"It's not much but it's ours"

Monday, September 01, 2008


I should get this out of the way.

On my recent trip, I had a bleeding awful time in Brazil. I was pinned to a wall by a gun toting airport security guard, I was bitten to buggery by bed bugs in my Salvador guesthouse, I had three attempts to pick my pocket within hours of arriving and, as I tried to fit in one last meal of Sushi in Sao Paolo’s huge Japanese enclave, I was deposited instead at a dingy shopping centre half an hour from the airport. As my plane took off for San Francisco, I leant over my fellow passenger and gave Brazil an internationally recognised finger extension through the window.

Nearly a year later and the horrific memories have faded somewhat and, with promises from my Brazilian friends that they would accompany me next time, I have even pondered on adding Brazil to my future travel plans. Top amongst these friends is my dear chum, Claudia who, when she heard about my adventures put her head in her hands for a good ten minutes. I hoped it was out of shame for her countrymen’s behaviour, but when I heard the slow sobs escaping between her fingers, I realised it was because she was actually laughing her tits off. Never mind.

Which brings us to today’s lunch at Raizes, a café in the Hackney Road, already a hub of the Capital’s ever expanding Brazilian community. Claudia eats there every week and thought it was a good venue for me to treat her to a little birthday lunch. The menu is lengthy with snacks, small plates and huge main course portions to be washed down with cocktails, fresh juices and imported Brazilian beers.

Starter plates of Bolinho de Bacalhau and Coxinha are evidence of Brazil’s Portuguese heritage and were too much for us to finish in anticipation of large main courses. Claudia thought that they had probably been brought in from outside rather than made in house. A plate of Mandioca Frita, deep fried cassava merely confirmed my thoughts when presented with a plate of cassava chips during a recent meal at The Modern Pantry. There are few things you can do with cassava. Deep-frying is not one of them.

Main courses were substantial and much better. Claudia’s Feijoada was a good example of the classic slave stew, plumped out with large chunks of pork, sausage and black beans in a sauce deeply flavoured with garlic. The ferofa, more cassava, had been fried with more garlic and onions, but tasted stale.

My own main course was another challenging plateful of meat, this time rib-eye of beef cooked down with, yep, you guessed it, cassava. Although the meat was a little chewy, it repaid the effort by releasing good beefy juices, which I mixed with boiled rice to good effect.

The highlight of the meal came in the form of freshly made juices and from a wide list we chose glasses of cashew nut, passion fruit and cupuacu, all excellent and bringing the bill to £30 including tip, which is not over the top considering that supper is now a physical impossibility.

Like the country, there is little finesse to Brazilian food and, also like the country, it is not that lovely to look at ( at least what I saw of it) but, it is hearty and generous and, particularly in the company of someone like Claudia, I might just be tempted to give them both another go.

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