoffier International (with 37 Chapters in four countries and over 2200 members).ldny-logo

Inside the Bottle: People, Brands, and Stories, by Arthur Shapiro

inside-the-bottleHere is a delicious book for anyone interested in a peek into the world of corporate intrigue (a la the late, lamented, Jos. E. Seagram and Sons) or a look forward to how the booze world is evolving thanks to a cadre of creative entrepreneurs, each with their own crafts and ingenuity.

Inside The Bottle: People, Brands, and Stories, by Arthur Shapiro (A/M Shapiro & Associates,LLC, 2016), started as a collection of this prolific writer’s blogs, worth subscribing to at www.boozebusiness.com . Having lived through many of the experiences described, myMEGusta had a few good laughs at some of the executive antics he describes during her Seagram days. This alone makes for a good read, whether as an insider who experienced the drama or someone who wants to peer into the tent. (The circus reference is not an accident.)

An even more colorful aspect of this very entertaining read is the collection of interviews with, and stories about, the movers and shakers who are shaping the future of the beverage business, some with their newly created gins or whiskeys, and others more involved with the sales and marketing end of the trade.

And, we get a glimpse into life on the Mongolian road as the author takes on a consulting assignment in Ulan Bator. Another chapter, Industry Legends – Thinking outside the bottle, talks about some of the famous, at least in the industry, names, such as Michel Roux (“the man who put Absolut on the map”), and lesser known, but even more fascinating characters, such as Dale DeGoff, aka King Cocktail.

Inside the Bottle: People, Brands, and Stories, by Arthur Shapiro, is available in paperback and Kindle editions on www.Amazon.com .

Oh! Porto!

Terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley

Terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley

Tasting wines where they were grown is a wonderful aspect of travel, whether in Europe or California or Australia, to name a few favorites. A highlight of myMEGusta’s springtime trip to Portugal was a stay and tour at the beautiful Quinta do Noval, http://www.quintadonoval.com/ , a Port wine house in the Douro River Valley, inland from Porto (or Oporto), the country’s second largest city.

Tawny Port

Tawny Port

Port is usually consumed after dinner, perhaps with cheese or dessert, or perhaps on its own (preferably doing something like gazing at the river traffic and passersby in a sidewalk café, or, in a different season, in front of a crackling fireplace).

It’s one of several categories of fortified wines, meaning that distilled alcohol is added at some point in the vinification process. In the case of Port, the fermentation is stopped before all the natural grape sugar has been converted to alcohol. This is done by adding an unaged, clear grape distillate called aguardente, similar to grappa. This kills the yeasts while raising the proof higher than that of a normal table wine. Interestingly, this liquid is usually referred to as brandy, but is bears little resemblance to the aged brown spirit that goes by that name.

Much of the Port process is done by hand: The Douro Valley’s, steep terraced vineyards necessitate hand harvesting, without the luxury of mechanical harvesters.

Where the stomping happens

Where the stomping happens

And, in the case of the tip top of the line vineyards and bottlings, it’s done by foot, too. This is one of the few places in the world where there is a formal stomping ritual, done in very specific patterns and rituals. Only the grapes destined for the highest echelon of Ports get this luxury; the rest of the crop are crushed mechanically by machines designed to replicate the old fashioned method.

Grape stomping

Grape stomping

Port Barrels

Port Barrels

After crushing and fermentation, the wine is aged, in some cases (see “upper echelon”) in barrels in a cellar adjacent to where the grapes were crushed, until the space is needed for the next harvest. All Port is then moved to the historical Vila Nova de Gaia, a city across the Douro River from Porto, where the traditional Port houses’ lodges, their aging cellars, are line up overlooking the water.

quinto

Barcas Rabelos, Douro River, the Eiffel Bridge

It used to all be shipped on boats known as barcos rabelos and some are still parked in the shadow of the Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel) Bridge. Today, they exist for show and the occasional race or joy ride, since the river is no longer navigable due to hydro-electric projects, so the wine rides in trucks and tankers.

There are many, many kinds of Port, particularly since the important houses all have their own proprietary blends in addition to the traditional categories. Two outstanding examples of this are Noval Black and Sandeman Founders Reserve. Ports are sweet (because of the residual sugar, never with added sweetener) but not necessarily cloying and can be incredibly nuanced based on the blend of grapes, production methods, and, very importantly, how they have been aged and how long:

Ruby – Describes its shimmering, deep red color, and has had minimal aging

Tawny – Has a mahogany tinge, has been barrel aged for ten to forty years, and has thrown off its sediment; the best will indicate the average age of the blended wines before bottling (myMEGusta’s favorite!)

Noval 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Noval 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Vintage – Made in the best years, only stays in the barrels for a couple of years and proceeds to age in the bottle, throwing off considerable sediment, and thus requiring careful decanting

Late bottled vintage – Aged longer in the barrel, then bottled, ready to drink sooner and has little or no sediment

Port is always in season, but the fall and winter are myMEGusta favorite times to indulge in this exquisite treat!

National Parks Edition: Wilderness Survival

No, we are not talking about lichens and water purification products for when you are inadvertently lost hiking in Sherwood Forest.

This is a much more realistic challenge: Finding something decent to eat when visiting the National Parks, never what anyone would consider foodie meccas, but surprisingly good if you order well.

Having recently visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, myMEGusta found quite a bit of better than average eats in and near them. But, unlike when visiting a national treasure like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, or the panda preserve in Chengdu, China, eating well required a little effort.

Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop at Local, Jackson Hole

Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop at Local, Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole, WY, considered a gateway city for these parks, and also a mecca for moneyed skiers (the international airport in this little burg fills up with private jets every winter), provided an encouraging start to the journey. Of course, being a normal town, nothing there was under the auspices of the National Park Service (Happy 100th Birthday!) concessionaires, and restaurants ranged from frighteningly pedestrian looking to really excellent.

Local, a restaurant focused on fresh local ingredients, is a case in point. http://localjh.com/ After a terrific lunch of smoked local trout Salad Nicoise (the inspiration for September 8th’s posting), myMEGusta went out for a short (that’s all there are in Jackson Hole) stroll, and stumbled upon Local’s retail butcher shop, more of a little deli/take-out joint, but interesting all the same. Sitting in the case were the most gorgeous pork rib chops she has seen outside of Europe: Relatively small in diameter, cut thick, a deep red hue.

Local Butcher Shop

Local Butcher Shop

Of course, that meant getting a reservation to go back for dinner, and it was one of the best meals of the trip: Snake River Farm Kuributa Long Bone Pork Chop with a Bourbon Glaze over Roasted Peaches. A breed of Berkshire pig, this specific one from the Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, also known as “Kagoshima black pig”. http://www.snakeriverfarms.com/ The watermelon salad, graciously served as a half portion, was terrific, too.

Watermelon Salad

Watermelon Salad

Tempted to go back the next day for a third round, myMEGusta chose instead the local “hot” restaurant, the Snake River Grill. They somehow managed to overcook and underseason locally farmed Snake River Rainbow Trout, something to write home about, but not in a good way.

The good news was that fresh grilled trout was ubiquitous in the park lodge restaurants, and considerably better at every other attempt, including the second one at Jackson Hole’s Wort Hotel,     http://www.worthotel.com/ , where it was delicious.

Another highlight was at the Jackson Lake Lodge http://www.gtlc.com/dining in Grand Teton National Park: Colorado Rack of Lamb. There was nothing fancy about this: Two perfectly cooked (medium rare, as requested), extremely flavored chops (a “just right” portion). Most lamb sold in the US is from Australia and New Zealand (both excellent, by the way), so it was a real treat to have American lamb, outrageously expensive on the East Coast.

Partridge was another treat at the Jackson Lake Lodge. Not an easy bird to cook, it tends to dry out quickly, so its juicy, perfectly cooked texture was a pleasant surprise.

The real wilderness “win” was the bison burgers, found everywhere and lean, but still juicy, when ordered medium rare. We were advised by a local authority that it’s really hybridized beefalo, which is fine, and makes sense given that bison (what are often referred to as buffalo) are wild, dangerous animals, not realistic for domestication.

Wild Bison at Yellowstone National Park

Wild Bison at Yellowstone National Park

Another pleasant and reliable dish is plain old chili (think cowboys around a chuck wagon campfire). The version I tasted in the Prospector Restaurant in Cooke City, Montana http://cookecity.net/webcams/ was a fresh, flavorful beef/bean concoction (and the side of Tabasco made it chili-like). What would have gotten sent back in Austin, TX, was a good lunch in the Wild West.

One thing myMEGusta had eaten, but never really ordered, is Buffalo Wings. Deciding with trip companions to have appetizers in the bar rather than crossing over to the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge dining room, she chose the wings, beautifully enough presented and golden brown enough for passers-by to stop at the table and comment. Pretty good for “defensive dining,”

Moving East, the Jordan Pond House at Acadia National Park used to serve fantastic steamed lobster and was famous for its popovers, a perfect snack after hiking. Readers who have visited in recent years can weigh in on whether or not these treats still exist.

The bottom line is, keep it simple and local, and you’ll up your chances of eating well.

And, speaking of treats, the moose shaped butter pats and moose motif waffles at Jackson Lake Lodge were silly but fun!

Moose Motif Waffles

Moose Motif Waffles

Moose Shaped Butter Pats

Moose Shaped Butter Pats

What’s So Nice About Salade Nicoise?

It started off simply enough: A cold dish of oil packed canned tuna from the Mediterranean garnished with tomatoes, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, and, of course, tiny, briny Nicoise olives. Some chefs included red peppers, shallots and artichoke hearts, and it usually arrived on a bed of greens, all dressed in a light vinaigrette.

While myMEGusta is usually all in favor of “truth in menu”, the ubiquitous Salade Nicoise we see today has strayed so far from its origins that it hardly matters any more. This is one item where you really do have to read the menu description in detail to avoid surprises.

Salade Nicoise

Salade Nicoise

For example, you rarely see the red peppers, shallots and artichokes now. Chefs often bow to consumer qualms and leave out the anchovies. On the other hand, it always arrives with cooked potatoes, usually with cooked green beans as well, despite an early historical reference to “no cooked vegetables.” All to the good, if you ask me. Even better when they eliminate the hard boiled eggs.

So, what happened here?

Having originated in, or been named for,  the French city of Nice, sadly the scene of a recent tragedy, this dish represents the tastes of the Mediterranean. Julia Child can be credited with really popularizing it in the United States, and her preparation used potatoes and green beans. This leads myMEGusta to believe that her version was served in plenty of French restaurants and homes, and, while not historically perfect, a very accurate rendition of what real people were eating and enjoying in her days there.

French Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

French Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Not so long ago, really good canned tuna was appreciated by everyone, and you’ll still find it in gourmet shops everywhere. Now, this is neither the virtuous water packed albacore which most people seek out today for their mayonnaise laden tuna salads, nor it is packed in insipid mystery oil that needs to be washed off before using. Oh, no, this tuna is packed in top quality extra virgin olive oil, and that olive oil goes straight to the plate to be sopped with crusty bread, or made into a vinaigrette.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to find a Salade Nicoise made with seared yellowfin tuna. By the way, this makes for a really excellent dish.

Salade Nicoise with Seared Tuna

Salade Nicoise with Seared Tuna

In as unlikely a spot as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, myMEGusta recently enjoyed a so-called Salade Nicoise made with excellent Idaho Rainbow Trout, smoked in house, accompanied by crunchy green beans, purple potatoes, house cured pork belly, and crisped onions, all in a light mustard mayonnaise dressing.

Salade Nicoise with Smoked Rainbow Trout

Salade Nicoise with Smoked Rainbow Trout

The restaurant is called “Local”, http://localjh.com/ , and this is what we call good cowboy dining!

Finding A Date In London

Fresh Dates

Fresh Dates

Harrods food halls in London are a wonderful place to wander and admire all sorts of beautiful food displays, truly the world at your fingertips with absolutely gorgeous everything. On a recent trip to London, myMEGusta saw, for the first time, freshly picked dates sitting in the fruit bin.

Harrods Date Selection

Harrods Date Selection

Next to them sat a huge array of the more common, slightly dried dates “au naturel”, and then there was a selection of specialty dates, for example, chocolate covered.

Chocolate Covered Dates

Chocolate Covered Dates

(Having just come from a delish brunch, and anticipating a substantial dinner in a few hours, myMEGusta passed on buying any to taste, a mistake, as they would have been a good airplane snack the next day.)

Date Bars

Date Bars

Dates are intensely sweet, and not to everyone’s taste. They show up in American standards, like date bars and date cakes, and, in the Middle East, in main courses, such as in orange/date salad, lamb tagines or chicken with dates.

The palm trees that produce dates also yield a very sweet sap.

Date Palm

Date Palm

This is used in India and Myanmar to make jaggery, a type of dark sugar common in their cuisines, but rarely seen elsewhere. On a trip to Myanmar several years ago, myMEGusta stopped at a date palm farm, with tapped trees and a very potent date jaggery based spirit for sampling (oh, my!) and sale (nope!).

Jaggery

Jaggery

It is believed that date cultivation began eons ago, documented as early as 6,000 BC in what is now Iraq, and most of the world’s dates come from the Middle East. Introduced to the New World by the Spaniards, dates are still cultivated in in the Palm Springs, CA, area.

It is amusing that, according to the PR folks, “(California’s) Coachella Velley is the ‘Date Capital of the World’, as palm groves have thrived here since the 1800’s”, when the United States doesn’t even make it into the Top 10 date producing countries. But, all that said, myMEGusta will definitely make a point to seek out date shakes and date ice cream next time she is in that area of Southern California!

Date Shakes

Date Shakes

Date Ice Cream

Portugal’s Alentejo Region and a Porky Treat

It’s fun to travel on well beaten paths, to those places in the world where there is little not to like, and where there is plenty to see and do between extraordinary meals. But, it’s also fun to get off of that route, into places where “nobody” goes, that is, nobody other than people in the know. One of these areas is the Alentejo Region, a mere couple of hours away from Lisbon by car (on good roads), known as the breadbasket of Portugal.

Vila Vicosa's Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Vila Vicosa’s Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Recommended to myMEGusta by author Jean Anderson (The Food of Portugal, and numerous other books and articles including http://www.saveur.com/article/travels/the-food-of-alentejo-portugal ), Alentejo was a treasure trove of good eats and beautiful sights.

The Alentejo is a large (for Portugal) expanse of land east of Lisbon, traditionally a not-so-wealthy agricultural area, studded with ancient fortified hilltop castles and convents, many of which have been converted to “pousadas”, country inns in varying levels of luxury. The European Union’s funding of major highways make it easily accessible, and GPS is a good friend in navigating the back roads and byways.

It is the home of Porco Preto, the local breed of black pigs who spend their lives roaming around eating ample portions of acorns, and their rich, flavorful meat is a fixture on menus throughout the region.

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

As in other wine districts around the world, investors have created star worthy restaurants and elaborate estates amongst the vineyards here. Two particularly memorable lunches were at the Herdade do Esporao and Herdade do Grous. Speaking of porco preto, the star of lunch at Esporao was porco preto three ways: Roasted shoulder (like suckling pig), fork tender loin cooked sous vide, and slow cooked, then crisped, pork belly, garnished with their garden vegetables.

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade de Esporao

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade do Esporao

Some of the most memorable dining was in little village spots. One tiny place in Evora, every table taken by locals, did not have the most elegant of cuisines, but their pork cheeks in red wine were like the best beef bourguignon, although the sauce was richer (Thank you, big Alentejo reds!) and the meat totally succulent. The sign read (translated): “We may not have a Michelin star, but we have the best pork cheeks in the world.”

Pork Cheeks in Evora

Pork Cheeks at Sao Domingos in Evora

Pork “Alentejo style” – chunks with clams, cilantro and garlic – is also ubiquitous, although myMEGusta has to admit that a recent sampling of this dish at Ipanema Restaurant in Manhattan was at least as good as she had in the region. Although the piggy was surely a standard US breed, the amazing flavor was probably due to the pork shoulder having marinated for a very long time in garlic. The accompanying black beans and rice were a reminder that this was a Brazilian, not Portuguese, restaurant.

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Preserved porco preto, like a good jamon Iberico or prosciutto, usually appeared as a “cover” (amuse bouche for which one is charged) at lunch and dinner, a perfect preliminary for any meal.

A few thin slices between crisp bread slices was also a great way to start the day.

Breakfast in Alentejo!

Breakfast in Alentejo!

More on beautiful Portugal in future postings!

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