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A new, tiny cafe is bringing the combined taste of Portugal and Mozambique to Hell’s Kitchen. Cantinho do Aziz‘s cuisine is already a beloved fixture in Lisbon and in Britain, where its sister restaurant in the northern English city of Leeds is critically acclaimed. Now, they’re bringing sweet and savory pastries to the West Side.
Co-owned by Mozambique-born Chef Jeny Sulemange and husband Aziz Sulemange, Cantinho (which means “corner” and reflects the shop’s teeny tiny dimensions) is the latest outpost of the successful Mozambique-Portuguese fusion cafe that began from the pair selling Chef Jeny’s Piripiri sauce, Mozambique’s signature fiery spice blend, as well as both Jeny and Aziz’s cookbooks and travel food guides.
“People liked them so much that we decided to open up in-person stores,” said Aziz as he manned the tiny storefront on 9th Avenue between W36th and W37th Street. After successfully launching shops in their home city of Lisbon and in Leeds, where Chef Jeny previously lived, they opened a few pop-ups in the Big Apple. The Hell’s Kitchen location marks the first permanent New York franchise – which Aziz said was a considered choice.
“While there’s definitely a Portuguese community in New York, there aren’t a lot of Portuguese restaurants in this area — so when the opportunity came up, we took it,” said Aziz. “It’s a really good location, we’ve met a lot of locals outside already. Some of our customers have found us after going to our Leeds and Lisbon locations, too.”
Mozambique’s rich cuisine reflects its location on the Indian Ocean and its history —it was colonized by Portugal in the 1500s, governed from that country’s Indian outpost of Goa until the 1700s, and only gained independence in 1975. Piripiri, its best-known export, means “pepper pepper” in local Bantu languages and is made from peppers that the Portuguese brought from another of their colonies, Brazil. The fusion of flavors is hugely popular in Lisbon, which has a large Mozambican community.
After narrowing down their popular Portuguese-Mozambican cuisine to customer favorites, Aziz said that even in the spectacularly small space, they are still able to offer the popular Pastel De Nata (Portuguese custard), almond tarts and samosas. Cantinho offers Nespresso cappuccinos and lattes, and they plan to expand the coffee offerings later on in the launch.
Though the couple live full-time in Lisbon, Aziz is on hand for the season to launch the brand — and as a traveling foodie, he is enjoying the chance to check out all of New York’s culinary offerings. “It’s exciting, because I’ve been coming to New York for a while now,” said Aziz, who recently enjoyed a meal at NYY Steak in the new Midtown Hard Rock Hotel as well as his next-door neighbors at Kashmir 9 Halal Cuisine.
He’s also enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the holiday season’s shoppers, adding: “We’ve noticed since December started that there are lots of tourists.” From his spot on 9th Avenue he’s even able to spot the top of the Edge observatory. While Aziz was less than excited about the city’s cold weather – “I know it’s only going to get worse” he joked, he’s happy to be here. “We have a lot of American customers from our other locations,” he said, “So we want to give it a try here and see how it goes!”