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Half a dozen years ago, hearing about tiger milk, most of us would have been puzzled, wondering how the hell you milk a cat that size. But then ceviche became fashionable. We learned then that it is neither dairy nor feline, it is just the citrus juice from the marinade with which Peruvians prepare the fish, and that no one runs the risk of dying in the process. Today, in Lisbon, Peru’s national dish has the ubiquity of bitoque, and if I tell you that the last five restaurants I tried in the city had ceviche, I’m afraid I’m sinning by default.
Among them is the Ni Michi, a recent novelty from LX Factory and exemplary of the Latin American wave that flooded Lisbon. Now, Ni Michi, is a Peruvian expression for “nothing”, but also the relaxed way of saying “no problem”. Based on this trivia, I conclude that the starting point of the letter must be Peru. But Ni Michi goes further and promises a menu “composed of traditionally Latin American dishes, prepared by native chefs”. It turns out that Latin America, as the Jafumega teach us, is an immense thing, it goes “from Paraguay to Puerto Rico / Salvador to Honduras / from Bolivia to Guatemala / Argentina to Chi-iii-le”, and a menu where you want to sticking all this in will always be a caricature. Which is not necessarily bad, if what you want is to create an experience close to a certain imaginary of flavors, rhythms and tropical colors, in a house that — I realize on arrival — is half a restaurant, half a bar with live music. It’s the “native cooks” part that intrigues me. Because then, one of the two: either they put the entire Mercosur in the kitchen or we are talking about natives of Capricorn.
To be fair, the same text, sprawled across an Expresso-shaped menu, says that “Ni Michi is a reference to Amazonian roots, respect for nature and indigenous good living”, adding that “here, doing nothing is contemplation”. and edification”. Let’s do it by steps. The reference to the Amazon always reduces the map a bit — so we only have Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — but then that doesn’t match the mariachi spirit of the tacos and burritos. As for the experience of contemplation, it also leaves me wondering. It’s just that the fun of the house lies precisely in the constant festivities and I don’t see what this could have to do with the peaceful life of the Guajajara Indians.
You will tell me that I have already burned 2500 characters and I have only grumbled with the concept. You’re right, it’s an embarrassment. I’m averse to bullshit storytelling to be parroted on lifestyle pages. But I grant that, in the end, the most important thing is always the food and the experience. Let’s go in then, it’s getting late.
It’s 8:40 pm on a Wednesday and the house is well made up. A generous Erasmus entourage fills half the room at a long table. For the rest, some couples and tables of four, everything camone, to be sure. The space is pleasant, bright colors, tropical motifs and hints of a Latin suburb, on the right a giant spray-painted toucan, on the left a Disney-style Indian face in The Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin columns at soundcheck volume.
On the ceiling hang vegetables and wicker lamps, very much in the style of Matchamama, a restaurant that opened a few months before and a few doors down, where the proposal is a fusion of Peruvian and Asian cuisine and where, there, tiger milk is also abundant. It’s not a crazy idea. Peru is a country where the Japanese community — which is generically called the Nikkei — has a strong cultural influence, which extends to the arts, letters, politics and gastronomy, and which has produced such disparate results as ceviche and Alberto Fujimori. As far as I know, this Matchamama is precisely linked to Nikkei, a restaurant that in 2017 was installed in the space of the former Vela Latina, in Doca do Bom Sucesso, and which was already exploring this legacy of emigration from the Pacific.
And with that I dispersed again. So let’s go back to the Latin cuisine and start with a classic ceviche, to get the matter out of the way. It arrives as promised, in the traditional way, thin strips of red onion and red pepper, cooked Peruvian corn, fried giant corn seeds, sweet potato slices. But the set is unplugged and washed out, without much refinement or flavor, the croaker still a little stiff, everything a little dry and giving the idea that someone forgot to milk the cat. In other words, it’s not good.
It’s now 9 pm and the live music starts. My friend and I stayed at a table near the musicians, and at this time I fear that the sound will interfere with the seismographs in São Jorge. But the band will be the best news of the night. It’s called Galax Duo, guitar/vocals and drums, serving cocktails between hits from the eighties and others from this millennium, exploring the incestuous relationships that abound in pop, and suddenly we have Lionel Richie and Rihanna in the same bed of chords. Talent, humour, instant party.
On the other side of the table, my friend hits herself with a frozen passion fruit margarita. She ordered the classic, but the waitress informed her that it was over and that the slush machine (!) was not going to work anymore — hearing this, I ran for the beer. She says it looks like a compal and with good reason: it has the creaminess and flavor of fresh nectar, only with salt on the edges and 40 degrees of kickback.
We continued at a snack pace. First some tuna tiraditos, another Japanese heritage from Peru, a kind of sashimi with a light marinade. The fish of good families, firm, a finger height, flavor of sesame, soy and cucumber, nice set. Less interesting is the Mexican canasta: the nice corn nachos, a small bowl with guacamole without much flavor, another with melted cheese, similar to the one that makes cows laugh. The shepherd’s tacos, in which he had placed all the hope of my sweet tooth, was a disappointment. The meat was done, but without a hint of spice, a stale piece of pineapple sweetening the thing too much, and the tortilla so moist and soggy that it was impossible to pick up the whole thing without it splashing on its way to your mouth.
By this time, the dance is set. The gang finds out that Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” makes a perfect medley with Simply Red’s “Something Got Me Started”, tables are moved, the dance floor is improvised, a glass in hand explodes. It’s past ten on a cold Wednesday in March and I feel like I’m on a seniors trip to Cancun. The hustle is contagious, but this can’t be taken without alcohol: two beers please!
Between songs, the entertainer lets you know that he accepts tips and I think the seven euritos in the margherita would fit better in his hat. Not even eleven o’clock and I’m done with the night. I had fun, I don’t know if in the way and for the reasons I was supposed to. Outside, the LX Factory fades away and only two other houses are still full: the Matchamama and the Mex Factory, another lively tacos and tequilas spot. Latin America is in an uproar and the revolution begins in Alcântara.
I’ll go back, but it’s more for the party.
Rua Rodrigues de Faria, 103 Building I, Space 0.01. Sun-Wed 11.00-00.00, Thu-Sat 11.00-02.00. Phone: 924 688 222
The Implacable Experimenter is a fictional figure created by Arnaldo Valente, who in turn is a pseudonym for another guy. He’s a man of his word and only doesn’t show his face because he needs her to shave. He has little tendency to bias, is not very sensitive to sensibilities, is fascinated by unimportant things, and insists on playing with serious things. He only speaks of what he experiences, although he cannot speak of everything he has experienced.