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Sushi? Trinidad? There is a reason that raw fish and Trinidadians doesn’t work!

I have gotten this question in online forums a couple times, as well as seeing that people are actively searching the terms on my travelogue, so I thought I would write a reusable answer for this question. My first question to anyone even thinking about having Japanese food in Trinidad …

Why bother????

With the variety and fusion of foods in Trinidad that are excellent, why bother trying Japanese food in Trinidad? It’s not to say that Trinidadians couldn’t import a decent “Itamae-san” to create great sushi and prepare sashimi in the right way; but there is a fundamental problem with this cuisine in Trinidad. Trinidadians are “texture” and “savoury” type diners who like things with tons of herbs, spices and heat are the norm. Japanese food in its essence, values freshness and natural taste of the ingredients with very little addition in the way of tons of herbs and spices. See the problem, the two philosophies of cuisine are fundamentally different.
Trinidadians are also famous for “copy-catting” anything that is popular in North America; specifically the east coast, since the majority of Trinidadians have relatives who reside on the east coast (Toronto, New York, any place in Florida or Atlanta). The problem with copying North American style sushi/sashimi/maki … is in general, standard fare is not authentic because of east coast tastes and because of price point. Authentic sushi/sashimi prepared by a well trained Itamae with the right ingredients costs a lot of money. Try getting fresh salmon belly everyday flown in from the west coast and see how much it costs!
There are amazing and authentic Japanese restaurants across North America, where you will get sushi and sashimi prepared in the true fashion but the price point of a meal, typically runs 80$-100$ a person.  That’s definitely not what I expect to pay for 13.95$ CDN “All you can eat” at Aji Sai or Island Sushi in Toronto. (Which by the way, is a spectacular value for the taste and meal – we’re definitely blessed in Toronto and Vancouver for this). In my opinion, there are two types of Japanese restaurants:

  1. The first kind is what they would say, localized (for the local tastebuds) and this can be slightly fusiony but retaining Japanese elements. While at some of these places you can find the stupid name giant rolls equivalents, they incorporate local ingredients or elements from local cuisine. The ubiquitous “Spicy tuna roll” – this will taste different at 10 different restaurants and 10 different places, because local tastes and wallets drive what is popular.
  2. The other kind is strictly traditional Japanese, even though a local interpretation, but in some ways catering to not just those with traditional tastebuds, but also traveling Japanese expats on business. These businesses spend the time, money, and resources to do it right (and at times cheaper). Some go to extremes to hire Japanese chefs, or send their own folks over to Japan to train (some even the old school way of apprenticeship).

The average Trinidadian cares more about the amount of food they get and how much pepper sauce they can put on it. So I ask again, why bother with sushi and sashimi in Trinidad? It is a setup for disappointments galore.
Additionally, finding the required ingredients for sushi is very difficult in Trinidad. Of course, in true Trini style, they never tell you they are out of an ingredient till you order. Sure there are a couple sushi restaurants scattered here and there in Trinidad, but after trying them and experiencing mismatched soy sauces, no ginger, terribly overcooked rice, (as if the only rice you can find is applicable to dhal, rice and bhagi), I have always been left with soul crushing sushi experiences … so why bother??.
This is all one person’s opinion … I’m not a food critic, but I have had sushi all across the world, from the US/Canada, Europe, South America … gotten ripped off in Ginza and woke up for 7am white bait sashimi at Tsukiji fish market, so at least I have had some degree of exposure. There is no right or wrong in this conversation .. I like 25 yr old single malts, my friends back home swear by Black and White scotch or Dewars, it is a preference. I’m sure there are those in Trinidad that love the “sushi” that they get and I have no problem with that, but those who ask me, whether I would have sushi/sashimi in Trinidad and my answer would be a resounding

Why bother????

If you still feel like sushi in Trinidad, here are a couple links, but don’t say I didn’t say so….

At the Copa! Copacabana….

So after a long day’s work, Jeff and I decided to try and head up to Sugarloaf for some nightshooting. We thought that we had enough time to make it from Caesar Park to the mountain but of course Rio’s famous rush hour traffic put paid to that thought. So as a detour, we decided that it would be feasible to try and hit Copacabana beach for a little nightshooting.

One of the most palpable things about Rio thus far was how unsafe I felt. Now to me, manageable travel safety is defined as the following:

“The combination of high travel experience, confidence to diffuse an unexpected situation, moderate to high ability to negotiate in a foreign language without knowing that language and low situation of risk”

In Rio, for all the days I was there, I felt that while I had all the other skills, I felt like I had very low ability to negotiate and high situation of risk; hence this to me makes it somewhat unsafe. However on Copacabana beach at night, with tons of tourist police around, I definitely felt a bit safer. So after aborting our Sugarloaf mission, we jumped out just before the Copacabana Palace.

This is the most famous hotel in Rio, having been featured in movies and of course, we being the rockstars that we are, sauntered into the hotel with not a care in the world. From the outside, the hotel definitely looks a bit posh and inside reflects that; of course if one is trying to be cool walking in, you don’t take pictures like a gawking tourist, hence no pictures on my camera.

One does get a drink and take pictures by the pool though..

So after a caipirinha at the hotel bar, it was time for some beach walking. It’s amazing the level of activity on the beach at night. People run on the beach or play soccer or futevole (sp) till the late hours.

Drinking on the tourist beach is a given, with all the little bar shacks along the waterfront

And all along the beach, there are intricate sand sculptures

and then there are some that just defy the imagination

and of course one makes new friends

After all that walking along the beach, it was time for dinner and the dish of the night was the famous Filet Oswaldo Aranha

Filé à Oswaldo Aranha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s best known dishes, is a tradition created by a Brazilian minister in the Getúlio Vargas government in the 1940s, when Rio de Janeiro was still the capital of Brazil. Like many other politicians of his time, Oswaldo Aranha liked having lunch at Cosmopolita, a Lapa restaurant opened in 1926 which used to be called Senadinho (“Little Senate”) during the Vargas government thanks to its clientele.

Oswaldo Aranha always ordered a thick slab of filet mignon, prepared in a frying pan with sliced garlic and served with sliced potatoes, farofa and plain white rice. I ordered a side of extra garlic in the end.

After that gut busting meal, it was back to the hotel for the night.

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Feijoada at where else….Casa de Feijoada!

After starting off the trip with wanting to try Feijoada at the Caesar Park (since it is reputed to have some of the best in the city), Laura and I went off for dinner at one of the only places in Rio that serves the meal daily – Casa de Feijoada. With little more than a couple slices of mango and juice in my tummy, we went looking for a late lunch there… it was 5pm btw. I had been practicing my pronounciation of “fay-zho-a-da,” all week, so now the same way I say “Ho-do-via-ree-ah” for bus station and sound almost like a native, elicits a stream of Brazilian Portuguese to which I then give up all hope of understanding.

Facts I knew about the dish:

 You get a lot
 It is beans and meat
 There is some fat in the dish
 You only get it on Saturdays – who knew why?
 They give you orange slices with your food.

So we get to the small little restaurant and it wasn’t terribly fancy. It was a 6 block walk down the beach from the hotel, nestled in a little nook intersecting three streets.

We were ushered to a corner table by the window. Immediately, food started to appear at our table… olives, toast, teeny little pots of black bean soup (the waiter demonstrated that we should be sipping this soup)… soon after appeared scoops of fried little sausages … and quite soon after the waiter appeared with two glass bottles. One had an orangey colored liquid in it and the other a pale green. The orangey colored liquid turned out to be passion fruit liquor… or the passion fruit version of a home made, aged and high-powered caipirinha. Caipirinha… mmmm. The pale green liquid was “lime” flavored, and the flavor that I normally associated with the caipirinha. So introductory batidas out of the way.

When the waiter finally came over to ask for the order, we saw the menu and ended up with the “traditional” feijoada but the choice of meats included some of the following and you had the choice of one, some or all of them

 Pig ears
 Pig Tail
 Pig knuckles
 Jerk Meat
 Regular sausage

Of course, I am just not about eating the non business parts of the animal, so I asked for the Sausage, beef and Jerk, while Laura just ended up with the bacon … we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time and we truly had no frame of reference for the size of the ship that was going to hit us.

Then the food tsunami hit us.

and the video above the picture below don’t capture how much it was.

By this time, it was too late, because the parade of food began again. To our table appeared white rice, black beans, “collard” greens (bright green cabbage), yuca fries, “farofa”, pork rinds, and two large steaming bowls of stew. One bigger bowl contained my concoction of meats , while the other was just filled with huge thick slabs of bacon for Laura.

The overall meal for meal was like a huge hot Creole meal in Trinidad, so I was pretty much in my element. The collard greens by the way…. DELICIOUS … just like pan fried Bhagi without the sada roti. My plate ended up like this …

After eating and eating and barely denting the huge amount of food.. we packaged the leftovers (you have to pay for the containers), we started our waddling back to the hotel.  This is the reason, they serve this on Saturday’s only…  you need the entire weekend to digest.

[smugmug url=”http://www.rishisankar.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=10586326_VfSaM&format=rss200″ title=”Casa%20de%20Feijoada” imagecount=”100″ start=”1″ num=”100″ thumbsize=”Th” link=”smugmug” captions=”false” sort=”false” window=”true” smugmug=”true” size=”M”]

Where’s the girl from Ipanema?

Ipanema and its beach are known for its views, waves and beautiful bodies. Walking along the two mile beach, it was impossible not to notice the Brazilian men with chiseled bodies (If you base Brazil on what you see on this beach, you’ll thing that all Brazilians run, have 8-packs and do weights and exercise on the beach) and skimpy speedos (This must be the european thing to have your junk hanging out) all playing volleyball and tanning. Tall, bronzed, statuesque Amazonian women in even skimpier thongs lay on squares of colourful cotton under the blazing sun, aligned carefully for the perfect tan. Someone said that you should just go with your shades to the beach; how weird I must have looked with my camera backpack wandering the sand and climbing rocks at each end of the beach.

Two mountains called the “Dois Irmãos” (Two Brothers) rise at the western end of the beach. The view of the “Dois Irmãos”  below is from the rocks at the eastern end of the beach, where the fishermen and surfers all go from.

The beach is divided into segments by marks known as “postos” (lifeguard towers). Each “posto” supposedly means something and has a specific crowd.  There are only 3 postos on Ipanema beach; I managed to find a “Posto” index to help me:

  • Posto 1 (Leme) – Between Aurelino Leal and Anchieta
  • Posto 2 (Copacabana) – In front of the Praça do Lido (the only one in the original location)
  • Posto 3 Between Paula Freitas and Hilario de Gouveia
  • Posto 4 (Copacabana) – In front of Constante Ramos
  • Posto 5 (Copacabana) – In front of Sá Ferreira
  • Posto 6 There is no Post 6!!!
  • Posto 7 (Arpoador/Botafogo) – At the end of Arpoador
  • Posto 8 (Ipanema) – In front of Joaquim Nabuco
  • Posto 9 (Ipanema) – Between Vinicius de Moraes and Joana Angelica
  • Posto 10 (Ipanema) – In front of Anibal de Mendonça
  • Posto 11 (Leblon) – Between Almirante Guilhem and Carlos Garcia
  • Posto 12 (Leblon) – Between Queen Wilhelmina and Aristides Espinola
  • Posto 13 (São Conrado) – Próximo ao Hotel Intercontinental Tour 13 (Sao Conrado) – Next to Hotel Intercontinental

All along the beach there are interesting vantage points and tons to see and photograph

In true tradition, there is an area for everyone, so  there is an area specifically called “the gay beach,” situated near Rua Farme de Amoedo; which is well-known for being a gay-friendly area, I didn’t know they had to specifically label it 😀

Beer is sold everywhere on the beach along with the traditional cachaça. I have to say that on a hot day, the ridiculously cold coconuts are amazing. I thought only in Trinidad, could I get a coconut straight from the freezer..

But walking to the Eastern end of the beach, you can see the Ipanema beach panorama…

Even our 4 legged friends are chilled out and love the coconuts

And if you’re lucky enough.. well unlucky for these guys, you can see the lifeguarding corps do their thing

And if you ever feel like working out on the beach … it is really simple

Once you’re done buffing up, you can head back down the streets again.

I feel like a nap on the beach now

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Pao de Azucar at night…

This is another one of those tourist attractions that doesn’t need much explaining or blogging. It is pretty much the following sequence of events:

  • You go
  • You ride
  • You take pictures
  • You ponder for a while
  • You have a drink
  • You ponder for while
  • You talk with strangers about the view
  • You take more pictures
  • You ride down
  • Look at pictures

Then the sunset comes over and it gets dark and then you have a new beauty … it’s Pao de Azucar at night!

Daytripping to Petropolis

Updated 29/7/2011:
Here is a link to great new hostel in Petropolis that I would stay at : Samambaia Hostel :)

Dec 5th, 2009

Up in the mountains about an hour away from Rio is the historical town of Petropolis. This town was the summer home of the Dom Pedro II and the  Imperial family of Brazil.The climate is fresh and agreeable in the summer, although it today the weather was quite overcast and there was fog everywhere, but from the bus ride up here one gets the sense that the vistas from the mountains would have been beautiful. This town was the site of many important events in Brazilian history, such as

  • Don Pedro signed the Declaration of Independence in 1822 and many years later, in 1888 his daughter Isabella signed the “Golden Law” abolishing slavery in Brazil.

Getting from Rio de Janiero to Petropolis

Getting to Petropolis was pretty easy, but finding update directions to get there wasn’t. I grabbed a taxi from Ipanema beach and headed to the Rodovaria Rio Novo (pronounced Hodo-viara). That pronunciation completely threw me off, as I tend to use the Spanish pronunciation and everyone looked at me like I was crazy; thankfully a nice tour guide in the Yellow Palace helped me out. It cost 37 Reais to get there and we had to pass through a number of sketchy looking areas before getting there.

Once in the station, head over to the Facil counter on Platform 6. The bus company Facil operates between Rio de Janeiro and Petropolis. Their buses are new and fairly comfortable.

get your ticket for 15 Reais (each way) and then head on to the bus.

An hour later, you should be in the Rodoviaria Petropolis which is located outside the city. This is a key point, don’t leave the bus station as there is really nothing there and tourist information office in there doesn’t have any English speakers. I ended up asking for the Cathedral of São Pedro de Alcãntara, the taxi driver did the rest. (There is a local bus for 2.45R$, if you speak Portuguese and can figure out which bus goes to Districto Historica). Getting from the Rodoviaria Petropolis to the historical district takes about 20 minutes or so and costs about 20 Reais. Your total transportation cost will end up being about 135 Reais. My cost summary for the day looks something like this:

  • Taxi from Ipanema to Rodoviaria Rio Novo : 37 R$
  • Bus from Rodoviaria Rio Novo to Rodoviaria Petropolis : 14.70R$
  • Taxi from Rodoviaria Petropolis to Historical District : 20 R$
  • Taxi from Historical District to Rodoviaria Petropolis : 19 R$
  • Bus from Rodoviaria Petropolis to Rodoviaria Rio Novo  : 14.70R$
  • Taxi from Rodoviaria Rio Novo to Pao de Azucar: 22 R$
  • Taxi from Pao de Azucar to Caesar Park Ipanema : 18 R$

If you speak Portuguese and can use the local bus systems, then the trip should be considerably cheaper but slower. If you’re backpacking and have no time limit, then the bus should be used obviously, if you’re day tripping like me on a timeline, then taxis should be used. Like anything else, your mileage will vary.

Once in Petropolis

Today, this town is home to the Imperial Museum (The Royal Palace is now a museum devoted to Dom Pedro and his family and presents life as it was some one hundred and fifty years ago); however once I got there I headed straight to the Cathedral of São Pedro de Alcãntara.

The Cathedral is built in French Neogothic style. Its construction started in 1884 by the architect Francisco Caminhoa, inspired by the old Spanish Cathedrals of France. There are many great examples of French stained glass.

It is 70 meters high and 22 m in length. It houses the Imperial Chapel and the marble tombs of the royal family, and is dedicated to São Pedro de Alcãntara, “the protector of the Empire of Brazil”. Saint Peter’s day is celebrated on October 19h.

It is open everyday from 8:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00. On Mondays only in the morning, and on Sundays from 8:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 until 18:00

From the Cathedral, I headed to the Imperial Museum. Petropolis is a small town and everything in the historical district is within walking distance, it is a lot of walking but all organized in a logical fashion.

Petropolis tourist map

On getting to the Museu Imperial, I had to leave my camera and put on these dorky slippers over my sandals. It allowed me to react the scene from “Risky Business” where Tom Cruise slides into the room…ALL THE TIME!! I understand the use of the sandals, as they want to protect the flooring, but it is still dorky.

My cameras weren’t allowed, although I did sneak in the small one in my pocket and took some shots, but in the lighting the quality was much to be desired. If you do not speak portuguese, there is an audio tour device that plays back the information about each room you visit

After the tour, it was out and about again. Personally, I’m really not interested in musuems in the best of days and I personally thought that the Imperial Museum was a bit dull, but then again that is my opinion 😀

From there, it was on to more random walking through Petropolis.

More of the man himself Dom Pedro II rocking his own “Thinker” pose

On the walk, I ended passing by the now mandatory Latin American town Obelisk.

“This monument in the shape of an obelisk stands 66.6 feet tall. On each one of its sides rectangular bronze plaques were placed, measuring 4.2 feet by 33.5¨ each. On its frontal side an inscription reads “This monument marks the celebration of the First Centennial since Petrópolis was emancipated to the status of City. It was built under the government of Mayor Flávio Castrioto de Figueiredo e Mello to perpetuate the names of those people who helped Major Koeler build our city, and also as a landmark to show our future generations the glories of our past, pointing the way to the growth and progress of our community.” This Obelisk is a tribute paid by the Petrópolis City Administration to the city founders, i.e. Emperor D. Pedro II, Counselor Paulo Barbosa da Silva, Caldas Vianna, Aureliano Coutinho, Júlio Frederico Koeler and all German settlers who arrived in Petrópolis as of June 29, 1845.” … http://www.petropolis.rj.gov.br/index.php?url=http%3A//fctpi.petropolis.rj.gov.br/fctpi/

Then it was on to the Yellow Palace, which houses the Municipal Council of Petrópolis City. The eagle fountain built in 1899 by Heitor Levy and a garden square designed by Carlos Júlio Mayer. The funny thing about this fountain is that the creator was not Mexican, although it shows the Mexican symbol and the building wasn’t owned by a Mexican either.

One really curious thing about the hall itself and the walls, is that it appears to have Oak/wood panelling and granite columns. Well this is all an illusion and everything is painted on concrete/stone walls. There is no wood on the walls. All complete fakes :)

It is also a city close to many hiking trails and thus is near the mountain greenery. Several buildings show a German/Swiss influence.

After a couple hours of more walking… I ended up at the Crystal Palace. Now I don’t particularly know what I was expecting when I read the signs

But I certainly wasn’t expecting a large colonial greenhouse

After all this walking, I was hungry and bit tired… but thankfully the weather had started to clear so instead of going to the hotel… I ended up at Pao de Azucar

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Oink Oink! Porcao Rios…..

I think this picture captures the essence of Porcao Rios. Porcao means “Big Pig” and they seriously are all about the animal there, as long as it has 4 legs, they will cook it and serve it.  After a long week working, this was the perfect little end of the week here… tons of fresh salads, fresh sashimi (the sashimi was really, really good) and of course, the meat!

I had been to Porcao in Miami years ago and it wasn’t that expensive, I think it was about 40$ or so for the service and the food. I had read online about Porcao Rios and most of the reviews had all been highly positive, unfortunately we didn’t get a view of Sugarloaf as it was dark and overcast last night. Porcao is on the water with direct sightlines of Pao de Azucar.  The buffet alone knocked our socks off as a fabulous meal unto itself. It included 5″ long prawns and sushi as well as a hundred-fold other great items.

We were given the red/green coasters to signal the waiters, but really it was pointless. My little coaster sat at Red, yet the meat kept coming and coming .

The Rodizio service was awesome and and sat back to watch the best prime meats, poultry, lamb, and chicken come our way in small or very large portions. Tender, tasty, terrific.  There were small little tongs at the table, where you could ask for the tiniest slices of well done meat and pull it directly from the skewers.

The only little downgrade for me was the non rodizio service, trying to get side orders of anything else but meat was much slower, but to be fair, the place was packed and there are multiple dining rooms, so one can’t really annoyed with that … it was really busy on a Friday night. I tried to keep the eating to something respectable and I think my strategy of eating salad and sashimi in the beginning was a good thing. Like all Brazilian places I’ve been at here, the meat does tend to be on the salty side.

Overall, definitely a must do while you’re in Rio. As for the price, well that wasn’t any surprise, this is an expensive place. The buffet service starts at 81 Reais (50$ CDN) but with service and drinks, the final price went up to around 127 Reais (80$ CDN). That aside, if you want to go crazy with meat and seafood and you have the space to do this place justice, then it is well worth it.


Always ask what the hell you’re eating….

Whether one is passing through a city for work or play, hopefully you end up meeting some locals and heading out to a bar or restaurant. The thing is that the first instinct one has when entering a restaurant is to look at the menu and order the most familiar thing on the menu. This is why the average vacationer ends up with a burger and fries; why???

  • It is consistent
  • You know what to expect
  • You know what the ingredients should be
  • More importantly you know how should typically taste.

I have tried to unsubscribe from this most basic tenet of traveling when somewhere new, but being lactose-aversive/intolerant, I tend to be picky about food as I don’t want unexpected dairy on my tastebuds. I will typically ask questions or try and research new things to eat; in the past three days in Brazil, I have come up with the following observations:

  • Food is not spicy at all. There are tons of bottles of hot sauce and condiments, but really the Brazilians are not fans of spicy food.
  • Brazilians love salt on everything. In a typical meal, the meat is usually only “seasoned” with salt (?!?!?!?!), yes … really, a Brazilian actually used the phrase, “we season our meat with salt”. Coming from a country where the KFC is hot, this made me laugh.
  • Churrascaria is typically a bit salty but good.
  • Guarana soda is pretty fricking awesome. There are a couple brands of Guarana soda, but I seem to like the “Antartica” brand. I have learnt that you cannot only ask for an “Antartica” though because you will end up with a tonic water.
  • Brazilians love ridiculous desserts. The sweeter, it is, the better… but this really seems to be a Latin American thing in my mind….
  • Caipirinhas, while a lovely drink and quite refreshing, does not really go down that smoothly. As somewhat of a rum snob/officianado/collector, drinking cachaca is a bit uninspired, but I’ll reserve judgement until I have a couple different types of good cachaca
  • Cariocas also seem to like buffet style restaurant that weigh your food by the kilo… not the pound. Definitely not a bad way to fill up but the food isn’t that cheap either. In fact they have restaurants actually called “Kilogramme” …

Of course, one other traveling tenet I subscribe to is:

“if it looks like something you know, and it smells like something you know and you like what you smell and see, just eat it without asking questions”.

Brazilians love food by the kilo.. in fact they have places called “Kilogramme” . I have to say that great fruit is readily available (obviously) … but after going another “Kilo” restaurant with the team, I start sampling a couple dishes and I end up around around this big huge steaming pot of “Stew Chicken”, it even looks like the brown thick consistency of the stew chicken sauce….so i take a whole whack of it and put it on some seafood paella…no problem right?

Well as I was about to eat.. one of the brazilian girls tells me…
Girl: Do you know what that is?
Me: yeah.. we have this in the islands… its like stew chicken….
Girl: yeah it is? <Asking the question> I’m surprised you guys make it the same way. Do you guys make it with chicken blood also?
Me: <Insert blank stare, fork drops and partial dry heave> Wow, that is so interesting <Pushes anything that the sauce touched away on my plate (thankfully I didnt eat)
Girl: You don’t like it anymore?
Me: No, I just felt like eating a ton of mangoesinstead.

Latin americans generally don’t waste any part of the animals. After some research, I found out that the dish I had was called
“Falso Frango Ao Molho Pardo” (Brazilian Chicken With Brown Gravy)

In a dish, put a cup of lemon juice and spoon the chicken’s blood at the time of slaughter. Mix and set aside. Wash the chicken, cut into joints and boil lightly with water and lemon. Drain, rinse and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the fat, salt with garlic and let brown. Add the chicken, fry lightly and drain excess fat. Add the annatto dye, onion and add water gradually.Separately, mix the blood with a little water, add one tablespoon of corn meal or wheat flour and mix well. Strain in fine sieve and incorporate into the broth. Stir gently. Leave for a few minutes. Serve with rice or polenta.

The lesson for today….”don’t pretend like you know what something is….even it looks and taste like something you know… always ask to confirm”