Pineapples in the Azores

Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?….Sponge Bob Square Pants! I know. Very random, but I’m bringing up the topic of pineapples because I’ve never seen a pineapple plantation. Fortunately, being on the lovely island of Sao Miguel in the Azores (Portugal), I got the chance to see one.

Pineapple Plantation Sign

Welcome sign at a pineapple plantation in the Azores

For some reason, I just assumed pineapples grew on trees but (surprise!) they don’t. On Sao Miguel, they are world renown for their pineapples and they grow them in little greenhouses around the island. Each greenhouse at this plantation showed the pineapples at a different stage of growth, which I thought was pretty neat to see.

Pineapple_greenhouse

The beginning stages of a pineapple – babies leaves sprouting

The stalks are tough, thick leaves. They eventually form the deliciously juicy fruit we all know and love in the center.

Pineapple_greenhouse

Pineapple greenhouse – baby pineapples sprouting

This greenhouse used bamboo sticks to keep the plants straight.

IMG_3126

Bamboo shoots help keep them straight

When we were done observing the plantation, we went into the store where they let us sample some pineapple liquor. I can’t say I loved the burning sensation of the alcohol going down my throat, but I did love the pineapple taste. I think it would be really good to mix into a tropical flavoured cocktail drink!

Pineapple_liquor

Pineapple liquor

Pineapples are so famous on the Azores for their natural sweetness that they even sell them at the airport as souvenirs! If I recall correctly, they were 7€ each.

Pineapples_Airport

Pineapples are sold at the airport

How about them (pine) apples? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’ll go back into into my cave now. Until next time. 🙂

Bayou Gator with Shrimp Po’Boy

I ate alligator. It tastes like chicken, they said. It looks like chicken, they said. Not that it would scare me to eat an alligator, but my take?

Bayou Gator with Shrimp Po’Boy

It literally does look and taste like chicken. The meat seems to be similar to dark meat and it’s a lot tougher than chicken. Oddly, I found that there was some light fishiness to it. I guess you are what you eat?

Gator, anyone?

It’s a southern style influenced dish and I thought it was pretty good. Apparently alligator can come in three types of meat:

  • Tender, white, veal-like tail meat
  • Pinkish body meat (stronger flavours and tougher texture)
  • Dark tail meat (super tough and only good for braising)

The gator I had was battered and mixed with spices and shrimp, so it was crispy and placed into a French baguette – Po’Boy style. Given the toughness of the meat, I’m going to assume it was the “pinkish body meat”. It also came with a bucket of French fries and a side of spicy mayo sauce, which helped enhance the flavours.

Years ago, I discovered a Louisiana restaurant that sold alligator but they never actually had any in stock. When I discovered it at this restaurant, I was happy to order it and be able to finally check it off my bucket list of foods to try! But (!) I would order it again, too. 🙂

Bacalhau à Bras and Takeout

I was never a huge fan of fish. Sure, I love eating salmon, sushi and sashimi, but eating plain white fish never really appealed to me unless it was battered and deep fried with a side of chips. However, Portugal is all about seafood and they love something called bacalhau, which is dried salt codfish.

They use bacalhau in all sorts of dishes and one of the first ones I discovered when I was in Portgual is called bacalhau à bras (sometimes spelled as “braz”). I wasn’t really sure what I was going to end up with and was worried when the server said what I interpreted as “pan fried fish with potatoes”, but thankfully it was much better than I anticipated! Rather than just a plain fish dish, I discovered that bacalhau à bras is a rice dish mixed with shredded bacalhau, onions, matchstick potatoes, olives, and egg. Sometimes it’s sprinkled with parsley (see next picture) and comes with a light salad of lettuce and tomato (this one had an additional ingredient – cabbage).

It was like a fried rice, only with Portugal’s beloved fish and potatoes. The dish was quite heavy since it was full of carbs and protein, but I instantly fell in love with it. It wasn’t too salty, it had multiple textures and it tasted absolutely delicious. So much that I had it several times while I was there and it felt very much like a comfort food. And truthfully, the ingredients mix so naturally well together that there aren’t many spices added to the dish.

The only thing to determine when you eat bacalhau à bras is whether the establishment cleaned out all the bones from the fish. The last thing you want to do is choke!

As a random side note, I found it interesting that the Portuguese culture doesn’t really support the “takeout” lifestyle that we have in North America. I was stuffed to the brim eating this lovely dish and wanted to take the remainder back to my hotel, but first I had to overcome the very confusing conversation (again, language barrier) with the server when he said I would have to pay extra to do so. Not only that, but they didn’t have any plastic cutlery. I hypothesize this lack of takeout culture in Portugal exists for several reasons: 1) They don’t condone eating alone and see mealtime as a way of being social and interacting with friends and family. So if you go to a restaurant, you sit and eat at the restaurant. 2) They are really good at keeping their country clean, so reducing or eliminating the ideology of takeout containers and utensils helps with the preservation. After concluding this, I actually think it’s a good thing. Why don’t we do that over here?

Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

Canada150

Today marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canada, aka Canada Day or Canada’s 150th birthday! There are many festivities occurring all over the country, including parades, fireworks and festivals, but I’m sure there are many throwing their own personal celebrations too!

Whether it be a BBQ or picnic (crossing my fingers the weather pans out) or just hanging out, it’s going to be a memorable occasion for many Canadians! If you plan to throw a party (or need an idea for a potluck), here are some Canadian food ideas and themes:

  • Host a red and white themed party with goodies like red velvet cake, pasta (there are even ones in the shape of maple leafs!) and crab salad
  • Have a Canadian wine and cheese gathering
  • Maple themed dishes – baked goods, glazed meats, chocolates, etc.
  • For the dessert lovers, butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, red and white jello, Timbitsice wine
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Canadian beer
  • Ketchup chips
  • Bacon! bacon! bacon!

For anyone looking for celebrations around Ontario, here’s a grand list of celebrations happening all over the province.

Happy Canada Day!

Azorean Style Corn

When I was in the Azores (Portugal), my guide said that there was something special about the corn there. While I gave a dozen guesses, I couldn’t figure it out. The suspense! I found cooking an Azorean Cozido pretty neat, so I was anticipating on the secrets of this Azorean corn. Eventually, he brought me to this location.

It’s a hot spring called a “caldeira”, which is Portugese for “boiler” and it is naturally heated by active volcanoes. At first it was a bit of a head scratcher why he brought me here because half a day elapsed after the corn topic, but do you see the connection?

Azorean style corn is basically the way they cook it! They take corn, throw it into bags and cook it in the boiling mineral water! The result after an hour of boiling is some super soft and sweet corn on the cob. Even the birds love it (if you’re so kind enough to spare them some kernels :)). 

Mineral water is full of iron. Only a limited number of people are licensed to cook the corn like this on the Azores and sell them on the street. It was very enjoyable and steaming hot! Interestingly enough, my guide led us to the source of the water (a colder version) that was drinkable. Mineral water full of iron? When in Rome…..or the Azores in this case. 

Taking a sip from the first pipe, I wasn’t a huge fan. He suggested I try the second one, which contained more minerals. Let’s just say when I took a sip I felt like I licked a metal pipe and gagged. Oddly, it was naturally carbonated and is apparently good for digestion!  No regrets! And upon my random stumbles, look what I found:

It’s not what I thought it meant though. My guide said it meant narrow grotto or something along those lines. Oh well. 🙂

The Azorean Cozido – An Island Dish

Travelling around the world, I can discover dishes that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. While I’m lucky to be living in the diverse nation of Canada which grants me access to plenty of culinary delights, there are still so many dishes out there to discover. Recently, I was in Sao Miguel in the Azores, Portugal. It’s a beautiful island and also the biggest of the nine.

There were lots of things to see on the island, but what I was highly anticipating during this tour was a dish they specialize in called cozido. It’s a dish that is cooked underground with the help of heat from active volcanoes.

The size of the pot depends on amount of food you want to cook. They just add the ingredients into the pot and place a lid on with a cloth tied on top. The pan is lowered about 1 1/2 metres underground with a wooden cover and dirt is put on top of it, leaving a small mound on top to seal the hole (and probably help point out where it is).

The pot stays on average between 6 1/2-7 hours underground during the cooking process. You can say it’s like the original version of a slow cooker. So what exactly are the ingredients of a typical Azorean cozido?

A cozido consists of different meats like chicken, pork and beef. In addition, there is a range of vegetables, like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, cabbage, onions (it cooks so long it just melts into the dish) and a local vegetable called inhames that looks and tastes similar to a taro root (it’s also known as “elephant ears”). The dish also includes chorizo pork sausage and blood pudding sausage and is seasoned with salt and red pepper paste. Restaurants just take a few pieces of everything from the pot and plate it for diners to enjoy with a plate of rice.

Interestingly enough, no liquid is added into the pot during the cooking process. However, because of the fresh and natural juices from the ingredients, a beautiful broth is created. Most restaurants don’t offer this broth because the amount extracted from all the meats and veggies is limited, but I was fortunate my guide knows the secrets of a cozido.

The soupy broth can be placed on top of the meats, vegetables and rice and is a tasty addition to the meal. In the event you try a cozido yourself, you can ask for this broth if you call the restaurant ahead to reserve it. It’s quite the journey to learn how a cozido is made, let alone seeing where it is cooked and then having the dish plated in front of you. This style of cooking is simply done with the help of mother nature, but it’s a delicious experience too!

How Italian is it?

It seems like a lot of things we associate with Italian food seems “authentic”, but I came across an article that dispels many of these myths. I’m not going to lie, I was shocked at some of these discoveries.

Penne alla vodka – Not Italian

I love this dish! You can’t go wrong with pasta and a tomato-based sauce. It’s a little cloudy when it comes to the origins of this dish, but some say New York (U.S.A) and others say Italy. However, Italians rarely cooked with vodka or cream which leads me to believe it was an American creation.

Bruschetta – Oh yes, it’s Italian. 

Yummers! The delicious appetizer of crusty bread with a spread of olive oil, garlic, spices and tomatoes (that’s how I know it, anyway)…You can bet it’s Italian! They say many farm workers from Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria enjoyed eating toasted bread with garlic cloves and olive oil, especially after the olive harvest. Plus it’s simple and easy to make after a long day’s work.

Shrimp scampi – Noooooope

Scampi means “langoustine” or refers to small lobster-like crustaceans in Italian, which are often boiled or grilled. Italian immigrants couldn’t get these in the U.S., so they used shrimp instead. That said, it’s apparently not Italiano but it’s pretty close.

Eggplant parmesan – Yes

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but when I eat eggplant it’s eggplant parmesan! This dish originates back to the 1800s in Naples, the Campanian countryside, Sicily and Calabria where eggplant is grown. It is believed that the word is derived from palmigiana, Sicilian for “shutters” because layered eggplant ressembles this.

Veal parmesan – Nuh uh

Eggplant parmesan is authentic, but veal parmesan is an American creation. It has to do with the immigration of Italians into the U.S., who started swapping veal for eggplant. Why? Coz meat!

Fettuccine alfredo – No Italian 

I knew from my experience in Italy that this was definitely NOT an authentic dish. I ordered it hoping it would be one or the best things I ever tasted but it was weird and came with peas. Plus I discovered that it’s an American creation based off of the Roman restauranteur, Alfredo di Lelio, who originally used buttered pasta with parmesan for this dish.

Source | Food Network Magazine February 2017

Word of the Day: Confit

I went to a friend’s birthday lunch recently where there was an option on the menu for confit potato wedges. Confit is often known as duck cooked in its own fat (better known as confit de canard), but the interesting question that was raised was is it always duck?

The answer is no. Although it is the most common type of confit, it can also be prepared with other types of meat like pork or goose. It is a French style of cooking that was originally meant to help preserve food (with the help of salt), but it also adds extra flavour and helps tenderize meat. That would explain why that morsel of duck, which is normally a tough meat, becomes soft and melts in your mouth. Even less known is probably confit made with fruits and vegetables, though I personally don’t know if I would consider that a confit.

 

Damascene Food

It’s interesting how different cultures can shape a society. Being in Canada, we are so diverse that I think it has made us more understanding about others. Most recently, we’ve had many Syrian refugees come to Canada. Other than all the tragedy that the media exposes about Syria, I’m not sure many people know much more than that. What was life like in Syria before the war? What did it look like? And without trying to be insensitive, what is Syrian food? I ponder this because despite the destruction and warfare happening, I would like to think food is a form of comfort for many. It can remind of us our childhood, be associated with happy events or even be a form of enjoyment. For those who have escaped Syria to be free from all the warfare, I can only hope that there is at least this one mutual comfort that they can have with them.

Thus, it is to no shock that many Syrian restaurants have started appearing. I found one recently that identified themselves as Damascene. If I didn’t look this up, I wouldn’t have even known it was Syrian. It is based on the name of the Syrian capital, Damascus, which is argued to be one of the oldest cities in the world.

This particular restaurant was beautiful, with colourful walls embellished with tiles and pictures and a lovely fountain in the middle. We sat beside the window where the baker made the bread. It was such an interesting sight. He would flatten the dough and put it into this huge fire oven, in which the dough would suddenly pouf up into a ball. When we got our bread, it was steaming hot (literally fresh out of the oven). Unlike your typical Indian style naan or pita bread, the Syrian bread was quite thick and had a nice, chewy texture. It could have been used as a pocket to stuff food into (like a wrap), but it was really good on its own too.

Like many Middle Eastern restaurants, they served shawarma which is meat that has been marinated and cooked on a vertical spit and grilled. We specifically tried the chicken shawarma and all I can say it was juicy and delicious! It came with a pita, side of pickles, pickled beets, green chiles (which I stayed faaaaaar away from) and a side of delicious rice adorned with cashews.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s flavoured rice. The nuts gave it a crunchy texture and the rice tasted so buttery. Yum! And no visit is complete to a Middle Eastern restaurant without some kebabs. We got a combo that came with one beef kebab and one shish tawook skewer. It also came with a side of rice, pita, and chiles, but interestingly enough they served it with a grilled half of an onion and a grilled half of a tomato. It was topped with a piece of pita that slightly resembled a pizza as well, with tomato sauce, onion and parsley (no cheese…though that’s probably a good thing in this case).

Unfortunately, the meal was so filling that we didn’t have any space for dessert. However, I did spot some visitors having tea and other beautiful dishes. Perhaps next time. I don’t know if it will ever be safe in my lifetime to visit a country such as Syria, but if this restaurant was a glimpse of what it would have been like before all the warfare, I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would’ve been in person. I absolutely hate politics, but if there’s one thing that I know, it’s that war doesn’t resolve anything.

Roman Zaman

325 Central Pkwy W #8
Mississauga, Ontario L5B 3X9
Canada
Telephone: 905-276-0101

A Kamayan Feast – Not Your Average Dining Experience

They always say never play with your food, but I beg to differ because what they also say is food tastes better when you use your hands. In the Philippines, they have something called kamayan. “Kamay” means hands in Tagalog, so kamayan roughly translates as “eating with hands”. However, some also know this style of eating as a “boodle fight” (sometimes spelled “budol”) though this concept is a bit different. From what I gather, a boodle fight is where you literally fight to eat as much food as you can before it runs out (or perhaps a fight to stop yourself from eating so much…the struggle is real). Ironically, this term is apparently derived from the military but the feast is a form of camaraderie as opposed to just a battle.

The concept of a kamayan style meal is pretty simple. Tables are lined with sheets of banana leaves and various types of dishes are spread across on top for everyone to share. An authentic kamayan meal traditionally has lots of seafood and rice, which is no shock seeing as the Philippines is a country that loves rice and is surrounded by water (read: seafood :)). The restaurant offered the following set menu:

  • Inihaw skewer BBQ pork: Inihaw means grilled. The pork we ate had a sweet marinade that was full of smokey flavours. This was absolutely delicious and probably one of my favourites on the table.
  • Inihaw na liempo with atchara: This dish is grilled pork belly (liempo). It was accompanied with pickled papaya (atchara), which is meant to cleanse your palate and was quite refreshing to eat. It also came with cane vinegar, which is used to cut out the oiliness/greasiness.
  • Longanisa: They originally had mussels on the menu, but I asked to swap for these delicious little sausages because I love them so much. We couldn’t do a Filipino meal without longanisa!
  • Grilled shrimp: Naturally sweet and succulent crustaceans with shell and all!
  • Grilled squid: Although we are typically more familiar with larger sized calamari in the western world, Filipinos like to eat the smaller kind. It was a bit strange for us non-Filipinos because the insides weren’t cleaned out, so there was a gooey substance that popped out. However, I was told that this is the typical way of preparing squid in the Philippines.
  • Grilled tilapia: This fish was cooked in a banana leaf, so it came out very moist.
  • Grilled bangus: This is also known as milk fish and it is the national fish of the Philippines. The version we had was topped with tomatoes and onions. Just be careful because it tends to have a lot of bones.
  • Okra: Usually the sliminess of okra is a turnoff for many, but these were cooked perfectly – plain and simple.
  • Talong: This is eggplant in Tagalog. It was grilled, which made it super mushy and stringy. It was a bit strange for me to eat it plain like that and it was also slimy.
  • Lumpia: You can’t go wrong with these rolls. They are pork egg rolls that were deep fried into a crispy, golden-brown and stuffed with veggies. Yum!
  • A fruit mixture of mango and tomato cubes: Who doesn’t like something fresh to go along with their meal? The mangoes and tomatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
  • Steamed rice: No Filipino meal is complete without some plain white rice to accompany it!
  • Bagoong: This is a shrimp paste condiment. I was blown away by the strong, salty flavours and amazed at how it made everything it touched super tasty. It definitely kicks your plain rice up several notches and it can be easily found in the Asian section of a grocery store.

I remember having a Filipino classmate back in high school that taught me a few phrases of Tagalog and the only one that stuck with me was this: “busog na ako”, which translates as “I am full”. All I can say was after this kamayan feast, busog na ako!!! I really enjoyed the experience. It was unique and different from your typical fine dining restaurant outing. Based on some of my Filipino friends, they said the table should have been overflowing with food to the point where you basically don’t see the table. However, being in a western country the restaurant owner informed me that they spaced out the meal like this for “sanitary” purposes since we use our hands to eat as opposed to the traditional Filipino way of kutsara’t tinidor (fork and spoon). I personally think it’s an economical decision as well because there would be a lot of leftovers and it would be ridiculously costly and wasteful for a restaurant to fill a table to the brim. However, preparing a feast like this at home with friends and family might be another story.

As a side note, to the shock of the restaurant staff we were a big diverse group. They cooked the meal believing that they were catering to a homogeneous group of Filipinos, so it was a more authentic experience. I’m glad because I would rather have that than some westernized version.

Although I know many cultures use banana leaves as platters for their food, I only recently found out about something called sadhya. I guess I’ll have to try and find a place that does this now. 🙂