Porto Alegre has some great food. It does. In fact, a friend said the food here is among the best she's EVER had. I certainly wouldn't go that far, but I have had some fine meals, particularly some 'caseira', or home-style, lunches cooked by other people's maids, or the bounty of dishes served at the amazing buffets around the city.
But, and this is a BIG but in my life as a self-proclaimed foodie, what I haven't had enough of—in the five months I've been living here--are great meals cooked by my own capable hands. And this is making me crazy. Because I love to cook. I love to eat too, obviously, but I also love to prepare meals, try out new recipes, enjoy restaurant-quality dishes at home. I love the yummy satisfaction that I can do it as well as they can.
And the reason for this gaping hole in my current culinary existence lies in what Porto Alegre DOESN'T have—and that is a workable array of key ingredients. Sure, you can get twenty types of shoyu at Zaffari, or you can pick up some packets of spices and a bulk bag of grains at the mercado público, but what about those other essentials of global cuisine? Where are the corn tortillas, the tangy salsas, the refreshing sour cream, the staples of Tex-Mex food? You're lucky to find fresh coriander when you need it.
I spent twelve years in Australia, where the influence of Asian cooking is seen on every menu, in every corner store, at every farmer's market—gorgeous zesty lemongrass, salty fish sauce, nutty satay, a hundred different noodles (and I don't mean types of pasta) and my own favourite, the treacle-thick kecap manis, the sweet soy from Indonesia. Even in the smallest cities you have access to ingredients for Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Chinese food.
Before Australia I lived in England, so don't even get me started on Indian cuisine. My mouth waters for a great curry, but that is one style of cooking I usually leave to the experts. I was disappointed by a local take-out service, so I decided to make it myself. Curry pastes would be an easy way to start, but they are nowhere to be seen. Ok, with a mortar and pestle, I'll just buy the spices and get started. Cumin—love it, easy to find, good for Moroccan food too. We're on our way. Whole cumin seeds? Harder, but not impossible. Coriander seeds? Fenugreek? Search around the market and we're getting there slowly. Turmeric? Now we've hit the wall. That looks like it MIGHT be it—after all, it's pretty distinctive—but not even my translator husband knows what 'circuma' is, and neither do the people selling it.
I could go on, but you get the idea. And you're probably getting hungry too. I know I am. It's midday, so it must be time to head to the buffet, with the scores of office workers, locals, parents, kids, and me. I may not be able to cook what I want, but I certainly won't go hungry.
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