Como Sur | South American Gastronomy

All posts in National Identity

[image: Como Sur]

The Friday Fix: “Quiere tomar onces, po?”

By Patrick Hieger

[photo: I Love Chile]

[photo: I Love Chile]

If you don’t live in Chile, the title of this piece might be confusing to you.  Onces?  As in eleven?  Plural?  And that po at the end?  Well, that’s just a colloquialism, a breath added on to the end of many statements.  Don’t worry too much about that.  As far as ‘onces’ goes, though–well, that requires a bit more explanation.

It would sound just as strange if you weren’t British or from the UK to hear someone discussing elevenses.  Eleven is a number that typically need not be pluralized but, when it comes to snack time, all grammar rules seemingly go out the window.  To start simply, onces is nothing more than a direct translation of the British elevenses.  In the UK, it’s snack time in the morning.  In Chile, it’s what you eat in place of dinner.

There is a theory that suggest that back when there were restrictions on boozing were being upheld in Chile, men looking for an afternoon nip of aguardiente would simply disguise the drink’s name by calling it by the number of letters in its title–eleven.  And, since that seems a pretty elaborate code for a bunch of drunkards, for our purposes we’ll just stick with the idea that, because they both refer to snack time, onces is simply derived from elevenses.

Regardless, what the hell is onces? 

No matter where you are, there will be bread.  Chile just recently surpassed France as the number one consumer of bread on the planet.  And, given that nearly any picture of the French is often characterized by the presence of a baguette, the Chileans must be some super bread eaters.  It’s true.  Bread is the staple of any occasion of onces, no matter how simple or elaborate.  Marraqueta, or pan frances, is most often served, though you might also find hallulla, pan doblado, or a number of either staple bread varietals in which Chile specializes.

Because onces is just a replacement for dinner, the elaboration really depends on the time of day and the amount of people around.  At its simplest, onces is bread, ham, cheese, perhaps some butter and jelly or maybe even some manjar, as well as tea.  Tea is the other staple.  Toast some bread, add some cheese, and maybe a slice of ham.  It’s not too filling before heading off to bed.  It’s just enough to get  you through until tomorrow.

At its most elaborate, onces can often go hand in hand with the term ‘comida,’ which can often be used describe a meal, instead of simply being used to refer to food.  In the case of once-comida, expect to find bread, tea, and the other fixin’s, but also be on the lookout for mashed up avocado, pan-cooked steak, a small salad, and maybe even a broth.  Once-comida gets much more to the point of an actual dinner, but never quite involves an elaborately-plated meal.  Is it the trick of telling yourself that you’re eating light, or the simplicity of having a snack-plus?  Either way, it’s onces, not dinner.

No matter how simple or elaborate, onces is a Chilean staple.  It’s not a meal, but it is.  It’s a custom, just as high tea is for the Brits.  And, just like the Brits, a great deal of restaurants throughout Chile will offer an onces service.  It, too, can range from bread and cheese with jam to something much more elaborate.  It’s all in how much of a dinner you don’t want to eat.  Provecho.

 

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

The Best Pizza In South America Lives In Montevideo, Uruguay

By Joanna Marracelli

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

I love pizza. No, I mean I really love pizza!  I know what you are thinking, rolling your eyes over there.  Who doesn’t love pizza?  What kind of authority am I on the humble pie?  Who am I to say that the best pizza is in Uruguay? Hey, I may not be a pizza expert, if such a thing existed, but I am certainly an aficionado!  Enthusiastic, passionate and zealous (perhaps a bit overly so), all for the love of pizza and I’m about to tell you about the best pie I’ve had in all of South America.

I am originally from New York City. And like a typical New Yorker would say “that’s right, home of the pizza”. Sorry Chicago. Sorry, rest of the world.  Ok, so Italy owns the pizza. I won’t try to compete with that. NYC may not be the place where it was born but surely it’s where it was perfected!  I spent countless days and hours tracking down the best pizza in my city.  I tasted dozens of pies.  I spent even more time trying to perfect my own recipe.  I read about how to rig your home oven to mimic the high temperatures of a wood-fired one (yes, it involves duct tape).  I bought a stone, made biga’s and experimented endlessly.  I even seriously considered building my own wood-fired oven.

Every country I travel, in each city, village, town-you name it-if they have pizza available, I simply have to try it.  I have no choice, no will of my own on the matter.  It’s in my blood, as if some force takes over!  In trying to establish my credibility as to why you should trust me as a pizza-lover, I fear I have estranged you by going off on a rabid rant! Am I part of some bizarre pizza cult?  No, sadly not.  But if there was one, I would gladly join it!  I implore you to stay with me here!

So to get to the point, when I went visited Uruguay, I was very excited.  Anywhere there is a history of Italian immigration, gives me that extra glimmer in my eye and stomach.  I know they will have pizza and I always hope that it will be worthy. Because as much as I dote on NY’s pie, I love Chicago’s version too, in fact, I’ve had great pies all over the USA, Argentina and parts of Europe.  I don’t discriminate. If it’s a good honest, balanced pie made with love and fresh ingredients, it gets my vote.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

The recorded amount of Italian immigrants began with the founding of Montevideo.  They arrived to Uruguay in large numbers starting in1870, right up until 1960.  Along with the Spanish, the Italians have formed the backbone of today’s Uruguayan population.  Historians calculate that in the generation of people born after 1990, 68% have Italian roots.  This could only mean one thing–a solid pizza.

I was on the bus to Montevideo, Uruguay and already I was researching where to go to try a pie.  I started asking people on the bus if they knew.  When I arrived in the city, my search got deeper. Then I spoke with a fellow pizza-lover.  Other fanatics of the pie know each other instinctively.  I can’t explain it but I trusted this stranger.  He directed me to Don Ciccio in Montevideo.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

I showed up at the restaurant later that night.  I was greeted warmly by the owner.  I entered the exposed-brick dining area and it seemed like a real, homey place. I could smell the love being cooked.  I spied the wood fired oven, which is always a good sign but I remained suspect. Perusing the menu, the pie with eggplant and basil caught my eye.  I ordered, sat back and waited.  Could this place live up to the recommendation?  I had already tried countless pies in South America, none which I would dare call the best.

A stool was plunked down next to the table. The pie was placed on top. Eggplant was sliced wafer thin and sprinkled with chiffonades of basil.  I have a weakness for thin, crisp crusts. This crust cracked as I cut into the pie. I swooned.  I took the first bite and waited with bated breath.  This pizza was superior.  What made it stand out?  Real mozzarella cheese (as opposed to that big, white block of cheese that Argentina is so fond of), a balanced sauce that was not too acidic nor overly sweet) and the best part, a crust that cracked pleasingly with every bite.  I was in love.  Perfectly balanced and made with love.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

That’s not to say that this is the only place serving good pizza in Uruguay.  With all those Italian immigrants, there are plenty of good pies to be had.  Don Ciccio simply has the best. Okay, so I’ll come clean and admit that the ‘best’ of anything is a highly subjective matter but based on my years of pizza tasting, I can tell you that they get it right here.  But is it really the best on the continent?  What about neighboring countries also noted for having a large Italian influence in their food?  I’m looking at you Argentina.

True, Argentina has some damn fine pizza.  The slices are often thicker here and the dough softer and more chewy.  The bottom remains crisp.  Buenos Aires in particular is famous for a certain kind of pizza that has its origins in northern Italy, the fugazzeta.  This Argentine staple, found all throughout the capital city, gets piled (and I mean piled!) with onions, cheese and is free of tomato sauce.

It’s often served with a thick slice of fainá (known locally as ‘pizza a caballo’ and remember, if you are in Argentina, you pronounce it ca-ba-sho).  Fainá is made from chickpea flour, water and olive oil and then it gets pan-fried in the same shape as the pizza and served on top.  Crunchy on the outside and moist inside, it matches perfectly (both texturally and flavor-wise) with the fugazzeta. The best spots in Buenos Aires that I tried this unique pie are at El Cuartito and Pizza Guerrin.

Argentina and Uruguay both have long traditions in pizza making.  I stand by Don Ciccio as my choice for the best pizza on the continent but keep in mind, born and bred in NYC has made me partial to that thin crust. Argentina weighs in as a worthy contender and for that reason, you should try the pizzas there for yourself and compare.  After all, I am a firm believer that you can never eat too many pizzas.

Restaurant information:  Don Ciccio   Bonpland 507   Montevideo, Uruguay
Website :  http://www.donciccio.com.uy/

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

What Makes A Woman Sigh? Why, Dessert Of Course! or Anatomy Of A Suspiro De Limeña

By Joanna Marracelli

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

Only a poet has the authority to name a dessert after a woman’s sigh.  Due to its light and sweet characteristics, the suspiro de limeña was named for the sigh of a woman by poet Jose Galvez.  The woman in question was his wife, who created the recipe.  She must have been some hell of a woman because this dessert is as rich and sweet as they come.  Despite its decadence, it does manage to remain light and goes down (a little too) easy.

This dessert is the quintessential one for Lima, found for sale everywhere from street corners to upscale dining establishments.  It’s a favorite shared by grandmas to children to celebrity chefs.  The recipe has been in existence for about 200 years since when the kings ruled Lima. It was known simply as the ‘royal delight of Peru’.  Today, almost every limeña/o likes to indulge in this famous, sensual dessert.  It is very sweet and maybe not something for every day eating but I highly recommend spoiling yourself at least once to try this.

So what makes this dessert special?  Come, satisfy that sweet tooth and discover how this dessert is made.  Let’s take it apart.

Manjar Blanco 
The base of this dessert is the manjar blanco which is similar to dulce de leche but NOT the same thing.  To make the Peruvian version, simply combine a can of sweetened condensed milk with a can of evaporated milk over medium heat.  Sometimes some vanilla extract or a cinnamon stick is added for flavor.  It will begin to change color by darkening and getting thicker.

Egg Yolks
Next, you need to temper egg yolks in order to incorporate them into the milk mixture.  In this case, around three would suffice.  Simply add some of the warmed milk to the egg yolks and then slowly add them in.  You don’t want scrambled eggs here–you are trying to make custard–so heating it slow & low is key to making a good suspiro.  Once you can see the bottom of the pot while stirring, it’s ready.

Top with meringue
First, heat some port wine or a sweet sherry with some sugar to make a syrup. Let it cool. Whip up some egg whites until they have stiff peaks and then whip in the syrup.

To finish the dessert
Place the custard into small glass bowls and top with the meringue.  Chill in the fridge and sprinkle with cinnamon for serving.

A dessert as sexy as this should almost come with a rating!  I guarantee you will sigh with every bite, whether or not you are a woman.  Dig in and enjoy!

[photo: Wikipedia]

Fried And Gone To Heaven: The Brazilian Pastel, Empada, Coxinha, Bolinho, And Esfinha

By Mari Rodriguez

[photo: cookbrasil.com]

[photo: cookbrasil.com]

Take a look at five of our favorite Brazilian salgados (salty snacks) commonly found in shops, lanchonetes (informal eateries), and botecos (pubs).

Pastel
Made with a delicate, thin crust, these rectangular (sometimes half-circle-shaped) fritters are stuffed and fried until their crust turns slightly crunchy and bubbly outside. Common stuffing combinations include sautéed beef and aromatics with mozzarella cheese, and braised pulled chicken with catupiry cream cheese, while single-flavor pastéis are often stuffed with mozzarella, palm hearts, beef, chicken, or shrimp.

Empada
The name may fool those familiar with Argentine or Chilean empanadas—but Brazilian empadas are rather different. Made with very thick pastry dough, these are closer to a turnover. They’re shaped like a cupcake or small pie and inside hold creamy fillings with either chicken, shrimp, cheese, or palm hearts. These are messy, so use a fork!

Coxinha
With a distinct tear-drop shape, these stuffed fritters traditionally have either chicken or cod filling. The dough combines wheat flour with chicken stock for a buttery flavor. Before frying, coxinhas are quickly dipped in milk and dusted in flour, achieving a perfectly golden, crispy crust with a warm and velvety filling.

Bolinho
As their name suggests, these are small, ball-shaped fritters, and one could say they have become the more versatile salgado. Depending on the establishment, bolinhos can be made with wheat, corn or yucca flour, and even panko, then filled with cod, sausage, quail eggs, palm hearts, chicken, or shrimp, among many other possibilities. Whatever their flavor combination, one can never have just one of these bite-sized treats!

 Esfiha
Esfihas, esfirras, sfihas (all pronounced “es-fee-has”)—you will see these myriad spellings throughout. The esfiha particularly speaks to Brazil’s melting-pot culture: Middle Eastern in origin, esfihas as we know them now in Brazil were born in the immigrant communities of São Paulo. Resembling a calzone, esfihas consist of baked leavened bread filled with sautéed beef and aromatics like cinnamon and cumin, although variations include chicken and vegetarian fillings. Measuring about the size of a baseball, these make the perfect on-the-go meal for busy Paulistas.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

Uncovering The Afro-Peruvian Influence: Carapulcra And Sopa Seca

By Joanna Marracelli

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

[photo: Joanna Marracelli]

The gastronomy of Peru is one of the finest on the continent of South America.  There are a few reasons for this.  The diverse geography offers up an abundance of ingredients and there is a team of young, eager chefs with the ability to transform these elements into appetizing works of art for eager diners.  Also essential is the history of the food itself.  The different influences such as Japanese, Chinese, Italian and African have merged together to create one of the most significant cuisines today.

The area in the Chincha province of Peru (specifically the city of Chincha Alta), which is about 200 km south of Lima, is the heart of Afro-Peruvian culture.  Before the Incas, the Chinchas were a fierce, warrior-like tribe.  They believed they were descendents of the jaguar, hence the name ‘chincha’ (derived from the word for jaguar).  Later the Incas arrived and overtook the Chinchas. And then the Spanish conquistadors came along with Africans.  The culture and cuisine is said to be a fusion of all these influences.

El Carmen is one district in this area famed for its outstanding regional dishes.  Every February, the Verano Negro (black summer) festival happens here showcasing the best of the music, food and dance integral to the Afro-Peruvian culture.  Cajón drumming doles out Afro-Peruvian beats for the dancers and large pots of sopa seca & carapulcra are served up.  These two dishes serve as the backbone of Afro-Peruvian food and they are almost always served together.  Let’s take a look inside these unique creations.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

Carapulcra
This is a hearty stew-like dish with a varied list of ingredients producing complex flavors.  The key ingredients that make this dish so unique are the combination of pork, wine or pisco, a bit of chocolate, dehydrated potatoes (papa seca or chuño) and African flavors like peanuts with spices such as cinnamon, cloves & cumin.  The dehydrated potatoes were commonly used as a method for preserving the tubers for later use.  This way, they could be stored for a year or more.  Aji panca (Peruvian red pepper) is ground into a powder and lends the carapulcra a deep red color.  The ubiquitous aji Amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper) is also used. Aromatics like onions and garlic round the dish out.  Variations include the addition of beef and/or chicken.

Sopa Seca
Traditionally this is served alongside the carapulcra.  Sopa seca translates to ‘dry soup’.  Now, dry soup may not be on your list of top things to try and I have to admit, the name is off-putting.  But I assure you, this is just an ill-named, delicious pasta dish and serves as a perfect accompaniment to your carapulcra.  It’s basically made in the style of a soup/stew.

The pasta is added in and all of the liquid (and all its tasty flavors) get soaked into the pasta. A fine pasta is used, like a very thin spaghetti or vermicelli. The dish starts out with chicken cooked in oil.  Garlic, onions, grated carrots, aji panca & finely chopped basil are added to a broth with tomatoes.  Variations include adding raisins and/or olives.  Once the liquid is all soaked up and some of the pasta sticks to the bottom, it’s ready to serve.

For an authentic taste of Afro-Peruvian cuisine, don’t miss digging into these two hallmark dishes.

[photo: Mari Rodriguez]

Happy Hour: Brazilian Caipirinhas And Cachaça, Explained

By Mari Rodriguez

[photo: Mari Rodriguez]

[photo: Mari Rodriguez]

Come the weekend, crowds throughout Brazil—from cosmopolitan São Paulo, to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador—will gather around neighborhood bars to sip on beers and caipirinhas, a refreshing cachaça cocktail beloved throughout the country. Tangy and sweet, caipirinhas can pack a punch, making it a favorite for blowing off steam at the end of the week.

Caipirinhas are now popping up in many cocktail menus throughout the United States. But what makes an authentic caipirinha is cachaça: a Brazilian liquor made using sugar cane juice. Colloquially known as “pinga” (“peenga”), cachaça has grown from a historically cheap, domestically made liquor to a multimillion-dollar industry, although an increasing number of artisanal brands are also quickly emerging, like the renowned Vale Verde, Magnífica Soleira, Boazinha, and Leblon Signature.

Ranging between 38 and 54% alcohol per volume, one could say cachaça is a cousin of rum—but while rum is made using molasses, giving it its distinctive sweet flavor, cachaça’s distillation process with fermented sugar cane juice gives it a strong and fiery taste in the back of the throat and a slight aftertaste of anise. Like all liquors, cachaça’s flavors vary widely depending on their distilling and aging processes, including the Brazilian woods used for aging barrels, which range from oak to jequitibá, to balsam, umburana, ariribá, and ipé. But in general, unaged (often labeled “sweet”) cachaça will have a more pungent feel and taste than the more complex aged cachaças. In fact, aged cachaças, including industrially made and widely available ones like Seleta, are meant for sipping as a “dose” (“daw-say”), a small shot glass. Unaged cachaças are instead used for drinks like caipirinhas.

[photo: Flickr]

[photo: Flickr]

 This weekend, taste cachaça for yourself and try making your own traditional caipirinha! More and more cachaça brands are available internationally, so chances are your local fine liquor store will carry some. Cut a large lime or two small limes into small wedges, and place them in a tumbler or small glass. Mix in two teaspoons of white sugar, and muddle the sugar and lime wedges until their juice turns into a syrupy paste. Add 2 oz. of cachaça, and top generously with ice. Stir and serve. For a popular variation, take a passion fruit and cut it in half, scoop its flesh and seeds into a glass, add the sugar, cachaça and ice, and stir. Saúde!

[photo: Ibotirama 2004 / Facebook]

Understanding Brazilian Boteco Culture

By Mari Rodriguez

[photo: Belmonte / Facebook]

[photo: Belmonte / Facebook]

Lifeblood of Brazilian social life, botecos dot almost every city corner. Informal and unpretentious, these pubs specialize in cold beer and warm fritters. Botecos, a contraction of the word “botequim” (tavern), originally began as dry goods stores where people could also enjoy a refreshing beverage before going on with their day. Today they’ve evolved to a purely social space for all generations, open day and night for either a quick drink or coffee, or for groups socializing over snacks and a few cold beers.

At a boteco, expect to have light, pilsner-type beers like Antartica, Bohemia, Brahma, Itaipava, Original, or Skol. With the artisanal beer craze on the rise here more botecos are expanding their offerings, but these traditional establishments mostly stick to the tried-and-true light beers that sit just right in hot and humid weather.

Botecos have an interesting system that may confuse out-of-towners at first. First, you are given a slip of paper for waiters to keep track of your orders. Then, there are two ways to enjoy beer. Many places offer chopp (“shop-ee”), or draft, beer served in short tumbler glasses. More common, however, is to share 600ml bottles of your favorite beer, which are placed in a camizinha (“ka-me-zeenia”), or what essentially is a hard-plastic coozie, and served with small, 6-8oz glasses. Talking and pouring for your friends as you go along (never pour yourself first!): this is truly the heart of boteco drinking. It’s also an ingenious way to relieve the bar staff, as groups order several bottles and serve themselves, rather than having to order individual 12oz bottles at the bar. In fact, boteco crowds almost always spill over to the surrounding sidewalk, and groups freely order their bottles from passing waiters without having to brave any lines. When you’re ready to leave, a waiter tallies the markings on your slip of paper and generates your tab. Undoubtedly, this easy system has contributed to the perfectly relaxed ambiance of botecos.

What about boteco eats? Although their menus include main dishes, the true stars of botecos are savory, tapas-style plates to share, like crispy yucca fries, empadas (creamy stuffed pastries with cheese, fish, meat or palm hearts), coxinhas de bacalhau (fried dough puffs stuffed with velvety cod), or lingüiça (juicy pieces of sausage). Order a few porções, or portions, of these for a casual snack or dinner.

As we said, botecos are everywhere, but here’s some of our favorites in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to kick-start your foray into boteco culture:

Rio de Janeiro

Academia da Cachaça, Leblon

Armazém São Thiago (Bar do Gomez), Santa Teresa

Bar do Mineiro, Santa Teresa

Boteco Belmonte, Flamengo, Copacabana, Jardim Botânico

Jobi, Leblon

 

São Paulo

Bar Léo, Centro

Ibotirama, Baixa Augusta

Mercearia São Pedro, Vila Madalena

São Cristóvão, Vila Madalena

Veloso, Vila Mariana

[image: Anna Virkama de Cabrejos / Como Sur]

Anatomy Of A Ceviche

By Anna Virkama de Cabrejos

What does it take to prepare a fresh and delicious Peruvian ceviche (also known as cebiche)?

[image: Anna Virkama de Cabrejos / Como Sur]

[image: Anna Virkama de Cabrejos / Como Sur]

Ceviche is basically raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice and seasoned with chile (ají) and red onions. But as there are many variations to the basic recipe, let’s take a  step by step look at how a good ceviche is made.

Step One: Fresh fish (or seafood)
Freshness is really the key, as this dish is made with raw fish. Using not-so-fresh fish will not only taste bad, but it can make you sick. It is safest to use fish bought on the same day. Do not use frozen fish under any circumstances!  In Peru, ceviche is made with white fish: lenguado (sole) is ideal, but you can also choose to use corvina, for example.. Whatever fish you choose to use, make sure to wash it well and then chop it in small, cubes (about two fingers wide on each side).

You can use only fish in your ceviche, or add some seafood (this is called ceviche mixto) such as calamari, shrimps or shellfish. You can also skip the fish and prepare a ceviche with seafood only.  For example, try a ceviche of conchas negras, ceviche made of mussels -a Northern Peruvian speciality. This plate has a strong ocean flavor and mussels are known as powerful aphrodisiacs.

Once you have your fish and/or seafood ready, place the pieces in a steel bowl.

Step Two: Onion
In Peru, red onion is used for ceviche. Cut the onion in halves, peel it and then slice it in thin slices (julienne). Place the onion in a bowl with cold water and ice for about 10 minutes to obtain a crisp texture. After that, you can add pat it dry and add it with the fish. Add a pinch of salt.

Step Three: Ají
Peruvian ceviche needs to be spicy, so add some ají limo chile to the fish and onions. Remove the seeds of one ají (or more if you really want it to be spicy, but be careful!) and chop it in tiny pieces. Add the chiles into the fish/seafood mix.

Step Four: Lime Juice
But not whatever lime, no no. The ceviche experts say that the ones from Chulucanas (Piura region) are the best. For Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, the best ones and the most suitable for ceviche, come from Tambogrande. However, if you cannot find Northern Peruvian limes, just use any type of limes and squeeze them over the fish. Cut the lime first in two halves and remove the seeds, then again in halves and squeeze some juice into your ceviche. Do not try to squeeze it dry, as the last drops of the juice tend to be bitter.

Now that you have your ceviche marinating in lime juice, you can boil some sweet potato, choclo, or even some yucca to serve with it.  On the Northern Peruvian coast, ceviche is served with white beans.  In 20 minutes, the ceviche will be ready to serve. To decorate the plate, sprinkle with some freshly chopped coriander or seaweed.

Concha Negra Ceviche with White Beans

Concha Negra Ceviche with White Beans

The last thing to add are canchitas, corn snacks that are like pop corn in its pre-popped state. You can snack on them apart or mix them in the plate to absorb some of the leche de tigre–Tiger’s milk, as the spicy marinade of ceviche is known. Leche de tigre is an integral part of the plate, so don’t waste it but drink it! It is sometimes served as a separate dish. Peruvians believe it to be a very energetic potion that will give you the energy of a tiger.

One last thing to remember: ceviche is eaten with a spoon. Provecho!