Thursday, October 07, 2010

Cape Verdean in Boston

cachupa

I spent an evening in Boston this summer before heading up to the north shore. With time for one dinner in town, I decided that I really wanted to try a cuisine that's unavailable in New York, Cape Verdean. Southern New England is the epicenter of the Portuguese-speaking diaspora in the U.S., especially around Cape Cod, New Bedford, Providence and eastern Connecticut (remember Julia Roberts in
Mystic Pizza?). Not only are there plenty of Portuguese and Brazilians in that neck of the coast, there are also immigrants from Portugal's former African colonies: Cape Verde, certainly, and I think, to some degree at least, Angola, Mozambique and Sao Tome e Principe. The islands of Cabo Verde, or Cape Verde, lie in the Atlantic about 350 miles off the west coast of Africa. They were uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese, and most of the inhabitants now are creoles of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry. The country's most famous export is the singer Cesaria Evora, the barefoot diva.

I don't know if the restaurant Cesaria's, in Boston's Dorchester section, is named for its owner or in tribute to the singer. I also can't be sure it's still open, as the restaurant's website has been offline the last few times I checked. I do hope they're still in business, as the food was excellent, the prices low and the staff warm and cordial.

Cape Verdean cuisine draws largely from Portuguese cooking, with some African elements. The national dish is cachupa, a stew of beans and hominy with pork, sort of like a cassoulet, but also reminiscent of something one might find in the American south (like hoppin' John). Cesaria's cachupa was delicious, the flavors well-married by slow cooking. I can understand why this is the Cape Verdean comfort food.

We had started with two appetizers. The fried quail was wonderfully flavorful, with prominent but not overpowering notes of wine and garlic. The octopus was grilled to perfection with an enticing char.

fried quail

grilled octopus

Camarao Mocambique, or shrimp Mozambique-style, is a dish that has found its way into Portuguese as well as Cape Verdean cuisine by way of the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique. It's a spicy dish, seasoned with Malagueta peppers.

camarao Mocambique

Many of the dishes at Cesaria's can be found in Portuguese restaurants, but the quintessentially Cape Verdean cachupa is not to be missed.

Restaurante Cesaria
266 Bowdoin St.
Dorchester, MA
(617) 282-1998

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