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"The food I did find varies somewhat in delivery," he admits. "I asked for the Scotch eggs in one establishment and received these mammoth overcooked things with burnt breading." That aside, he's pleased with what he's found so far. "I have had an excellent Cornish pastie at The Bull and Bear (11980 Westheimer, 281-496-6655) and a really good Sunday lunch at the Red Lion (2316 S. Shepherd, 713-782-3030)."
He's equally pleased with the fact that shopping for food from home has become easier over the years, as well. "British Isles (2366 Rice Blvd., 713-522-6868) is the best bet for anything UK-related," he says. "But I have also increasingly been able to find a selection of UK foods in the likes of Randalls and H-E-B stores recently. Not sure if this is a new development or I just missed them prior, but it's much appreciated nonetheless," he smiles.
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"Tiradito is something between Japanese and Peruvian food," Roberto Castre explains. "It's like Japanese sashimi with a ceviche sauce."
Castre, who opened Latin Bites (1302 Nance, 713-229-8369) a little over a month ago with his sister and brother-in-law, moved to the United States from Peru nine years ago. In that time, he lived in New York City, Dallas and finally Miami before moving to Houston to be with his family, who'd settled here in the meantime. "There's just something special about Houston," he says. "It's more modern, it's friendly." Trained as a chef in Peru and having worked in kitchens across the country, he decided to open a Peruvian restaurant in a city that doesn't have much in the way of food from that region.
Peru is quickly becoming the culinary capital of South America, with a strong Asian influence that has created a highly varied and creative cuisine out of native ingredients, Hispanic culture and plenty of fresh seafood. Ceviche is an excellent example of this philosophy, borrowing from many different cultures to create a uniquely Peruvian dish of raw fish cured with citrus juices. At Latin Bites, Castre — in keeping with the Peruvian attitude of ingenuity and creativity — is, in his words, "bringing a new concept, new techniques to ceviche."
At the ceviche bar — which he likens to a sushi bar in a Japanese restaurant — you order a ceviche (all of which is made with flounder, shrimp or a combination of the two) and it's made in front of you, fresh. "We use rocoto, aji amarillo or aji limo," Castre says, referring to the three Peruvian peppers used as bases for the ceviche, peppers which he's easily able to obtain here in Houston.
It used to be difficult to get such ingredients in the States, he says, "but not anymore." Castre has found a wholesaler with a Houston presence — Barreda Food Products — that gets him everything he needs, from pisco to lúcuma, which he uses in unique creations like a lúcuma tiramisu.
The small, Houston-based chain Pollo Bravo (10434-B Richmond, 713-278-0801) serves more authentic, home-style Peruvian food, from rotisserie chicken to the bright-purple, warmly spiced fermented maize beverage called chicha morada that's second only to its pisco sour as the best Peruvian drink in town.
In Brazil, cuisine takes on a Creole persuasion due to the African and West Indies populations brought over by the Portuguese during their 300-year colonization of the country. Despite this, Brazilian food in Houston is mostly identified with churrascarias and dancing girls in feathers and sparkly bras. For truly authentic Brazilian food, however, head to Emporio Brazilian Cafe (12288 Westheimer, 281-293-7442) for foods like feijoada — Brazil's national dish — and the shrimp stew called bobó de camarão. Pop one or two knobs of pão de queijo — cheese bread made with manioc flour — into your mouth and you might not be able to stop.
The strongly European-influenced Argentina presents an interesting balance to other South American countries, where native foods and dishes are still present in modern cuisine. In Argentina, there is little to no indigenous influence on the national cuisine. Why? Because Argentina was very sparsely populated prior to colonization by Spain and the resulting influx of European settlers.
As a result, Argentinean cuisine is what colonists made of it. German, French, Spanish and Italian cuisines have all made their mark over the years, resulting in diverse dishes like thickly pounded milanesas and mashed potatoes — strongly similar to German schnitzel but with an Italian name — alongside French-style wines and cheeses. But above all, beef is king here, something most Texans can relate to. Manena's (11018 Westheimer, 713-278-7139) is the meeting grounds for most Argentine expats in Houston, with plenty of milanesas as well as a variety of authentic empanadas (although the carne and humita — creamed corn — options are the best). Of course, leaving without pastries is almost a sin: Argentina is known almost as much for its alfajores as its beef.
"I came here in 1981," recalls chef Hugo Ortega, who moved to Houston from Mexico City as a teenager. "It was a huge shock in culture for me. Coming from a big city, I thought, 'Where are all the people?' In those days, the crisis in oil was bad. It was very difficult for me."