Manuela's Food Tour
Rotterdam's Manuela Gonçalves Tavares is owner and chef of toko restaurant Coco, where she takes soul food to another level with her unique flavours.
Also called the ‘black gem of Rotterdam’, Manuela Gonçalves Tavares is the owner and chef of toko restaurant Coco. Her career began in Michelin-starred kitchens such as that of Herman den Blijker and in social projects like Hotspot Hutspot. She was born and raised in Rotterdam, a city that she has seen evolve over time but she would never want to leave. After her own catering businesses Toko94 and Toko Trash, she now owns Coco, on a nice little corner on the quiet, cosy side of Hoogstraat. If you’re not good at house numbers: look out for the candy pink terrace benches - you can't miss them.
Coco's menu features fantastic soul food, with Manuela's own signature. She cooks classic Cape Verdean, Surinamese, Antillean and Asian dishes, often with vegan and vegetarian versions. Before the you-know-what broke out, she used to eat out a lot, but as a restaurant owner with a closed business, that’s no longer easy. She follows what's going on, looks at her favourite restaurants’ mouthwatering menus, but out of self-preservation she has started to unfollow a number of Instagram accounts. This prevents frustration about wanting to eat at seafood restaurant Zeezout or De Engel, but fortunately Manuela has now made some reservations. Her recent appreciation of vin nature came at Blije Wijnen in Katendrecht, where she surprised herself: ‘never thought I would enjoy so many’, she jokes... as many as eight! A gem: punk winemaker Brendan Tracey and his Rebel Wines - just for the labels. Wijnbar Verward, Coco's neighbour, has the finer (natural) wines.
If you need to buy in bulk for your own kitchen, you can't really go to small shops such as Wah Nam Hong (formerly Ome Harry (or ‘Uncle Harry’s’), but now he’s closed down) on the West-Kruiskade, which is a Mecca for foodies, just like the Nieuwe Binnenweg. But for inspiration and out of a passion for and curiosity about different exotic cuisines, Manuela can spend hours strolling around there. She buys obscure products, finds out what they actually are when she gets back home, she smells, tastes, watches and she talks to people. Like with the elderly Indian lady in Toko Kondreman, who makes the most delicious noodles - a family recipe, of course, prepared ‘by feel’ rather than with a pattern of quantities and proportions. There’s a Cape Verdean motto: ‘All you need is a good hand, like green fingers'. During her time at Toko94, the concept of Tokological cooking was born, in an ode to undervalued treasures from the toko. Although her palette is very broad, Manuela continues to successfully elaborate on that concept. Manuela recognises a great love of vegetables, for example, in the Rotterdam chefs at Bar Berta and De Jong. At De Jong's, she ordered a cabbage grilled on the Green Egg with a vinaigrette. When she finished her last mouthful, she ordered it again straight away. Delicious! Yama's sushi is also highly recommended, but you will never want to eat sushi anywhere else from that point on...
Manuela buys her fish from Ruud de Haan in Kralingen. (Social) bread from Bakkerswerkplaats, Italian delicacies from Little Italy (a gem of a shop on De Meent since 1981). When the weather’s nice, you can have the perfect picnic in Trompenburg Gardens & Arboretum in Kralingen. A hidden green gem with a desert greenhouse, sculpture garden and food forest. For breakfast, go to Lof der Zoetheid, or - even better - the sweet, enthusiastic team at Wolf Coffee in Oud-Charlois. Cosy, themed rooms can be found at Hotel Bazar, and the Mainport hotel even has a room with its own sauna. This hotel also has a rooftop terrace with breathtaking views of the city. Speaking of terraces, De Tuin van de Vier Windstreken in the Kralingse Bos is a great place to hang out, and De Schouw on Witte de Withstraat is the place to be for birds of paradise and colourful characters. The grounds around Boijmans Van Beuningen, with the new museum depot and its spectacular palace of mirrors, are not yet complete, but Manuela says it’s going to be fantastic. And let’s not forget her favourite place in Rotterdam's Museumpark: Het Nieuwe Instituut. After all of this cultural fun, the best form of guilty snacking can be found with the cheerful ladies at the Frietboutique. Or for a Surinamese bakkeljauw sandwich, go to De Kade on (again!) West-Kruiskade.
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