Teatime in Japan

How many of you read the desserts on the menu before savoury? In many Japanese restaurants, we were surprised to find that dessert was often not even mentioned, with savoury ruling; at best, Purin (Japanese crème caramel) was the only dessert listed. To satisfy our sweet tooth, it was best to seek out speciality confectionary boutiques or stop in a café or teahouse. So, welcome to my version of Teatime in Japan – from Osaka, Kinosaki Onsen, Kyoto, Shirikawago, and Kanazawa to Tokyo.

Here is just a selection of some of the sweet treats we discovered during our (personal, not sponsored) trip.  Far from being an exhaustive list, I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese tea and confectionary; this post reflects our own personal first experiences of Japan, sharing interesting features learned along the way.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan

One of the family’s all-time favourite trip highlights was our first experience of a most tranquil Japanese tea ceremony in the Nishida Family Garden (part of Gyokusen-Immaru garden) in Kanazawa, next to the world-famous Kenrokuen garden, home to the oldest fountain in Japan.

Held in the Saisetsu-tei Roji tea house, it’s one of Japan’s oldest at 350 years old, yet the tradition continues. However, today apparently, it’s so different in that 80% are women who enjoy the traditional tea ceremony, compared to the previously more male-dominated custom. Saisetsu-tei takes its name from “snow flutters”, part of a Haiku poem (by Junan Kinoshita, a Confucian scholar) that hangs on the wall.

Teatime in Japan

Our gracious tea hosts made the tea and explained the philosophy behind the tea ceremony.

As you walk through the Zen gardens to the tea house – only on the stepping stones – all thoughts of everyday life should vanish, as if in a meditative state of HARMONY (wa). As before entering a temple, we purify our hands with water (and mouth for the real tradition, although thankfully we were spared going the full monty) before entering. This purifying ritual permeates the soul.

Inside the tea house there is no hierarchy; lords, peasants? Everyone is on the same level to appreciate the tea, the ambience. A Samurai would leave his sword outside – in fact, this TRANQUIL (jaku) meditation was particularly important to the Samurai in order to focus on being the best of warriors. When we visited the Samurai family of Nomura house in Kanazawa’s Samurai district (Nagamachi Bukeyshiki area with pretty little canals and bridges), a small open-air garden was designed in the building purely for tea ceremonies.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with a traditional tea ceremony

The hostess cleans all her tea-making implements with precision, ensuring PURITY (sei), as she heats up the water using the firepit (known as the furo – as it was during the record 2018 summer heatwave she used a different traditional stove not built in to the flooring, as it heats up the room), pours in the Matcha green tea powder, pours over the pure water then whisks vigorously back and forth with a bamboo whisk (the Chasen) to create its characteristic creamy foam.

As a sign of RESPECT (kei, evidently a particularly intrinsic value in Japan), each person thanks the hostess for taking the time to make the tea (Oshôban Itashimasu) then each person in turn asks politely to join in (Otemae Chôdai Itashimasu). The bowl’s prettiest pattern always faces outwards to the others and as the bowl is inspected, is turned around clockwise a couple of times then enjoyed.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with some creamy, frothy Matcha green tea

Following the ritual lesson, we were encouraged to try our hand at preparing our own tea. As the hot water (not boiling) was poured gently on top of the Matcha powder, our wrists were given the exercise by whisking the green tea with the Chasen. It tasted different; reassured it was the same Matcha tea, it must have been the water as it was heated using a different kettle/stove.

As with the previous bowl of tea, small ceremonial wagashi were served and we were invited to eat them before sipping. Wagashi are sweet confections traditionally enjoyed with tea and have been such since the Edo period, when tea was imported to Japan from China. I say sweet wagashi, but they’re not as sweet as I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. This time we had soft, sugary melt-in-the-mouth Rakugan, made from glutinous rice and sugar. Each small rakugan were in pretty cute (kawaii) summer floral designs, shaped using a wooden mould.

What a most harmonious and tranquil experience, learning the most fascinating virtues of tea culture (Harmony, Respect, Purify, Tranquility) along the way. Just before we left our delightful hosts added to our vocabularly, Ichigo Ichie (literally ‘one time one meeting’) meaning LIVE THE MOMENT – something we certainly did throughout our trip as a result.

Doriyaki

Teatime in Japan

For the best Dorayaki, I’d recommend our experience in Tokyo, just 5 minutes from Monzen-Nakacho metro station (plus an incredible temple that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, including Taiko drums and fire).

Established in 1850, this store is apparently where the dorayaki was invented. Normally made with two sponge-like pancakes and stuffed with slightly sweet Azuki red bean paste (Anko), this is a surprising version with only one pancake that’s not that sweet, beautifully soft and moist, filled with a generous amount of Anko. They also had a green bean paste but frankly, it was like eating a mushy peas pancake. Vive the doriyaki with traditional handmade Anko.

I’ve had a few in Paris before but nothing I’ve tasted to date equates to this gourmet version.

MOCHI

Teatime in Japan

Mochi are everwhere: on the street, in cafés, tea rooms and traditionally served with green tea. It’s a soft, small glutinous rice cake shaped into a ball and comes in all varieties of flavours. This popular store in Kyoto had such a big queue that we didn’t have time to stop (and with temperatures around 38°C with high humidity around midday, we thought we’d return later). So, if you get there for us, let us know how they are!  Alas, I took photos but put them up on Instagram stories and now I can’t find them. Guess I can blame the heat…

That’s a Wrap!

A few mochi are wrapped in different leaves, such as Sakura-mochi, filled with azuki bean paste (making it beautifully pink) and wrapped in a sakura leaf. Kashiwa-mochi are wrapped in oak tree leaves.

Teatime in Japan

Warabi Mochi

As we were in the Kansai region, Warabimochi were particularly popular.  Extremely chewy, they’re jelly-like treats made from bracken starch and either dipped in Matcha green tea or Kinako, roasted soybean flour.  By the end of the trip, I was addicted to the Kinako versions, probably due to their fascinating roasted flavour. They remind me of a less sweet Turkish Delight (Loukoums) with Japanese flavours.

Fukusa Mochi

Teatime in Japan

One of the delicious specialities of Kanazawa: Fukusa mochi, a Japanese baked roll cake (glutinous Gyuhi roll cake, a bit like a hole-packed pancake that looks remarkably like a huge bath sponge) with Azuki red bean jam. The outer layer is made from either baked brown sugar or Matcha green tea.

I could have eaten this whole tasting plate but remembered my manners. Instead bought them as a gift, as meeting up with Japanese friends in Tokyo; I hear it’s tradition to offer typical gifts from your travels.

Another speciality of Kanazawa is gold leaf – appropriate, as Kanazawa literally means ‘Marsh of Gold’. We particularly loved seeing gold leaf conveniently sold in tubes (not to be confused with lipstick in my handbag!) to sprinkle on top of coffee, ice cream … you name it and it turns everything to gold!

Teatime in Japan

More Wagashi Sweet Confectionary

Tai-yaki: a fish-moulded pancake-like batter or waffle filled with red bean paste, although we saw other varieties on sale such as vanilla custard cream and chocolate (unusually we didn’t see much chocolate in general on our trip). They also appeared in biscuit or cookie form too.

Daifuku: a form of mochi filled with sweet bean paste or other fillings (e.g. strawberry) and dusted in potato starch to prevent them from sticking.

Teatime in Japan

Mizu Yokan: a jelly-like sweet made with mashed azuki beans mixed with gelatin. I forgot to take a photo of it, but to see the whole picture, including a recipe, check out my friend Nami’s post how to make Yokan on Just One Cookbook.

Oshiruko: a type of dessert soup that consists of hot, sweet bean soup with grilled rice cakes (mochi) or rice flour dumplings. The red bean soup may be either smooth or chunky. We enjoyed a variation of this at the Zen Café in Kyoto’s Gion district, where the soup was chilled with almond pudding and fresh figs – sheer bliss during such a heatwave!
The list is apparently endless and if only we had more time to try and discover them all!

Bake Cheese Tart

Teatime in Japan

Although more French in spirit, this Matcha baked cheese tart is worth a mention from the Japanese chain, Bake Cheese Tart. The pastry base is spot on: a crispy, perfect quantity to matcha the filling, which is more liquid than I expected but not too much that it falls out of the base. There’s a real tease between sugar vs salt – even on the aftertaste.

There’s also a plain version, not unlike a Portuguese tart (see recipe for Pastéis de Nata) but less sweet and yet there’s definitely a cheesecake taste to it – yet it’s a tartlet. Frankly this is heaven! So glad we saw the enticing advert for this in the Kyoto metro. That’s all the shop makes but boy, they do it well.

Macarons

Teatime in Japan

We were delighted to see macarons in many boutiques and in Osaka, they were even served at the breakfast buffet in our hotel (mango-passionfruit). The most beautiful ones I saw (sorry, the image was on Instagram stories and I can’t recuperate it) were from the Matsuya department store in Asakusa, all individually wrapped.  There are also many French pastry chefs who have stores in Japan, and so the more western specialities of Parisian macarons, patisserie and/or chocolate can be found at Jean-Paul Hévin, Pierre Hermé, Foucher, Christophe Roussel, Sebastien Bouillet, Laurent Dûchene, just to name a few. Many are found in larger department stores and it’s a real treat to discover a gastronomic world always in their basements.

Alas, the only image I had was the surprising green tea pointy-looking macs I saw in a most touristy boutique near the Senso-ji temple in Anakusa, Tokyo. We were wondering if they were called nipples (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Green Tea Ice Cream

Teatime in Japan

Speaking of the Anakusa area, here we discovered the strongest Matcha Green Tea ice cream in the world from Suzukien in Tokyo. The strongest gelato came in at number 7 and it was indeed incredibly intense with little sugar, like the majority of the sweets in Japan.

Teatime in Japan

Our unanimous favourites throughout the trip were Anko (sweetened red bean paste) ice cream in Kinosaki Onsen, Hojicha (roasted tea) ice cream in the Japanese Alps in Shirikiwa-go, and here in Anakusa, including Black Sesame ice cream (I’ve since made this on return to Paris and will be sharing the recipe with you in the coming days).

Japanese Canelé

Teatime in Japan canele

Teatime in Japan with sweet potato canelés?

You heard me right: we discovered these remarkably French-looking canelés in Osaka at Canelé du Japon where they came in all sorts of surprising flavours such as yuzu, sweet potato, apple-caramel, or  flower salt (fleur de sel) from the Guérande. This may be for Teatime in Japan but they were served mini canelés at breakfast at our hotel in Osaka – more like the original ones we find originating from Bordeaux with their typical vanilla and rum soft centre with a caramelised exterior.  Also seen at breakfast were French pains au chocolat, spelled Pan’ochokora – how adorable is that?

If you’d like to make Canelés, my easy recipe is in my book, Teatime in Paris, along with the story that goes behind them and where to find the best in Paris.

Teatime in Japan

Some of you have perhaps already seen our family’s first trip to Japan this summer documented on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, while I was on transit in trains.  If you’d like me to document these postcards detailing our adventures and tips, please let me know below and I’ll post the extensive 3-week trip here on le blog for you.

Gluten Free Cheese Waffles

Have a healthy start to the day with these breakfast waffles inspired by Brazilian cheese puffs!

An African Teatime in Paris

The other day I couldn’t resist a visit to the Impressionists in Normandy exhibition at the Jacquemart André Museum in Paris. If you’re like me and adore art, you’ll especially appreciate this museum as a do-able size, plus Monet, Degas, Renoir and Caillebotte paintings are so close that it’s pinch-your-arm worthy. But the cherry on the Stohrer cakes is the museum’s Café. As I mention it in Teatime in Paris as one of my favourites, this time Monsieur Antoine couldn’t resist joining me in an afternoon teatime.

Antoine never takes tea but he saw the menu listing Rooibos. It was enough to see his eyes as he sipped; conversation uncharacteristically changed to tea, as he recognised the familiar Rooibos from the Cape and we made a note of the label: Cape and Cape. Before we knew it, we were reminiscing and dreaming of another trip to South Africa.

Tea at Jacquemart Andre museum cafe rooibos

We first discovered Rooibos about ten years ago on my first trip to South Africa with Monsieur. Each guesthouse on our route had a tea tray with a kettle, and particular attention was drawn to the little jug of fresh milk in the room’s fridge. It all felt rather charming and colonial – until the conventional hotel sachets of regular black tea and herbal infusions were surprisingly replaced with this curious-looking Rooibos. When I asked the locals what they did with it, I was just to add a touch of milk. As a milk-in-my-tea Brit, this totally suited me. It tasted a bit like tea but it wasn’t with its woody undertones.

Over our holidays we both became infatuated with this drink – especially as its reputed health benefits (if not psychologically) helped outweigh the Cape wines we were drinking, which was the main purpose of our tour. With frequent returns to the wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hermanus (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley), Franschhoek, and north of Cape Town to Swartland we’re spell-bound by the dramatic scenery which changes around every corner.

Franschhoek vineyards South Africa

Franschhoek winelands South Africa – much further south than tea country

While we were tasting Chenins to Pinotages, another couple, Matthias and Gervanne Leridon had fallen so much in love with Rooibos, the South African tea of the land. They had done the full monty, heading another 100km inland north to Clanwilliam, the centre of Rooibos land and eventually set up the Cape and Cape company in 2013, exporting the natural teas to Paris.

WHAT IS ROOIBOS?

It’s a small bush that grows in the wild in South Africa – about 200km north of Cape Town. Its name, Rooibos (meaning redbush), is a red tea that’s rich in antioxidants, naturally low in tannins and completely caffeine-free.

NOT THE SAME

Returning to Paris, gradually Rooibos has been easier to find in the supermarkets (UK too) but nothing can approach that specific taste of Rooibos we had in South Africa – until the other day in Paris.

I had heard of this new Cape and Cape in Paris before but hadn’t stumbled on the boutique. It’s a rather hidden secret behind Trocadero on rue Vineuse, with rows of brightly coloured triangular tins uncovering tastes that will “broaden our horizons”. They have a point. Maria gave me a most welcome tasting of their pure and “simple” Rooibos, Safari au Cap from the Terroir of Nieuwoudtville. I closed my eyes and, like Antoine, was instantly transported to the Cape, something that the rooibos teas to date from supermarkets (including organic in health food stores etc.) just hadn’t achieved.

African tea collection Cape and Cape Paris

 

MORE THAN JUST ONE PURE ROOIBOS

I thought there was just one Rooibos – but there’s a wide variety of pure Rooibos to taste, since with each unique area – like wine – the varieties depend on the terroir or soil where the fynbos (South-African maquis or scrub) develops specifically to environmental conditions: in the south, green rooibos is lightly citrus; in the centre, it’s more down-to-earth and more of a substitute to black tea; while in the high-altitude north of the Cederberg Mountains, there’s more of a taste of red fruits and cacao.

According to Mikaël Grou, Second Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and taster for the House, the Rooibos-growing area is the equivalent to both Burgundy and Beaujolais regions put together.

Green Rooibos tea African Tea Cape and Cape Paris

I’m particularly fascinated with their Green Rooibos as it’s a real detox and haven’t seen it before. Green Mountain is so delicate and both flavours come through: the green tea first then a delicate, almost smoky rooibos aftertaste.  I loved the slightly “stronger” version, Stormy Joburg, with a hint of citrus too.

HOW TO INFUSE

As with red Rooibos, Sommelier Mikaël Grou explains that it’s important to infuse for at least 5 minutes, if not to 10 minutes using an extra-fine filter. The reason isn’t for the colour (which appears straight away) but for the total flavour to shine through. As with “normal” tea, it’s best to brew it using water just under boiling (90°C). He recommends pouring 4/5 boiling water from the kettle and topping up with cold water before adding the Rooibos or tea.

floral rooibos Cape tea

 

FLAVOURED ROOIBOS

If you’re into flavoured teas, there are plenty to tempt the tastebuds. Flirt with sweet and spicy flavoured Rooibos with evocative names such as Citrus Kiss, Oh My Ginger, Miss Grey, Shap Shap! Bon Bon (Strawberry-Vanilla. Shap Shap is slang for good good – how you doing?) and Flirt with Scarlet (Rose-Mango).

African teas Cape and Cape Paris

 

AFRICA THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT

The teas at Cape and Cape don’t just stop at Rooibos. Calling themselves the “African House of Tea”, their third variety of teas are Natural African Teas.

As they say, AFRICA IS THE UNKNOWN TEA CONTINENT. I was astonished to learn that Kenya is the THIRD largest global producer of tea after China and India (the fourth is Sri Lanka).

There’s still a lot to learn about African teas. Perhaps the best teacup forward is simply to try their unearthed range of delicate white teas to the strong black teas from the Congo with hints of chocolate; floral and tangy black teas from Kenya; medium-strength fruity black teas from Rwanda; and woody and floral green or black teas from Malawi. I hear that there will be a new Tanzanian tea end of May too.

1-chocolate-rooibos-rosemary-macarons

COOKING WITH TEA

One of the Africaan ladies also explained on holiday that when her family gets sick, the first thing she makes is a rooibos infusion with rosemary. Needless to say, as soon as I returned home, I experimented with a macaron using a rooibos and rosemary-infused chocolate ganache (the family thought I was mad but it worked!) Try a blind tasting: it certainly has people astonished over such mysterious flavours!

Many chefs are infusing tea in their dishes these days. Have you tried this smoky beurre blanc with fish (using Lapsang-Souchong tea), or Theodor’s fragrant rice pudding? I’ve created a new Pinterest board, Cooking & Baking with Tea, and I’ll gradually add more recipes to this. I’m looking forward to trying Christmas Fireworks, a Rooibos filled with festive spices – a perfect infusion for desserts and macarons!

Eiffel Tower Paris Avenue Camoens near Trocadero

You’ll find Cape and Cape African teas not just in their hidden boutique at Trocadero, but gradually in more familiar locations in Paris, just like we saw at Jacquemart André. Gontran Cherrier, one of my favourite Parisian boulangeries also has realised its potential, as has Galeries Lafayette.

So next time you’re pushing the tourists aside to take a pic of the Eiffel Tower, head to the much quieter Avenue Camoens, take a different angle like above and walk just around the corner for a taste of African tea in Paris.

Cape and Cape
African House of Tea

19 rue Vineuse
75016 Paris
Tel: 01-45 24 77 70


Part of this article is published on Bonjour Paris! Do pop over and say bonjour

Weekends Outside Rio de Janeiro: Paraty and Buzios Brazil

If you’re planning to visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, you may also want to head out of the City for a few days.  That’s just what we did this summer (albeit their winter) with two very different attractions: Paraty, a 4 hour drive in lush scenery known as the Green Coast (Costa Verde) south of Rio; and Buzios, a beach and nightlife Brazilian favourite, about 2 hours drive north if the roads are clear.

Paraty is a beautifully preserved Portuguese Colonial town dating from 1667 which served as a thriving port to export gold, coffee and sugarcane in the form of the local spirit, Cachaça. As the railway was built in the 19th century for cheaper transport to Rio and the gold ran out, the town was almost abandoned, hence such a wonderful conservation of the old town for about 250 years.  Since the 1970s the fishing town of Paraty has been rediscovered as a thriving tourist destination.

Paraty Brazil

Paraty is also known for its uneven cobblestone-paved streets in the historical pedestrian centre.It hadn’t rained when we arrived: instead the water collecting in the stones was a sign of the tide gradually pouring in to this part of town as full moon approached. By the time we had left, these streets would have been flooded – something the locals are used to each month but it’s nothing much and doesn’t last long.

One of the first things that struck us were the number of brigadeiro stalls, where the locals were enjoying their sweet fix at teatime – and in the mornings and evenings too!

Brigadeiro street stalls in Paraty Brazil

It’s the first time I’ve seen poinsettias growing as bushes.  Somehow my miserable poinsettias that I try to look after at Christmas time look miserable in comparison!

Ponsettia bush Brazil

We had some fun on Facebook, guessing what was this side dish below.  They’re palm hearts, something that we often serve in French salads but they’re conserved in tins, long and thin.  These enormous disks were fresh from the top heart of the palm tree, baked in the oven and served with a dribbling of olive oil. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from – mainly serving excellent fish.

Our favourites were Banana da Terra and that of the Pousada Literaria where we were staying. Perhaps the most wonderful of breakfast specials was their cheese waffles with honey and rosemary.  I managed to develop a recipe for you back home with the ingredients we find in Europe (it ended up being gluten free) – here it is! I do hope you try this cheese waffle recipe.

Palm hearts, Paraty Brazil

To appreciate the inviting islands dotted all around Paraty, you must take a boat ride.  We were in the expert hands of Davi Trinidade, our Captain for the day with his speedboat Palombeta. I had previously booked our 5-hour day trip online on his site, which is very clear and efficient – and was so impressed that we booked a second day with him!

Harbour of Paraty Brazil

It was wonderful to see Paraty from a different angle…

Paraty Church from the water

And discover paradisiac strips of beach with either smooth sand or finely crushed shell, go swimming and snorkelling. Don’t ask me why, but I still can’t get that mask on my face – so my excuse was to take the photos!

Best boat trips in Paraty Brazil

Meet the Fockers for the day!

The highlight for the girls was watching the turtles then feeding the monkeys on Monkey Island. These cuties would gently hold your finger as they politely took some banana.  Well raised little monkeys indeed! Their miniature faces were captivating.

Monkey Island near Paraty Brazil

Davi’s English was perfect and took his time with us ensuring we enjoyed every moment, including a stop off for lunch.

Brazilian food specialities

A typical dish served here is a traditional prawn or fish stew, Moqueca, served in a hot clay pot. I tasted a few to try and each one was quite liquid.  It’s served with a typical side dish of Farofa – a combination of manioc flour with some sort of fat or oil to give it a sandy texture – gravy from the stew and chilli oil to taste. This vanilla ice cream dessert looks like it’s served with cherries, right? Instead it was candied bananas, absolutely delicious.

The Twilight House Brazil

Davi anchored in front of this thatched roof villa with its private beach.  Antoine and I were totally out the cut but the girls were enthralled to hear that this was the famous house filmed in Twilight. The island of Esme, where the couple honeymoon in the saga Breaking Dawn, doesn’t exist.  It’s here in Casa em Paraty, which can be rented – perfect for vampire honeymoons, I hear.

Twilight house Paraty Brazil

Back on Paraty land, another popular form of transport is by horse-drawn carriage.

Horse-drawn carriage in Paraty Brazil

No visit to Paraty is complete without a taste of the local speciality made famous here since the 19th century. Cachaça is a sugarcane-based spirit which is the main ingredient for the Brazilian cocktail, Caipirinha. The classic cocktail was with plenty of limes but we also adored the fresh passion fruit version too at apéritif time – a great excuse to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, which we just about totally missed if we hadn’t seen a message from Mum and Dad!

Cachaca store in Paraty

A century ago, Cachaça was called Parati, hence such a famous location for the best in Brazil. After a tasting, my best Cachaça friend was definitely Gabriela, discovered at the main store in Rua do Comercio. She’s a spicy number with cinnamon and cloves.  Add this to a Caipirinha and the evening is sure to start off the festivities!

Best Cachaca in Paraty Brazil

One of my personal highlights in Paraty was a visit to the natural food store, Via Natural on Rua da Floresta. André was so enthusiastic about his products and I left just as excited as he was with my selection of cloves (cravo), cinnamon, dried guava and pineapple, brazil nuts, and – wait for it – pure roasted cocoa beans rolled in demerara sugar! I wish I could make everyone taste one who joins me on my chocolate tours in Paris! For that I’d need a regular supply, André …

Health foods in Paraty at Via Natural

André couldn’t let us leave without trying Açai (ah-sah-ee).  This super-healthy but bitter berry is found around the Amazon river basin and is hugely popular in Brazil.  As a drink, it’s sweetened normally with banana but André had a wonderfully vibrant Açai powder which I look forward to using – particularly as it’s list of health benefits is well worth the try. I’ll experiment with it for some pastries at teatime but in the meantime, I’ve already made a Brazilian version of breakfast granola using the above ingredients.  Fabulous!

Acai drink

I’ll finally leave you with a sunset from Brigitte Bardot’s beach in Buzios, the “Saint Tropez of Brazil”. Cheers to you, readers!

Now I’m finally back in Paris, you may have noticed I’ve been travelling again since Brazil.  Next stop on le blog? The Loire Valley.

(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, 2016)

Brazil: Rio de Janeiro in 3 Days

Corcovado-rio

It’s just how I imagined it. Rio’s Copacabana Beach showed off this scene on our first night, directly in front of the hotel with the blue moon looking on. Although it’s winter, the weather is perfect at this time of year, with temperatures hovering around 25°C. As one new Brazilian friend teased, “Winter in Rio was last Wednesday”.

Copacabana beach in Rio

Although we weren’t there at the time of the famous Carnival, we quickly realised how much more there is to Rio than Copacabana. For a start, there’s also Ipanema Beach.

Arriving off our night flight and feeling a bit new in this exciting City we were thankful to have booked an ideal 2-hour “Welcome to Rio” walk with Context Travel. Our lovely and lively guide, Amber, came to meet us and was itching to explain Rio’s different neighbourhoods and help us prepare our visit. Knowing we also love good food, she pointed us around the corner from the Copacabana Palace to show us some typical snacks. It didn’t take us long to taste our way around the bacon popcorn and carts of freshly baked brigadeiros, sweet chocolate fudge truffles made with condensed milk.

Rio de Janeiro with Context Travel

Pao de Queijo – warmed cheese bread balls, were my favourite and became rather addictive during our trip. They’re not unlike Gougères – French style cheese puffs typical of Burgundy, made with choux pastry – but the Brazilian version is more dense and heavier in weight. This is because instead of making them using normal all-purpose flour (as in Gougères), these cheese balls use cassava flour or tapioca flour. We also tried cheese waffles, based on these Pao de Queijo.

Copacabana-Palace-Hotel

Surprisingly, we saw Pao de Queijo on each hotels’ breakfast buffets during the trip along with the most succulent local mango, guava and papaya served with lime wedges. Limes are more popular than lemons and so a must try is the national Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha at one of the many kiosks along the beach (more on that in the next post) or by the pool as a special treat at the famous Copacabana Palace, which opened its Art Deco doors in 1923.

Another Context Tour really helped us get an idea of the City Centre (Centro), Founding Rio, the Marvellous City. Beth walked us through Rio’s fascinating history, starting with the Portuguese sailing into Guanabara Bay in January 1502. Thinking it was a mouth of a river, they called it Rio de Janeiro, or January River.

Brazil Rio architecture

By 1822 Emperor Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence with Portugal and the evidence of old Colonial with new is evident throughout the City, who’s ports served as the Capital for the gold, coffee and diamond trade. It wasn’t until 1960 that the Capital was moved to Brasilia, a more central location. The tour ended here at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Finished in 1979, it looks rather like a Mayan pyramid amongst the mix of Colonial and more modern structures.

Rio de Janeiro architecture

A note on security: it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. Like any big city, you do need to be streetwise: don’t wear a watch or jewellery or walk around with cameras on show, and stay clear of any dodgy areas at night (or darkly lit areas). Take cabs at night! In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have tightened security and gone through a major project to pacify the favelas (shanty towns) and with police presence around the city, we felt safe. Just be practical and in areas in the North East, know where you’re going otherwise take a taxi.

Antoine had to talk sweetly to get me up Sugar Loaf Mountain. With vertigo, you can imagine why I’d be scared just looking at this picture. I still can’t believe I did it! There are two cable cars. The first takes you to the flatter, Urca Mountain, and from there you are whisked up by second cable car (some mountaineers decided to brave it up the only other way) up 400m. My secret was to stay in the middle and not look out of the window. There is a lot more room up there than you think to walk around, believe me!

Sugarloaf mountain Rio

Don’t forget your kids’ IDs in order to qualify for price concessions.  We didn’t cart around our passports (naturally in a big city!) and found ourselves paying full over-21 adult prices for our 12 and 15 year olds. Lucie turned 13 a couple of days later; I know she’s tall but 21? Really.

Sugarloaf mountain cable Rio

The promised sweet talk started with one of the best ice creams in Rio at Felice in Ipanema.  I opted for the passion fruit and chilli dark chocolate.  The pistachio was also delicious – and just the right colour (you know how fussy I am about pistachio colour!).

However, for the best Teatime in Rio head to the famous institution reminiscent of the Belle Epoque, the Confeitaria Colombo in the heart of the City.

Colombo Cafe in Rio

It was busy. Apologies for the terrible shot above here but I get excited in places like this, surrounded by Art Nouveau decor and wondering who exactly walked these floors since 1894. Queen Elizabeth II did, apparently.

Colombo-cafe-rio

Needless to say, my choice was for the Pastels de Nata. I even had a savoury one, with cod fish followed by a most exquisite Pastel de Caipirinha (could you guess?). They also had French-inspired éclairs, Napoleon millefeuilles, lemon meringue tarts and chocolate tartlets (recipes in Teatime in Paris!).

Colombo restaurant for the best teatime in Rio

Talking of food, we tried out a number of places for dinner in our 5 days in Rio but here are our best restaurants for a 3 day stay:

  • Ten Kai Japanese restaurant in Ipanema;
  • Zaza Bistro in Ipanema (we ate upstairs, where you take off your shoes and eat at low tables);
  • Aprazivel, Santa Teresa. Some people told us to avoid this at night. For lunch you have spectacular views from the top but at night it’s just as good. (Just ensure that you take a taxi directly there and not walk the hill as you pass a favela). Order the palm hearts for starter.  One between 2 is enough but it’s served cooked from the palm tree.  Absolutely delicious!
  • From Aprizivel we went on to Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a live music club on 4 floors. Take ID with you for the entrance (also a small fee). We were unlucky since we booked in advance but there were no tables left and the 2 bands out of 4 stopped playing after 10 minutes for a break – so it was just recorded music. Hopefully you’ll be more lucky since it’s a must-do here for some Samba dancing!

Rio Scenarium live music

Another essential must-see in Rio is up the Corcovado (Portuguese for “hunchback”) mountain to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Rendentor). The most popular transport to get there is by train.  Normally we would have done it early in the morning to avoid the crowds but since this was Winter and the sun was shining with a great view potential, we took a taxi up to Paineiras Road then bought our tickets for the park vans to take us to the top.

Corcovado-rio

Again, like Sugar Loaf Mountain, there is a lot more room at the top than you think for the weaker amongst us. And the view of Rio de Janeiro is incredible – don’t forget a jacket or cardigan, as it is a bit cooler up there.  If it’s misty, however, don’t even bother going.  The whole point is for the view and to see the statue perched on this granite rock of 710m.  On a misty day you won’t see either of them.  We also saw some monkeys on the way down in the Tijuca Forest, which just made Lucie’s 13th birthday!

Christ the Redeemer monument Rio

On our last day we enjoyed our final walking tour with Amber from Context: Bohemian Rio, Santa Teresa and Lapa. Even although we had already seen a bit of Santa Teresa, we would never have seen all the secret parts of it without a guide.

Santa Teresa Rio

Amber showed us the original trolley car, famous in Santa Teresa but which was stopped in 2012 for security reasons following an accident. The area is full of renovation work in anticipation of the Olympics next year but it looks like the trolley will be back in action again soon.

Santa Teresa in Rio Brazil

We loved visiting this traditional bookstore with a difference, where this passionate writer keeps the tradition alive of writing booklets on academic subjects – some of which were in English. There are many flamboyant artists in the area too, finding ingenious ways to recycle abandoned objects, including a Beetle car shell!

As we walked on the typical mosaic tiled pavements in Rio – originally brought from Portugal and replaced by gold on the way back – our tour with Amber finished with a hidden viewpoint in the heart of the city to watch the most magnificent sunset.

Views of Rio from Santa Teresa

For music lovers, the home of Bossa Nova calls and the end of our trip finished on a high note at the Vinicius Bar in Ipanema with Gloria Ettari. I couldn’t recommend this enough!

Vinicius Bar in Rio

Stay tuned for the next post where we stop off at two destinations north and south of Rio, Buzios and Paraty, for a taste of the lazy beach life and islands plus the local Cachaça.

Related Article: Visits outside Rio de Janiero: Buzios & Paraty, Brazil


 

(Note: this was not at all a sponsored trip but our private family holiday I wanted to share with you, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Brazil, August 2016)

Pistachio Strawberry Panna Cotta Recipe

Before I get to the recipe for Pistachio Strawberry Panna Cotta, let me tell you how I got there first.

Continuing to follow the sun this summer, we stopped for breath in the French Alps.  Walking in the clean, mountain air was the best answer to liberate us from any of the year’s accumulating cobwebs.  Next time I’ll take a bike (although I need to practice on flat ground first) but in the meantime we did plenty of cyclist watching, hypnotically driving behind previous marks on the road left by red-spotted or yellow-tunic supporters during past Tour de France mountain races.

French Alps le Col du Galibier

As we were perched in Montgenèvre, Italy was just next door.  Italian temptation rang like the tinkling of neighbouring church bells at noon and so we popped over for a sweet few hours.  We headed East on the stunning Turin road for the Roman town of Susa in Piedmont, a peaceful sleepy town definitely worth visiting.

Italian countryside around Susa near French Alps

This ‘pasticceria‘ pastry shop was our first sweet welcome, although it was closed for a long lunch (and obviously siesta) when we arrived.   You could tell from the window that their macarons were selling as much as their traditional baci di dama (lit: ladies’ kisses) biscuits.

Italian pastry shop window with macarons

Susa’s streets gravitate towards the Porta Savoia gate, where the town centre’s piazza is marked by the 11th Century San Giusto Cathedral. The gate is also considered by the locals as quite modern, as it was rebuilt during the Middle Ages!

Roman Porta Savoia gate in Susa Italy

It’s hard to believe that these monuments are still standing since their Roman predecessors.  Below left is the Augustan Arch, dating back to 8 BC.  On the right, the remains of the Roman aqueduct, slightly younger, clocking in at 375 AD.

Roman gates in Susa, Italy

It’s mind-blowing just thinking of the number of gladiators who would have been behind these bars, awaiting their turn to run out into the Roman Ampitheatre to a roar of excited spectators, hungry for action.

Roman amphitheatre in Susa, Italy

After testing the perfect acoustics of the Ampitheatre pretending to be an opera singer, it was time to make a sharp exit since I was embarrassing hubby and the girls (Valérie, a good friend in Provence, has a sign in her WC saying “If you’re not embarrassing your kids you’re not living life to the full”.)  Running after them, it didn’t take long to discover they were already choosing ice cream flavours from the piazza’s La Bottega del Gelate.

Somehow, however, I feel I can live life to the full without selfies.  The girls were trying to explain how to take them properly but I was more interested in ice cream.  Julie didn’t give up: “Well at least make a silly face, Mum.”  I tried.

I also tried to go posh, Pierre Hermé style, and pick a chocolate and passion fruit combination. The passion fruit was rather synthetic but the chocolate was good (although I wanted Baci – chocolate ice cream with hazelnut like Perigina’s ‘kiss’ chocolates).  Our overall winner was voted as pistachio as there must have been real Italian pistachios in there.

Jill Colonna tasting ice creams from La Bottega del Gelate in Susa, Italy

As we checked out the local grocery stores for pistachios, we found the best deal and quality at the local Carrefour supermarket, full of interesting Italian produce.  Quickly cleaning out their stock of Sicilian pistachios, I couldn’t wait to try them back home: liberally added to weekend brioche, dark chocolate cake, or pistachio and chocolate-pistachio macarons.  It’s not just the flavour but the pistachio colour (see this post about it) has to look realistic, don’t you think?

mixing batter to make pistachio macarons

It didn’t take long before I made a few panna cottas for a Sunday afternoon lunch last weekend.  Rose and griotte cherry panna cottas were on the menu but above all, these simple pistachio strawberry panna cotta desserts.

mini panna cottas with different flavours

Needless to add that panna cottas go deliciously well with macarons!  I completely forgot about this packaging bought in a baking supply shop in Rouen.  It’s handy to transport your macarons since the little tower centrepiece has a cover that you can easily clip around them.  Rouen – there’s another place I should tell you about later.

pistachio and chocolate macaron tower display

Perhaps I could call the chocolate-hazelnut macarons (one of the 38 macaron recipes in the book BTW) Baci macaron?  Bite into one and it’s a chocolate kiss.  Oh-la-la. Enough of that nutty talk.  Time to get on with the recipe!

pistachio strawberry panna cotta

Pistachio Strawberry Panna Cotta

Makes enough for 8 mini verrines / shot-glasses

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2.5 hours minimum

3 sheets gelatine (@2g each)
400ml crème fleurette or whipping cream (30% butterfat)
100ml whole/full fat milk
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp pistachio paste *
3-4 drops pistachio extract (or almond extract)

Strawberry Coulis:
1 gelatine leaf (@ 2g)
300g fresh strawberries
50g caster sugar

* If you don’t have pistachio paste, make up your own: whizz 100g unsalted pistachios in a grinder.  Mix together with 25g ground almonds, 50g sugar, 2 drops of pistachio extract and a tablespoon of water.

1. Soak the 3 gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.

2. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and pistachio paste in a saucepan.  Once heated through, squeeze the gelatine of excess water and stir it into the warm cream until melted.  Add the pistachio extract then pour into serving glasses.

3. Cool for 15 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

4. Just before the creams are set, prepare the coulis.  Soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes.  Whizz together the strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor.  Microwave 3 tbsp on high for 30 seconds, and melt in the gelatine (squeezed of excess water). Set aside to cool and when the creams are set, pour on the coulis and continue to chill in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes.

pistachio strawberry panna cotta recipe

pistachio strawberry panna cotta

Funny.  As I’m writing, I can sniff the waft of pizza floating upstairs.  Lucie has discovered how to make pizza all by herself.  It has been so good that she’s starting to make it quite often – and she’s even excited at cleaning up – well, nearly.