Our sister in law is Latvian – so we have been becoming more familiar with Latvian recipes recently. As we have discovered when jumping in to new cuisines, desserts are usually a good place to start. November 18 is Latvian Independence Day, so it only makes sense to celebrate with the national dessert of Latvia – Rupjmaizes kārtojums . This dessert is a kind of trifle made with iconic Latvian rye bread instead of cake. Rye bread crumbs are layered with cream and fruit – which sounds both simple and delicious. Nami Nami and Kitchen Mouse have recipes for the Latvian treat.
There is a theme with some Day of the Dead treats to be a bit literal – and usually that involves some form of bones! Pan de muerto is demarcated with a crisscross of bones on the top and ossi dei morti literally look like white, powdery bones! Spanish “saints bones” (huesos de santo) follow this trend, and are a bone-like, tubular marzipan with an egg yolk filling (sometimes squash). Maybe that filling is supposed to resemble bone marrow (cool! gross!)? Spain Recipes, Blue Jellybeans and The Spruce have recipes to DIY your own saints’ bones. These cookies originate from Madrid and have a history that stretches all the way back to the 17th century! Along with panellets and buñuelos, you’ll find these typical treats in many Spanish bakeries.
From Spain Recipes: Some accounts attribute their origin to 17th century Madrid, a theory that’s supported by their mention in Francisco Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, Arte de Cozina, Pastelería, Vizcochería y Conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastries, Cakes and Preserves). Written in 1611, the book states that these sweets were “made to commemorate all the Saints and all the dead at the beginning of November”.
Candy corn is one of the most divisive candies on Halloween – one ETW member thinks it was one of the worst candies you could get trick or treating (better than raisins but worse than Tootsie Rolls), while the other member just willingly bought a bag of candy corn to consume by themselves. Whether or not you are pro candy corn or not, it seems like it has been a part of Halloween forever. According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 35 million pounds (or 9 billion pieces) of candy corn will be produced this year. And candy corn HAS been around a long time – it originated in the US sometime in the 1880s, but was first commercially produced by Wunderle company, and production of candy corn was taken up by the Goelitz Candy Company by 1898 (the ancestor of the current Jelly Belly Company). It was originally called “chicken feed,” which appealed to the agrarian sensibilities of America at the time. Candy corn has been popular ever since! Though now automated, the process of making candy corn was originally very time-consuming, and each color was individually poured into molds and had to harden before the next layer was added. if you are really a fan, you can even make your own homemade candy corn!
It’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).
We are obsessed with getting the perfect bowl of ramen, and until recently the pickings have been pretty slim in Cleveland. Fortunately Xinji Noodle Bar (4211 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) recently opened up, so we have a new place for our noodle fix in Cleveland. To be fair, this is not strictly a traditional ramen place – they do offer ramen – but also an array of other Asian and Asian fusion food. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Shuxin Liu, who cut his teeth at other Cleveland stalwarts like Momocho.
The space is bright and airy with exposed pipes, ramen illustrations on the walls, and an inviting bar. It’s the kind of restaurany that wouldn’t look out of place in NYC or Chicago. The menu is compact, but has something for everyone. For appetizers, Xinji spans the Asian continent: you can start out with spicy Korean fired Chicken ($9) or Chinese bao sandwiches filled with pork or fired chicken ($7). We ordered the veggie dumplings with yuzu, wasabi and seaweed salad ($7) and the fried kimchi balls – which were basically like Korean arancine – yum! While the dumplings were good – they were folded and deep fried, and we were expecting more of a gyoza-type dumpling.
If you are not in the mood for ramen, there are other mains: rice bowls with tonkatsu (Japanese breaded, fried pork cutlets – $12) or grilled eel ($15). However, we were here for ramen, so we had to sample as many as we could. Xinji offers 5 types of ramen: shio (light salty broth), shoyu (a saltier soy sauce broth), miso, spicy miso and vegetarian broth (all $12, $10 for vegetarian).
When we go out for ramen I usually choose shio ramen as my baseline test, and here it came with chicken mushrooms, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots and napa cabbage. The noodles were wavy and slightly irregular, with a firm texture – delicious. The broth was fragrant and salty, but there was not quite enough of it – we should have asked for more! The vegetarian broth was light and savory, and was garnished with bamboo shoots. The spice-loving M enjoyed the spicy miso ramen, which came with pork and bean sprouts. The broth was actually pretty spicy for a change, and was flavored with ginger and chili oil.
The Hindi festival of lights – Diwali – is right around the corner on October 19th. The Indian diaspora is found all over the world, meaning that Diwali, and its collection of sweets called mithai, have traveled with them. You can check out our previous coverage of Diwali treats on the blog. Today, we’re celebrating Diwali Trinidad-style with Kurma. Trinidad has a long Indian heritage, so unsurprisingly, Indian treats are a big thing on the island. Kurma are ginger and cinnamon-spiced fried dough sticks in a sweet glaze, and though associated with holidays in Trinidad, they can now be found year-round. You can try your hand at Trinidadian Kurma with recipes from Simply Trini Cooking (seen below) and Trini Gourmet.
We first had Malaysian food in the suburbs of Chicago many years ago at Penang. In the intervening years we have sampled Malaysian food in Malaysia itself and London, and every time we have it, we always fall in love again. Despitwe this deliciousness, Malaysian food is still pretty rare to find . When we heard about Serai (2169 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647), a new Malaysian restaurant opening in Chicago, we knew we had to give it a try. Malaysian food in a unique combination of Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indian and Indonesian influences, and with that amalgamation, it is no surprise that it is one of our favorite cuisines in the world.
Serai is located on a quiet corner of Logan Square, and is bigger then we expected – there are two dining rooms with wooden tables and chairs, and a full bar. The menu is pretty extensive, with Malaysia specialties, and it branches out into more general Thai or pan Asian foods. However, we heard that the Malaysian specialties were the standouts, and we recommend that you start off with Malaysian specialties. Some of the most iconic Malaysian dishes are on the menu including Char Koay Teow ($11.95) – stir fried flat noodles in soy sauce; Hainanese chicken rice ($14.95) – garlic and ginger poached chicken with rice cooked in its stock; and nasi goreng ($11.95)- a Malaysian fried rice. The server we had was very knowledgeable about Malaysian food, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about any recommendations or specialties.
We started out with a roti with vegetable curry (clearly showing influence from India). The roti flatbread was nice and flaky and the curry was mildly spicy and flavorful, and we appreciated that we could get the curry in chicken or vegetarian varieties. After only a little deliberation, we ordered our two favorite Malaysian dishes, beef rendang ($13.95) and laksa curry noodles ($13.95). The laksa noodles came in a coconut milk curry broth with char siu BBQ pork, shrimp, fish balls, a hard-boiled egg and “tofu puff.” Tofu puffs are fried, small pieces of tofu that somehow manage to have an airy texture, and Serai’s were exactly like what we had in Malaysia. The beef rendang ($16.95) is beef in a spicy dry curry sauce with lemongrass and ginger, served on a banana leaf with sides of rice, eggplant and string beans. The beef was extremely flavorful, and extremely complex, with just a hint of heat.
The servings at Serai were generous, but we happy scarfed down our dinner, pleased to get another taste of Malaysia. Though we were too full to partake, there are also a few desserts like coconut pudding or sweet sticky rice, and hard-to-find drinks like iced Milo (an international version of Nesquik), Teh Tarik and Malaysian-style iced coffee. Overall, we were very impressed with the food at Serai. Everything was delicious – and reminded us exactly of the food we had in Malaysia. We can’t wait to come back and try some more of the Malaysian classics, especially the chicken rice!
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 de Bolota. 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).
Chicago Gourmet, one of our favorite foodie events in Chicago, was last weekend and it was an amazing, gluttonous experience, as always. This year was especially good – since I got to go to the event with both M and my mom – which was not only fun, but helped with the strategic planning and maximized the food! This year was unseasonably warm – with temperatures pushing 95 degrees – so we knew we had to strategize especially well to keep backtracking to a minimum. This year’s Chicago Gourmet was set up similarly to previous years, with wine distributors in an aisle in the middle and themed chef tents and individual sponsors on the outside perimeter of the Pritzker Pavilion area in Millennium Park.
There were 11 themed tasting pavilions this year, each featuring two rotations of 3-5 chefs. We headed to the seafood pavilion right away, always a fan favorite (and the booth with the longest line). Next up was the BBQ tent, featuring not only BBQ restaurants, but the ever-popular Stella Artois booth with its signature glasses. There was also an unusual habanero custard dessert made with dry ice on offer in the Stella Artois booth, served by none other than Top Chef contestant Katsuji Tanabe.
Always on the hunt for international eats, we liked that there were two dedicated international tents this year: Thailand and Mexico. However, there were no sister cities represented, as there were last year. The Thai booth featured two rounds of Thai restaurants from the Chicago area, while the Mexico tent featured a different region on each day of the festival. Chefs from restaurants in each region were present, with Saturday featuring Guadalajara and the Yucatán on Sunday. We were pretty excited because Yucatán food is some of our favorite in Mexico.
So what were our favorite eats at 2017 Chicago Gourmet?:
- Pork Rib from Big Ed’s BBQ in Waukegan. This pork rib was perfectly smoked – it didn’t even need sauce – the true test of good BBQ. Though the sauce was good too. The portion was big, and we didn’t mind at all.
- Smoked salmon toast from Roanoke Restaurant (top left above). This was the first bite we had at Chicago Gourmet, and it ended up being one of our favorites. The salmon was delicate and creamy, and paired well with the crunchy chip.
- Cochinita pibil from Manjar Blanco Restaurant in Mérida, Yucatán (pictured above). The Mexican tent featured three chefs from Manjar Blanco restaurant, and 3 different types of pork tacos. Our favorites ended up being the flavorful cochinita pibil, spiced up with a little habanero sauce.
- Thai rice salad from Choun’s in Wheaton (pictured above). Though this dish was only called “rice salad” it reminded us of Nam Khao Tod, and consisted of crispy fried rice, chicken, onions, cilantro, mint and lime – all of our favorite flavors. We had never heard of this restaurant before and are looking forward to visiting them.
- Salted caramel brownie from Bittersweet Pastry (Pictured above). This was a perfectly executed brownie with caramel sauce, what could be better?
- Though we agreed on most of our favorite dishes, there were a few where we diverged. M liked the terrine from Bohemian House, and I liked the inventive tempura shrimp taco served in a crunchy taro root chip shell from Arbella.
We have to say that this year, the desserts particularly stood out. Aside from our previously mentioned top picks, we liked the tasty cherry cobbler from Bang Bang Pie shop and the delicate, layered, Dobos-Torte-like creation from Beacon Tavern. Of course M was particularly happy that there were 2 donut stations at Chicago Gourmet – Firecakes and Stan’s Donuts. The Loacker cookie company also was there with their signature waffle sandwich cookies, and Mariano’s peddled gelato (though it ran out pretty much right away).
Chicago Gourmet is always a great place to try international spirits, and this year was no exception. Glenlivet and Glenmorangie whiskey tastings are always favorites, but there were a few more unusual choices this year, including Švyturys, the #1 beer in Lithuania. And of course, to stay cool, an Aperol Spritz was essential (see below). Though we have to say, one change that would be nice for future Chicago Gourmets is to have more non-alcoholic beverages – Bai drinks and Counter Culture Coffee provided a nice respite from the alcohol this year.
There are also demos and master classes on the main Pritzker Pavilion Stage and tents on the lawn perimeter. We always try to attend one of these, and it is a great chance to see some great chefs in their element. This year we saw two iconic Chicago chefs – Stephanie Izard and Sarah Grueneberg – conduct a recipe demo of dumplings and pasta from scratch. Each created an Italian/Chinese fusion dish and they were each really funny and engaging in person. The demos, aside from being fun and informative, are also a good reason to get out of the sun. We stayed until the bitter end on Sunday, despite the punishing heat and sun. We are looking forward to another Chicago Gourmet next year (though we hope it will be a little cooler)!
Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year! Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is always celebrated with a special meal of symbolic foods – especially those emphasizing the sweetness of the new year, traditionally represented by apples and honey. Every year though, we try to find some non-traditional Rosh Hashanah foods from around the world to spice things up a bit. Serious Eats has three international menus from Forward featuring Rosh Hashanah foods from Iran, Turkey and India. Some highlights include Turkish pumpkin bread, Persian chickpea cakes, and Indian Lamb Biryani (seen above). We were also intrigued by the Chicago Tribune’s recipe for Moroccan Chicken. If you are still looking for more sweet treats, Serious Eats has 18 modern takes on Rosh Hashanah dessert favorites. In any case, you can never go wrong with a little babka.
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!
When we go to NYC, we always enjoy getting arepas – Venezuelan corn masa patties with a variety of fillings – but we didn’t really have a go-to arepa spot in Chicago (pupusas, yes, but not arepas). When we were back in town, my sister recommended we try BienMeSabe (1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613) in Ravenswood, a new arepas spot that has been making waves in the Chicago food scene. Apparently, it is even becoming a go-to place for MLB players from Venezuela. The inside of BienMeSabe is clean and simple, and an attractive seating option is the large outdoor patio. BienMeSabe was so new, that when we visited, the mural they were putting up on the wall was not even finished being painted. Another key feature of BienMeSabe is that it is BYOB. When we got there on Sunday for lunch, many people were enjoying the BYOB option on the patio.
BienMeSabe’s menu mostly consists of arepas with a variety of veggie and meat toppings, each running between $8 and 10. We sampled the Reina Pepiada (Chicken Avocado Salad & Gouda Cheese), Caribbean (Caribbean Cheese, Plantain & Avocado), and the After Party (Roasted Pork, Gouda Cheese, Avocado slices). If you are not in the mood for arepas, there are also meat-heavy mains including grilled steak, fish, and the national dish of Venezuela, Pabellon Criollo. We began our meal with the shrimp tostones and the fried yuca. The shrimp tostones consisted of grilled shrimp on top of fried green plantains, and were particularly good, we really loved the spicy avocado-based Guasacaca salsa. We were also excited to see that we could get some classic Venezuelan drinks: chicha – a rice milk drink similar to Mexican horchata, and papelon con limon limeade.
The areaps are decently sized for the price, and they are not stingy with the fillings. The arepa toppings were good overall, but a little bit of a hit or miss. The roast pork on the After Party was flavorful and tender, and we think it was our favorite arepa of the day. Though the fried plantains on the Caribbean arepa were delicious, there was just too much of the somewhat flavorless shredded cheese. And for me to say there is too much cheese, there really has to have been a lot. Despite this, we really enjoyed the arepas overall and we are happy to have a Venezuelan place in the hood. We will definitely be back to BienMeSabe to sample some of the other arepa varieties and maybe a tres leches cake!
When we first happened upon a picture of this cake, we couldn’t believe it was real. Was it a fruit? Gelatin? Turns out that this striking, otherworldly concoction is Vietnamese Pandan Honeycomb cake. Pandan – a flavor not often seen in American baking – is a tropical plant from Southeast Asia with edible leaves that impart the flavor and green color to this unusual cake. You can find pandan extract in many larger SE Asian groceries or online. The main base ingredient of this cake is tapioca flour, which leaves a chewy texture in the middle, much like pão de queijo. Julesfood, Danang Cuisine, and Runaway Rice have similar recipes for Pandan honeycomb cake. The Spice of Life takes it one step further, and uses whole pandan leaves to supplement the flavor of the pandan extract, and while it seems a little difficult, the payoff is big!
Today is Brazilian Independence Day, so I think some Brazilian food adventures are called for. Whenever we visit a a city in the US we always check to see if there is a Brazilian food or cultural outpost. You’d be surprised at how many places have a hidden Brazilian gem. However, one of the best places for Brazilian food in the US – that is no secret – is the Astoria neighborhood in the NYC borough of Queens. Astoria is perhaps most famously known for its sizable Greek population, though in recent years it has become an amazingly diverse place. Along with an influx of other Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisines, Astoria has become more Brazilian in the past decades and there are the food establishments to prove it.
Our first stop in Brazilian Astoria is always Rio Market (32-15 36th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106), which is definitely the biggest Brazilian grocery store we have seen in the US. They have pretty much every Brazilian dry good you could hope for: coffee, cookies, Guarana soda, sauces, tea, rice, beans, soap, shampoo, and even Brazilian soccer paraphernalia and Havaianas. What sets them apart is their wide selection, and the fact that they also have rarer fresh foods like queijo coalho – the cheese on a stick you can buy on Brazilian beaches – and picanha steaks. There is also a small cafe in the front of the store that serves simple dishes, feijoada, pão de queijo and coffee. A new feature is that you can order products from Rio Market online!
However, for Pão de Queijo, you must stop at New York Pão de Queijo (31-90 30th St.) aka Astoria Pão de Queijo or just Pão de Queijo. This hole in the wall restaurant reminded us pleasantly of a typical urban corner restaurant in Brazil. You of course have to get the Pão de Queijo, but there are also salads, acaí bowls and X-Burgers (Brazilian Portuguese for Cheeseburger – the X is pronounced “Sheese” – get it?). Within Astoria there are also a plethora of restaurants tapping into a variety of Brazilian food traditions beyond just the churrascuria that is the most known in the US. Point Brazil, Copacabana, Minas Grill, Villa Brazil and Kilo Astoria are kilo restaurants in the Brazilian style (a buffet where you pay by weight). Kilo restaurants are on every corner in Brazil, so it is only appropriate they have made their way to Astoria, too. Favela Grill and Beija Flor are more, modern, slightly upscale restaurants with live music. And at Casa Theodoro you can get Brazilian-style pizza, which is a genre unto itself. If you want to get a taste of Brazil while in NYC, definitely wander around Astoria!
Even since M first visited Peru in 2004 he has been on the hunt for the perfect ceviche. Even when we are not looking, sometimes a place specializing in ceviche will present itself. When we arrived in Lisbon we had heard a lot of buzz around A Cevicherica (R. Dom Pedro V 129, 1250-096 Lisboa, Portugal), and the word was that it was one of the best restaurants in Lisbon, ceviche or not. A Cevicheria is helmed by Chef Kiko Martins, who has a growing empire of restaurants around Lisbon.
Would you believe it if I told you there was a pepper unique to Chicago? No, I’m not talking about the ubiquitous sport peppers on a Chicago-style hot-dog, I am talking about the Melrose pepper. Melrose peppers are a type of sweet pepper ranging in color from green to red, that are mainly grown in the Chicago area (though now you can order seeds and plant them anywhere). Below are some green Melrose peppers we found at Mariano’s – you can see how they look like hot peppers – but they have no heat.
Having grown up in Chicago, I am surprised that I have not learned about the Melrose pepper’s existence until now. A recent Chicago Tribune article featuring the peppers was my first introduction, though my mom says that my Italian grandmother used to mention Melrose peppers. The peppers actually have their roots in Italy, and the seeds were brought over to Chicago by Neapolitans Joseph and Lucia Napolitano in 1903. The pepper that they transported grew wild in Southern Italy, and really took to the soil of Chicagoland, specifically the Napolitano’s home Melrose Park (from where they get their name). The peppers proliferated throughout the gardens of Italian-Americans in Melrose Park, and became a Chicago classic over the decades.
Outside of home gardens, you can also now find the peppers in August at Caputo’s and Mariano’s supermarket locations throughout Chicagoland (I would recommend that you call for availability). You can also buy seeds here, here, here and here (which is what we plan on doing next year). You can prepare Melrose Peppers similarly to bell peppers, though they are not as pungent, and are sweeter. A popular Melrose Pepper recipe is stuffing the peppers with Italian sausage, and the Tribune has another recipe for stuffed peppers along with other preparations. We have tried Melrose Peppers a few ways, and even though we do not like green peppers (or at least one of us doesn’t), we really enjoyed the taste – and history!
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.
At the start of our latest trip we lamented openly the lack of gelato in Lisbon, but little did we know that, since our last trip in 2015, there had been something of a gelato renaissance in Lisbon. We’re talking about Italian-style gelato here, not ice cream (though Lisbon has that too, the most famous ice cream maker being Santini) Now gelato shops seem to be popping up everywhere (especially anywhere tourists happen to be) but most of it is just meh. But never fear, there are now some great places to get gelato in Lisbon, too.
The gelato renaissance all started with Nannarella (Various locations, main location São Bento), which was founded by expats from Rome. One of the original founders of Nannarella, Filippo Licitra, then split off on his own to start rival Gelato Davvero (Various locations, main location Cais de Sodré). We can attest that both of these gelato places are the real deal, after having visited each several times. The locations are pretty much only walk up counters, but fortunately Lisbon is replete with parks and other places to enjoy your cone. So which one do we like better? It’s hard to say…both of these are delicious, but each has their pros and cons. For each of the following categories we have selected a winner.
- Prices – Draw. Prices were comparable for either a cup or cone, for Davvero a Piccolino was €1.75, a Piccolo, €2 (seen above), Medio €3, Grande €4, and Grandissmo €5. Anything above a medium is just huge. You can also get half liters and up of gelato in boxes to take home (1L is €16 at each place). For Nannarella, there are fewer options, a small for €2, medium for €3 and large for €3.50. At the top end Nannarella is a little cheaper, but Davvero lets you get larger sizes.
- Wait time – Davvero. As M can attest, I hate to wait in line. However, I did wait in line 30 minutes for Nannarella (see above, which was just bordering on too much. The waits at Davvero were much shorter, so take that for what you will.
- Ambiance – Draw, slight edge Davvero. Each place has only storefront outlets with nowhere to sit, except the Cais de Sodré location of Davvero that has both indoor and outdoor seating, which is right on the square.
- Extras – Nannarella. You can get whipped cream for free at Nannarella. Maybe they also have it at Davvero, but we have never been offered this topping. At Nannarella you can also get a mini cone to put on top of your cup for 20 cents – a great idea we have never seen before.
- Generosity – Nannarella. For the small cup size, Davvero allows 2 flavors. Nannarella (above) allows unlimited flavors, which basically means you can get 3 scoops or more, as I did here with chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio. The scoops were overall more generous at Nannarella.
- Taste – Draw. This is a tricky one, and probably relies more on personal preference than anything. The consistency of both gelato is smooth and creamy, and the flavors are delicious, and not artificial at all (we used pistachio as a test for this). Neither of the pistachio gelatos are bright green, and both taste delicious and natural. At both stores you can get classic flavors like strawberry, coffee, hazelnut, chocolate chip and vanilla. However, we liked the salted caramel more at Nannarella, though Davvero’s sour cherry was the fast favorite of our travel buddies. Each location has special flavors of the day, and there are even some more unique flavors like basil (Nannarella) and cheesecake (Davvero).
Overall, Nannarella, the original may have a slight edge over Davvero, though we wouldn’t turn up our noses at either. We are just grateful that Lisbon is experiencing a boom in gelato!
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.