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Portuguese dining in Johannesburg

In many cities around the world, certain areas have become defined by the specific ethic groups that settled there. In our own country, people were forced to live in certain areas because of a political and economic agenda over which they had no influence. These historic events created pockets like La Rochelle and Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, which are characterised to this day by a distinct Portuguese presence and a number of flourishing restaurants serving excellent food.

Restaurant Parreirinha is run by the Da Cunha family. The manager indicated that one should not ask about vegetarian food because Portuguese cooks don’t understand ‘no meat’, and while this may be partly true, it is certainly not definitive of Portuguese food. At Parreirinha, the rissóis de camarão (crumbed pockets filled with a chilli-tinged prawn and béchamel mixture) are so good you may not want to eat anything else. These are almost pure prawn with a dash of seafood béchamel to make them even juicier, and the prawns are plump, fat and just-cooked. Parreirinha also prepares the obligatory grilled sardines to utter perfection, served very simply with boiled potatoes. Do not even attempt to get in when they celebrate their birthday around June/July and prices are ridiculously reduced: at 11am the entire restaurant (seating 200 people) will be packed with followers gorging themselves on prawns.

One chef who has broken the mould with her own interpretation of Mozambican food is Thea Blom from 33 High Street Restaurant. Thea earned her stripes by operating a restaurant in Maputo for a number of years, following that with a restaurant in Pretoria loved by the diplomatic corps, before moving to Modderfontein. Hers is a modern interpretation of Mozambican food, characterised by contemporary, refined plating and a fresh edge, without sacrificing the core flavours and ingredients of old favourites.

Many Portuguese families relate stories about fathers or grandfathers who arrived in SA in the 70s, settling in the Vaal Triangle or the south of Johannesburg, like the Sequeira family of Rio Douro Fisheries. This shop is a mecca for a variety of Mediterranean foods, but you will also find professional cook, teacher and caterer Mimi Jardim’s cookery book here (or contact her on 011 609 7758 for more information).

Apart from every conceivable variety of chorizo and a staggering variety of olive oils, they also stock some incredible imported fresh mountain cheese called queijo de serra. The selection of fish and seafood includes clams, scallops and, of course, prawns, while they also sell a good selection of fresh meat. On the way in (or out) stop for a quick espresso and snack on a variety of rissóis (bacalhau, chicken or prawn with the powerful punch of chilli) or sweet goodies such a lemon milk tart and pasteis de nata. Don’t ask for cappuccino; this is strictly espresso country.

Other useful details to have are those of Fatima Coelho for catering (082 557 8640) and The Mediterranean for groceries. A Churrasqueira is just up the road from Rio Douro. Apart from a great play area for children, they also have really good chicken livers that are meaty and savoury with a hint of chilli and lemon. I tried them with a starter portion of deep-fried mealie meal, which is like Italian polenta with a chiffonade of caldo verde and chilli (usually sold pre-sliced by street vendors). This provided the perfect vehicle to mop up the spicy sauce of the chicken livers, although the complimentary bread rolls were pretty darn good, too.

Some other restaurants to try are: Ponto de Encontro, Sao Vincente, Adega de Monge,  Pequeno Mundo and Sandelani Portuguese Restaurant. For a larger-than-life Portuguese experience, make an effort to visit the Lusito Land Festival at Wemmer Pan, normally held in April or May every year. This giant party, hosted by the Lusito Association for the mentally and physically challenged, attracts thousands of visitors and features fabulous food and drink.

By Hennie Fisher

Images: 33 High Street Restaurant and Restaurant Parreirinha

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