Pasteis de Belem

If there’s one thing I absolutely had to try before I left Portugal, it was the mother of all Portuguese tarts. These ones are so special that they’re not even known as Pasteis de Nata, but as Pasteis de Belem. When things are hyped, I tend to be skeptical but it was something I needed to try. It was the original tart before Pasteis de Natas were born.

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Pasteis de Belem

The Pasteis de Belem is one of the biggest secrets of Lisbon and only one guy knows the full recipe. Although every person tells the tale a little differently, I was informed that only three people know the recipe for these delicious tarts – and by three, I mean each individual only knows their part of the recipe and they don’t even know who the other two individuals are before it is combined in the bakery. The rumour is these individuals can’t even reveal their third of the recipe to anyone because they will be prosecuted. And with good reason! Nobody else is able to duplicate these delicious tarts. The closest that any recipe has ever come to duplicating it is the Pasteis de Nata.

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The making of Pasteis de Belem

Even though the Pasteis de Nata and the Pasteis de Belem look the same, there are some differences. There may be debates about which one is better, but I personally fell in love with the Belem one. It’s creamier, smoother, and it probably helps that I ate one (which ended up being two in one sitting) that came fresh out of the oven.

Well, not straight out of the oven because apparently it needs to cool down a bit to stabilize or it will disintegrate. It has a milky cream filling with a crispy, flaky pastry. I found that the Pasteis de Belem aren’t as sweet as the Pasteis de Nata either. This is not to say I didn’t try the Pasteis de Nata while in Lisbon. I ate it at a place that was highly recommended by a guide who preferred the Nata over the Belem tarts.

Pasteis_de_Nata

Pasteis de Nata

However, I still preferred the Pasteis de Belem version. They were so much better. Locals say it’s best to add cinnamon and powdered sugar on top to enhance the flavours. All I can say is taking a bite into a Pasteis de Belem is like taking a bite of heaven.

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Optional: cinnamon and sugar

Be forewarned though, if you decide to visit this bakery it is always packed with people (even for takeout).

Line ups

Crazy line ups all times of the day, every day of the week!

There are 400 seats in the bakery, but almost every table is always full. You essentially have to stalk tables like a parking spot during Boxing Day or Black Friday at a mall. However, it’s worth it to enjoy a delicious Pasteis de Belem with a cup of tea or coffee. They also have other good eats as well! 🙂

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A Portuguese Tea Factory

“A woman is like a teabag – only in hot water do you realize how strong she is” – Nancy Reagan.

Tea

I found that quote interesting. And the subject of tea just so happens to be in relation to my visit to a tea factory in Portugal.

Tea_Field

Tea Field

When I was in the Azores, I got to see the only commercialized tea producer, ChĂ  Gorrena. The other one, Porto Fermoso, is non-commercialized and the owner apparently only does it for fun. It must be nice to have such hobbies, let alone the time to do it!

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Cha Gorreana

Tea appeared in Portugal when some people brought seeds from Brazil and planted them. At first, the Portuguese didn’t know how to properly cultivate them so they were having a lot of trouble growing the plants. Thankfully, due to some Portuguese ties with Macau (an island not too far from Hong Kong that was colonized by the Portuguese), they were able to fly in some “tea experts” to teach them how to grow the plants and that’s when tea started to take off in Portugal.

Tea_Plant

Tea Plant

While I have seen tea fields before, I never knew that one plant could produce several types of teas. The top leaf of this particular plant produces orange pekoe, the second is just pekoe, and the third is broken leaf tea used to make iced tea.

Tea_diagram

Tea diagram

To gather the leaves, workers manually pluck them off of metre high bushes. It takes seven years for these bushes to grow before you can even use them for tea.

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Tea field of ChĂ  Gorreana

I can’t fully recall the full process, but the general idea is they separate the leaves, mix them with steam to avoid oxidation, dry them, and then make tea with them.

Back in the day with the older machinery,  only 60 teabags were produced per hour. With the newer technology that they use now, it has doubled production, making it 120 teabags per hour now.

I don’t know about you, but I love tea and this tour was enlightening. Now I have to add tea picking to my bucket list. Perhaps in my next visit to China. 🙂

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.

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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.

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Pineapple greenhouse – baby pineapples sprouting

This greenhouse used bamboo sticks to keep the plants straight.

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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. 🙂

Bacalhau Ă  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 Ă  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 Ă  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 Ă  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?

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.

 

Medovik – Honey Cake

There are only a handful of things I know about Russia – those fuzzy hats, Russian dolls, the capital is Moscow, Saint Basil’s Cathedral (I’m not going to lie, I had to Google the name of that colourful masterpiece) and the word “dah”. Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I went to a flea market and randomly stumbled upon something called Medovik in the food court, which is also known as “honey cake”. Sounds good already, right?

In addition to classifying medovik as a delicious Russian dessert, it is also a layered cake. The number of layers differ from recipe to recipe, but I’m going to assume more layers are added to make it appear more grand. It’s not your typical spongy cake, but rather layered with soft, flaky pastry/biscuit-like discs and in between those is a sweet, whipped cream filling. To give it texture, it is coated with roasted and chopped walnuts.

While the lady that made it was actually from Kazakhstan, I would like to think the one I had was pretty authentic given that the two countries are neighbours. She said that it’s a simple cake made with honey, eggs, walnuts, condensed milk, sugar, whipping cream and butter. However, given all the layers I would think she was being modest. There is also another Russian layered cake called smetannik, but it uses sour cream instead of condensed milk (also conveniently known as a sour cream cake). That might be a better option for those who want to reduce the sweetness in their desserts, not that medovic is sickningly sweet in any way! It’s just perfect.

If you have never tried medovik, I highly encourage you to look out for it. Wikipedia claims that the origins of this cake stems from a chef trying to impress an empress, so you know some thought was put into this. Whether it worked or not, I can’t confirm but I was personally seduced by the delicious, creamy layers of this cake. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the best cakes I have ever had. Have you ever tried a slice of medovik?

NĂŁo Falo Bem PortuguĂŞs (Updates)

Back in February on my blogiversary, I made an announcement that I would stop blogging on a daily basis to focus on my plans to take time away from work to study abroad and travel the world. I had full intention to leave by fall (papers were approved and everything), but a new opportunity came up that I couldn’t refuse. Despite this little setback, I still plan on going but will be delaying my leave until early 2018. I’m disappointed about this, but it will at least give me more time to figure things out. Planning is a looooooooong and tedious process! So, you might be wondering what is the relation between this announcement and the picture of delicious pastries and tarts below?

I am an avid traveller. I have been going stir-crazy and need to get away. The last time I took a trip was in the fall. Suffice it to say, even though my leave will be a littler further away than I had originally planned, I am filling the void by going to Portugal for a few weeks. Flights and accommodation are already booked, but if you have any recommendations on what to see, do or eat (of course), I am more than happy to hear your suggestions!

Another update – it took me a R-E-AL-L-Y long time to go through all 365+ postings but I did it! I re-tagged and re-categorized all of them. You will now notice that I have more menu options on my front page to make it easier to navigate and find things. And if there’s one thing I learned from doing this exercise, it’s that I’m lacking in many areas so I’m going to try and focus more on those. Any constructive feedback on my blog is also appreciated. Happy blogging! 🙂