Fancy a feijoada? Craving a caipirinha? Siem Reap’s first Brazilian restaurant, Gigi Brasil, is open for business thanks to the owner’s hankering for some home-cooked food.
Vanessa dos Santos, a Paulistana – São Paolo national – has been based in Siem Reap with her family for the last two years, and found she was really missing Brazilian fare.
“I was trying to make it at home but I could not find the ingredients here,” she says. “I was talking to my husband and decided to try opening a restaurant.”
Despite being a newcomer to the restaurant business, Dos Santos has clearly found a winning formula as even in the short time it’s been open, customers have been flocking to Gigi’s, which is named after her son, Gabriel.
“People are coming, they’re liking the food, I’m happy,” she says.
The menu features hearty dishes such as feijoada, a traditional Brazilian black bean stew made with pork, and camarão na moranga, a small pumpkin stuffed with prawns in a creamy tomato sauce. The beef a Braziliana, a kind of beef parmigiana served with both fries and rice, was so enormous Insider had to admit defeat and take half of it home in a doggy-bag. Definitely not a place for the salad-nibblers.
Dos Santos explains that São Paolo is similar to New York in that it is a melting-pot of different nationalities and, therefore, culinary influences.
“It’s the second biggest city in the world I think in business and so we have everything, including international food – it’s a fusion,” she says. “So with the menu I wanted to do something mixed, as Brazil is mixed. My family is very big and from all over Brazil, so I know all the different dishes, which is why we have popular food from the north-east like feijoada.”
When making feijoada, a lot of preparation goes into the meat before being added to the stew, Dos Santos says. The pork is bought locally but the beef is imported from Australia.
“We have to work on the meat before, we salt it for ten days,” she says. “We also make our own homemade sausage. We buy the meat fresh, clean everything, prepare the meat, leave it for one day and then let it dry. It has a particular taste; we add chili pepper, fennel and other ingredients.”
Alongside the main courses are smaller tapas-style bites like coxinha, a typical São Paolo street food consisting of a chicken croquette, and päo de queijo, small cheese buns – both delicious.
“Päo de queijo is from the south-east,” she says. “Brazilian people love cheese, they make it fresh. We don’t have it here so I make them with cheddar cheese. There they are in love with päo de queijo, they have shops selling only this.”
Dos Santos says as well as the food, customers are going crazy in the drinks department for caipirinha – which is the real thing.
“We use cachaça, made from sugar cane, and maybe it’s different,” she says, admitting, “Personally it’s too strong for me – but it’s Brazilian and people like it.”
The airy eatery has a tropical, beach-hut feel to it; all bamboo, with large colourful paintings of parrots and toucans adorning the walls. There is a small lounge area which Dos Santos plans to transform into a ‘beach lounge’ by adding sand, while a screen to the side plays silent images from Brazilian videos and documentaries.
Dos Santos is holding an official opening, themed around a Brazilian beach party, tomorrow night, Saturday November 9. An expected highlight is a performance by Dos Santos herself decked out in carnival bikini, alongside three ladyboys from Rosanna Broadway who have been practicing their samba.
“For the party we’re going to make everything full of sand, apart from one area because I have asked some dancers from Rosanna Broadway to come,” she says, indicating the space that will serve as stage. “They will dress in costumes, I will be dressed up as well and they are preparing my outfit. We will have space so that people can dance if they want to – I really want to make a party like a carnival.”
The party kicks off at 6pm and there will be tapas, finger food, sangria and discounts on drinks, as well as a hog roast barbecue.