22 Nov Let’s go Spicy
Let’s go Spicy
It’s at Martim Moniz, in the heart of downtown Lisbon, that you can find small Indian and African grocery stores that take us back to the Spice Route of yore. You just have to follow your nose.
FOLLOW YOUR NOSE
When you arrive at the Martim Moniz Square in Lisbon for the first time, you may feel scattered, unable to focus on a single point, on a single detail. The area is crossed by a constant frenzy of people of different nationalities, talking in various languages, but there is a clear oriental emphasis, with many Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Chinese shops and restaurants.
It is at Martim Moniz, amongst this chaotic human landscape where the senses are challenged by the luminosity of a square where the sun spends the days playing hide-and-seek with the shade, by the noisy traffic that takes over downtown Baixa on rush hour or by the myriad of distinct scents that simply tell you to follow your nose.
In the surrounding narrow streets of cobblestone there is a concentration of traditional grocery stores specialized in Indian and African cuisines. When you step inside Nita, a shop only to be found at a hidden corridor of the Mouraria Shopping Centre, you are entering a different world. You are first drawn in by curiosity, then by the warm colours of the products on display and, finally, by the smell of spices.
This neighbourhood is crossed by a constant frenzy of people of different nationalities
The store is owned by Kotecha Amrutlal and his wife Nita Kotecha, a couple of Goan immigrants who also lived in Mozambique before setting up residence in Portugal. It is the kindness and attention they give to those entering the grocery store that sets it aside from the others. After a quick exchange of words with Mr. Kotecha, you know you are in the right place. The shop has a very wide range of products on offer, from vegetables, some used as spices – such as ginger, chillies, Indian cucumber, among many others – to the thousands of small bags of spice powders that combine various mixtures, suitable for seasoning very specific oriental delicacies.
The space is small, but it is easy to become disoriented when you look at the stuffed shelves. The couple are always willing to help and explain the use we can make of each product in detail. Nita, the wife who lent her name to the store, enthusiastically recommends the Tea Masala spice mixture, a fusion of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, star anise, black pepper, clove and nutmeg. A small amount in a cup of black tea with milk and its we can immediately feel its invigorating effects, she assures us.
Kotecha Amrutlal and Nita Kotecha opened their store in 1996. It was the first store in the Mouraria Shopping Centre and it’s a must-go for spicy food lovers
The Fusion Market sits at the heart of the Martim Moniz Square since 2012, and here we are invited to try different cuisines from across the globe. There you can find, for example, German, Chinese, Indian, Chilean, Italian, Japanese and African delicacies, and many offer vegetarian and macrobiotic alternatives.
However, if we want to discover the best African food in the city – according to foreign press – we need to dive into a strecth of shrunken alleys in the Mouraria neighbourhood all the way to the “Cantinho do Aziz”.
This restaurant specializes in Mozambican and African food and spices are present in almost all the dishes on the menu and where the sacana, made with chili-peppers and not recommended for more sensitive palates, is the epitome of hotness.
On the walls of the terrace, a set of photographs tell the story of the place, showing Aziz’s children by the barbecue cooking the renowned Zambezian chicken – “frango à zambeziana” – while in the foreground is Khalid, who at the time the picture was taken was the restaurant manager. To the side there is a photo of Jenny, the Chef.
Although it has been around for 36 years, many people think this is a new restaurant because it had a boom when it was praised by British and Spanish newspapers “Daily Mail” and “El País”, among many others. If for years this was a closely guarded secret among the Mozambican community, today the “Cantinho do Aziz” welcomes people and praise from all corners of the world. The delicacies require more than one visit, but if you want to give it a go, try the samosas, the prawn curry and the “Miamba Wa Macua” – prawns with banana in coconut sauce and palm oil. You will not regret it.