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Brazilian Food: Taste of Three Cultures
Cuisine blends native, European, and African traditions into unique culinary delights
Anna Penido (internews)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-03-24 11:51 (KST)   
The identity of a nation can surely be smelled from a distance by the food that its inhabitants consume. Globalization introduced new tastes and fashions but let's face it -- no human being can stand eating McDonald's everyday.

The abundance and variety of Brazilian cuisine reflects the country's vast natural resources and the three major cultures that shaped its identity: the Native Indians, Africans, and Portuguese.

The dish that can be found anywhere and makes any Brazilian feel at home is rice (European/Asian), black beans (African), and manioc flour (Native Indian).

Besides the nutritious value of starch, protein, and minerals that derive from this mixture, the importance of this culinary combination has extended itself into the language. The "backbone" expression that Anglo-Saxons use to refer to something that is basic and essential, in Brazil is expressed by "rice and beans." One could say: "Enough beating around the bush, let's get to the rice and beans of the issue." It is also used in language as having the same weight of money. You can hear from Brazilians something like: "I couldn't give up on that, after all this is my rice and beans!"

The blending of these three races not only created a vast array of types and faces, but invaded the kitchen with plenty of creativity. The north of Brazil, mostly covered by the Amazon forest, during the rubber boom in the beginning of the 20th century was populated by Brazilians from European background. They adapted the Native tradition of fish, manioc, and fruits into an exquisite banquet of delicacies. The greatest river fish of the region, the Tucunare, was turned into a stew that is served in ceramic-fired pots. Indians also hunted ducks during special festivities -- the "Tucupi duck" is a favorite -- with the duck being cooked on a sauce made by fermented manioc and spiced with a root that gives a numbing sensation to the mouth.

The fragrant cupuacu fruit, besides being popular in jams, pies, and ice cream, has also reached the cosmetics industry in shampoos, creams, and soaps. Tuned to this huge potential, the Japanese quickly managed to patent the name, which is now being contested by a Brazilian group.

But the great winner is by far the guarana, a beverage that has long been used by the Indians to increase their stamina and energy during long hunting journeys. Since the invasion of Coca-Cola, the guarana was turned into a soft drink, and despite the massive marketing and advertising campaign of Coke, the guarana has kept a steady side-by-side top position.

As nobody knows what the ingredients of Coke really are, and as scientists prove that the guarana's qualities are as important as ginseng, it looks like the guarana will become the beverage of the 21st century.

Also, the nutritious Brazilian nuts -- a high source of protein -- is becoming a favorite snack, as well as ingredients in cakes, cookies, breads, and meals. A conscious consumer is aware that each time he chooses to buy Brazilian nuts instead of European walnuts and pecans, he is convincing forest communities to keep the trees alive instead of cutting them down for lumber.

The African culture has also made a strong contribution to the Brazilian cuisine today. The Candomble religion managed to keep alive the Yoruba language, the dances, the music, and the wonderful variety of foods that were cooked during rituals and offered to the orishas (deities).

The dishes are colorful, consistent, and spicy. Most of them are cooked with dende oil, which is extracted from a palm tree and provides a reddish color to all meals. The most famous is the "vatapa," a mush that combines manioc, fresh, and dried shrimp, and is served with coconut milk and fried manioc flour called " farofa."

In every corner of the city of Salvador, in the state of Bahia, where traditions were kept almost intact, one can find the Baianas -- ladies who are beautifully dressed in white Candomble garments -- opening their tables of snacks and sweets. The most popular request is the acaraje. She will fry the bean paste cake for you on the spot and fill it up with vatapa, dried shrimp and hot pepper. You can cool the heat down with cold coconut water, and finish your adventure with sweet treats, such as cocada -- sugary coconut flakes -- peanut brittle, couscous, or quindim -- rings of egg yolks and coconut milk.

Moving away from the coast in search of gold and diamonds, the Portuguese colonizers adventured into the state of Minas Gerais carrying pigs and chickens to survive their long journeys. The scarcity of provisions took them into quickly adopting the African taste for black beans and putting it inside every bit of meat they had. Thus was created the feijoada, one of Brazil's most popular dishes. The beans are cooked for a long time with all parts of the pig, including ears, tails, snouts, tongues, bacon, dried meat and sausages. To ease the impact of this substantial meal, the side dishes offer rice, fried kale, farofa, and sliced oranges. It's delicious and fragrant, and even if you promise to yourself not to indulge, you always end up having a second serving.

©2006 www.cookbrazil.com
Eating a feijoada is a whole day affair. If you happen to also drink the famous caipirinha, which blends sugar cane liquor with lime and sugar, be ready to cancel the rest of the day's schedule. After a feijoada, the only thing one can really do is lay on a hammock and listen to soft music. For this reason most restaurants serve it only on Saturdays and Sundays.

The other famous Brazilian tradition comes from the south of Brazil, where the field-like landscape created the perfect condition for raising cattle and the best quality beef in the world. Today the churrascarias can be found in every state of Brazil. The waiters, dress as the typical southern cowboys, the "gauchos," with elegant black baggy trousers, black boots, and black vests and go around the tables non-stop with long sticks of barbecued beef, to the delight of the visitors. Most churrascarias are very sophisticated today and include barbecued fish, salmon, and shrimp for those who don't eat meat.

The fact that Brazilians love desserts probably comes from the Imperial Portuguese Court. Besides the European egg & flour sweets, the Brazilians recognized the value of the abundant exotic fruit trees and elected the guava tree, plentiful everywhere, as their favorite. They created a hard block of jam, called goiabada and discovered that if you put a slice of it between two slices of fresh cheese it becomes such a perfect taste that they need to be always together. For this reason this dessert was nicknamed as "Romeo and Juliet." Condensed milk is also a favorite ingredient in Brazilian desserts. A party is not really a party if there is no brigadeiro. Chocolate and condensed milk are cooked together until they create a sticky paste that is then shaped into small balls and rolled over granulated chocolate. Fun and delicious!

At the end of any meal, coffee is a must. Served on a small cup, the fragrant thick black coffee will ensure that you continue the day with enough stamina. The cafezinho (small coffee) is a habit not only at the end of meals, but as a break from work or when friends meet.

There's a lot to explore in the Brazilian cuisine as there is a lot to explore in a country that gathers such an incredible array of cultures and traditions. The open nature, generosity, and joyful mood of Brazilians is certainly a mirror of what is served in the Brazilian tables -- or is it the other way around?
©2006 OhmyNews

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