Visit Caramba to discover there's more to Portuguese food than just peri-peri
That's not to say this Cape Town restaurant's peri-peri dishes aren't delicious, but the menu also showcases traditional Madeira fare you may not have tried before, writes Kit Heathcock
Caramba prides itself on cooking up authentic Portuguese food. To owners Analita da Silva and Rob Pagan, this means including traditional recipes that take days of slow preparation, the dishes that Analita’s family would cook for celebrations and for everyday family meals.
“What we’ve done is taken the perception of Portuguese food which here in SA comes from the Mozambican and Angolan traditions such as peri-peri chicken and prawns, and added the authentic traditional dishes that you find in Portugal,” says Rob.
Analita’s family came from Madeira, Rob’s from Mozambique and they both grew up here in Cape Town.
Together they have created a warm neighbourhood taverna that’s busy every night, and on Sundays it’s full of Cape Town’s Portuguese community gathering for family lunches.
Seating just 30 inside and the same again under umbrellas outside, the vibe is intimate and homely.
The emphasis is on hearty home cooking, everything being freshly prepared daily, including the three levels of homemade peri-peri sauce. We tried the mild and the hot, the extra hot is for those who like tears to flow as they eat!
Bacalhau, the traditional salt cod of Portugal, features in several dishes – previous experiences of it elsewhere had left me underwhelmed but it’s a revelation here at Caramba. The secret is seven days of soaking with multiple changes of water, resulting in fish that’s delicate in flavour and texture.
We devour the pasteis de bacalhau – cod croquettes – as a starter, and love the celebratory platter of bacalhau with potatoes, boiled egg, caramelised onions and olives, a traditional Portuguese Christmas dish.
We savour peri-peri chicken livers, in a gorgeous rich sauce, then mop up the sauce with delicious piping-hot milho frito, crisp cornmeal fritters that are a typical Madeiran side dish.
The peri-peri chicken with crisp spicy skin and succulent flesh has just the right degree of heat, and comes with peri-peri sauce to add more to taste.
A rich bean stew, feljoada takes four days to prepare, beans simmered slowly with chicken, pork and chorizo to mellow depth of flavour, and makes a sustaining and hearty lunch on its own.
Leave enough room to taste Analita’s homemade pasteis de nata – Portuguese custard tarts with crispy pastry, luscious wobbly egg custard and a hint of cinnamon.
It’s true comfort food from a culture that loves eating, and that makes the most of simple ingredients cooked with integrity.
This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za