Portugal and Brazil. Cod and bobó. Wine and caipirinha. Chef José Avillez welcomes chef Kátia Barbosa to the Portuguese capital and takes her on a tour of his favourite places.
Rio de Janeiro, 2014. Incognito, José Avillez is in the city’s Zona Norte seeking out the best culinary secrets around Praça da Bandeira. In no rush but hungry, he tries a feijoada (bean stew), a famous feijoada fritter, and shares a moqueca (casserole dish). Three years later, he returns, this time accompanied by big names from the international food scene, such as Catalan chef Albert Adrià (brother of Ferran, former chef at El Bulli). More fritters, more caipirinhas, more discoveries. At the time, he’s introduced to the person responsible for the wonders crafted in the kitchen: Kátia Barbosa. Fast forward another three years and their meeting is seen by over 100 million viewers. Now friends, Kátia and José are both judges on one of Brazil’s most popular reality shows, Mestre do Sabor. Soon to record the second season, the duo took advantage of the break in shooting to spend time together and enjoy cuisine from this side of the Atlantic. Kátia now has a pop- -up of her Aconchego Carioca restaurant at Bairro do Avillez until 14th March, a morsel of summer and Brazil in the heart of Lisbon’s wintery Chiado neighbourhood, with classics like prawn bobó, crab casquinha, baião de dois (traditional rice and bean dish). To welcome her, host José takes her to his favourite spots in the “city that combines history with the contemporary, where I like to spend most of my time”. With the River Tagus a constant presence.
The market is still closed, but there’s a good morning vibe around the vegetable, fruit and seafood stalls. We’re standing beneath the arcades of the historic Mercado da Ribeira, first opened in 1882, ready for the off. At Rosa Cunha’s stall, piled high with fish, the cooks challenge one another to name the different species.
“Blimey, I’ve no idea what anything in that corner is”, says Kátia, Rio born and bred, while staring at the goose barnacles, razor clams and endless shells. “I need a masterclass!”, she jokes. More accustomed to sea bass, grouper and dourados, the fish normally used to make moqueca, one of her specialities, Kátia is like a kid in a candy store. Some of her favourite Portuguese dishes are monkfish rice, seafood rice and bean rice – which she immediately compares to the Brazilan baião de dois. “Brazilian food enjoys a fantastic and direct influence from Portuguese cuisine”, she says. “The seasonings and local ingredients are the difference”, adds José, who cites salted beef with onions (carne seca acebolada), prawn na moranga (served in a pumpkin with melted cheese), bobó (spiced cassava-based sauce), feijoada (bean stew), and pastel (a kind of pasty), pointing out that “both are cuisines with soul. Good food has soul!”.
A 19th-century tram takes us past 13 stops from Cais do Sodré to Belém for a bit of time travel. We wander around Praça do Império, admiring the enormous Jerónimos Monastery façade, until we arrive at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Discoveries Monument), where José lingers on the wind rose set in stony ground.
“This monument marks the Portuguese discoveries. It was here that we set sail for the entire world”, he says, pointing at the routes taken by the caravels, which not only brought Portugal and Brazil closer, but also made the world seem a much smaller place. “When I first arrived in Lisbon, eight years ago, I felt a sense of connection, being at one with myself; at that moment, I understood where I came from”, Kátia muses. With the breeze from the Tagus blowing on our faces, we walk along the riverside, letting the past slip into the arms of the future – the first things that come into view are the right-angles of the Coach Museum (designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha), followed by the organic and futuristic MAAT by English architect Amanda Leveque, before the 25 de Abril Bridge stands proudly before us. We hear the echo of Pessoa’s stanzas, more fitting than ever: “the Tagus leads to the world” …
Conversation piques our appetite and soon we’re enjoying enormous platters of what José describes as “the best cod in the world”, served with chickpeas and baked potatoes. Then comes the liver with chips and a fine Douro red to toast our good fortune. Now we’re on the other side of the city, in Mouraria, a neighbourhood that recalls Amália Rodrigues’s fado, a place of hills, narrow streets and alleyways at the foot of the castle, with faces from every corner of the world. Zé da Mouraria, with its paper tablecloths, cramped dining room and busy grill, is the tasca (traditional eatery) chosen by the chef, who classifies it as “one of Lisbon’s great restaurant”. After coffee, we amble through old cobbled thoroughfares, beneath multi-coloured clothes lines. “Here, the streets are so narrow that you literally shake hands with your neighbour on the opposite side of the street”, says José. “This proximity means neighbours become almost like family, being so close to one another!” Lorries block the traffic, a woman passing on crutches, the old men outside the café. Everything is strangely cosy and familiar, even the cook who comes running for a selfie and a hug with the celebrity chefs.
We head for the Baixa district (Lisbon’s epicentre), and the hustle and bustle of Praça da Figueira hits us. Our destination is Chiado, on the adjoining hill, where we find treasures such as the Burel shop – but not before enjoying another toast. At the small counter of the A Ginjinha, an institution that has occupied number 8 at Largo de São Domingos since 1840, José tells Kátia to ask for the liqueur “with fruit”. They drink outside, alongside locals and dozens of tourists. By this time, the TV stars don’t go unnoticed. Next, we hike up the tortuously steep Calçada da Glória to the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, where the Tagus catches our eye once more. “This is my wife’s favourite view [Sofia Ulrich]. Being almost at the same level as the castle, seeing the river, Lisbon’s rooftops, with this city’s wonderful light, is a moment worth appreciating”, says José. And then the sun sets majestically.
It’s time to go home – in this case, number 18 Rua Nova da Trindade, a stone’s throw away, where both ply their trade behind the heavy doors of Bairro do Avillez. It wasn’t the reinvented Portuguese cuisine of Taberna, nor the fish and seafood of Páteo that the chefs choose for the tour’s grand finale. After negotiating the discreet doors at the back, they settle at a tiny table by the stage and ready themselves for the cabaret-influenced spectacle of Beco. Next, in between glasses of sparkling wine, they enjoy the tasting menu that combines both obvious dishes, such as prawn ceviche, with more fun creations, like the rose hiding slices of apple with tequila, which is already a classic. “If something doesn’t give you pleasure, what’s the point”, says Kátia, laughing. “Life’s too short to eat badly!”
by Rachel Verano /// photos João Carlos
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