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Eating In Brazil
by Nina Horta

In this vast country which is Brazil, we have a rich regional cuisine that is almost impossible to generalize across a land that is coloured by such striking differences. A gaúcho accustomed to barbecued meat will probably not have heard about duck in cassava sauce ("tucupi") as enjoyed in Amazônia. The food in one region has an exotic ring for another region in the same country. Very often native fruits are unknown to Brazilians themselves. A city baby could drink kiwi juice every day without ever trying tapioca meal with palm-fruit, without seeing a guava, a bowl made out of a gourd, a sapoti or a genipapo.

When they came to Brazil, the colonizers did not discover a ready-made cuisine but the impact of the environment and new ingredients soon made themselves felt. The Portuguese and Indian cultures came together and the two culinary traditions met. Cassava, fruit, chillies, game and fish combined together happily with olive oil, dried cod, stews and numerous desserts.

The colonizers began to bring in African slaves to Salvador, capital of Bahia, to work on the sugar-cane plantations. We immediately started using palm oil, coconut, dried shrimps and other African food, forming the trio - Brazilian aboriginal, Portuguese and African - that would come to characterize our cuisine.

Each region clearly has its own characteristics which are relics from the past and geographical condition, that determines the typical dishes and the special dishes for high days and holidays, such as saints' days in Bahia, the festival of Kings, the fast days and all the rest. This sort of food will certainly be found at festivals or in restaurants specializing in typical fare.

Every region has its own festive dishes, but feijoada (bean stew) which originated in Rio de Janeiro, is considered by many to be the most typical of Brazilian dishes, even becoming the inspiration for poems such as "Feijoada à minha moda" ("My style of feijoada") by Vinícius de Morais. It is often served to visitors, who enjoy the pot of black beans in thick sauce, cooked with an abundance of fresh meat and charcuterie. The beans are usually served separately on one dish and the meat on another, accompanied by finely sliced kale, quick-fried with a little oil and garlic, cassava flour or "farofa" (flour mixed with butter), and slices of fresh orange. Everyone can choose how they want to eat it but no one must start without a caipirinha, Brazil's famous national drink, made from "cachaça" (sugar-cane brandy), lemon and sugar.

Flowing through Brazil from north to south is the "river" of everyday basic food, eaten for lunch and dinner and which varies little from region to region.

What then, would be a typical menu for a middle-class Brazilian family?

Breakfast: white coffee, rolls and butter. An optional extra would be fresh queijo de minas (cheese) and fruit such as papaya or orange. This is breakfast in the interior of Minas Gerais during the 1920's, as described by the great Brazilian author, Pedro Nava:

"... With a piece of queijo de minas cut off and left to soften in steaming coffee. Soft, smooth German bread with the smell of a cornfield when broken open. Provençal bread in the shape of a baby's bottom, ready to be pulled apart in the middle. And sweet cornmeal couscous made in halves of cheese tins with holes for steaming the mixture over a pan. The aromas of coffee, bread, cornmeal and sugar-candy wafting out into the garden."

Lunch and dinner are similar. They reflect the produce of the season whether purchased in the market or supermarket.

A special feature is that the various dishes are brought to the table at the same time, except the soup, which precedes the meal, and the dessert at the end. The menu almost always includes plain rice, black beans or kidney beans in thick sauce, meat, poultry or fish, a green salad, cooked vegetables and a little fried cake. As side dishes there will be sausage with cassava flour or a farofa (cassava flour mixed with butter) and a glass dish with pickled chilli or chilli sauce.

At dinner time soup might be served, the favorites being bean soup and chicken broth with rice, the latter being a panacea for all kind of ills, given to nursing mothers and as a cure for sickness.

Dessert may take the form of a sweet with cheese (another Brazilian peculiarity) or fruit or everything at once.

Both lunch and dinner are followed by a cafezinho (cup of coffee).

Between lunch and dinner there may be tea or a snack which can be coffee with cake or biscuits, fruit juice, something out of the ice-box or a quick bite taken standing at the counter of a street-corner bar.

The tradition of eating late suppers or enormous afternoon teas no longer survives but in the interior there is still the custom of eating meal (mingau). Meal is a typically Brazilian dish, a mixture of native and Portuguese tradition or perhaps just Brazilian after all. Runny meal, lukewarm meal, served in a mug, sweet but not too sweet, and with a pinch of salt. Or else "fubá" (flour mixed with butter) topped with a pat of butter and with cubes of cheese inside leaving a long string trailing with every mouthful. Or for something more substantial there are oats and milk, sweet maize starch with milk or maize starch and sugar served in a little cup with powdered cinnamon.

Brazilians love the kind of food that can be eaten with their hands and finished in a couple of bites. These are the fabled salgadinhos (savouries) that precede dinner or lunch as appetizers or which can make up the entire menu of a wedding, christening or anniversary celebration. They are often followed by docinhos which are lovingly made little sweets as their name in Portuguese suggests.

Street food, eaten in the open air in front of churches, in squares, in alleyways, at stalls along the beaches, has always been greatly enjoyed by Brazilians of all social classes. It is possible to have a good meal outside in the street, in the midst of little stoves, barrows and pans. The Bahian "acarajé" (fried bean-meal balls with various side dishes), boiled maize, sweets made with sugar and coconut, "tacacá" made with tapioca, garlic and shrimps, pastel de feira cakes and barbecued tit-bits - they are all there. In the first place are little savoury cakes made with meat, olives and not much meat so that when shaken they sound like bells. Then there are enormous rectangular cakes made of cheese with the best part - in the form of the cheese - at the end just starting to harden. There are cakes made of palm kernel, wonderfully moist and fried in the pan with scores of fritters. And to wash it down, sugar-cane juice, crushed on the spot, cold and very sweet.

There is always something to try in the bars, even if it is only a red-painted egg. In the bakeries there are big chunks of crunchy fried pork fat (torresmo), wrapped in brown paper and ready to take away. There are slices of pork, smothered in sauce, inside French bread. Coxinhas (fried appetizers made of chiken rolled in smashed potatoes) have two versions: filled with shredded chicken breast and filled with a drumstick (this last one much tastier). When they are nicknamed, "Jesus is calling" they can be made of shrimp. Rolls filled with mortadela sprinkled with lemon. Fried dried sausage and toasted whitebait - the list is endless.

All the street bars serve an infinite variety of fruit juices, known as "vitamins", with mixtures of mango and acerola, pineapple, milk and banana, orange and guava and, as an alcoholic drink, the most Brazilian of cocktails consisting of "cachaça" (sugar-cane brandy) mixed with crushed ice, fruit and sugar. What a knockout!

Brazilian street cuisine forms an interesting mosaic of popular taste.

Until now we have described everyday food eaten by the Brazilians at home. A visitor, unaccustomed to the country, might be surprised by the food offered in hotels and restaurants in the more densely populated areas such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Cuisine here is on an international level and especially in São Paulo, it is possible to find dishes from almost all over the world, of excellent quality and at a reasonable price, because of immigrants of all nationalities. It is actually possible to take a gastronomic journey around the world without leaving São Paulo. Italian food is naturally the most popular and it is even said that a Brazilian pizza is better than one cooked in Naples... The Chinese were the first to introduce exotic cuisine and became quickly accepted, nowadays running fast-food and take-away chains. For a long time Japanese restaurants were unknown before becoming fashionable a few years ago, and now they are here to stay: the new generation cannot live without a sushi. Eating well in good restaurants in São Paulo is not cheap but it is very easy. The city is quickly becoming one of the gastronomic centres of the world.

North (predominantly native influence)

Tacacá no tucupi
(a mixture of paste and powder from the cassava with a sauce, the "tucupi", also made from cassava, dried shrimp and jambo, a plant similar to watercress except that it has the strange ability to deaden the tongue. It is a typical street dish, eaten out of a gourd generally at nightfall, served by the "tacacá stalls)

Munguzá
(corn-meal with small pieces of coconut)

Mingau de banana verde, ralada e fervida no leite
(meal made from green bananas that have been grated and boiled in milk)

Casquinhas de siri ou caranguejo
(crab au gratin for which the crabs are boiled, shelled, cleaned, shredded and stewed in sauce. The shells are filled with this mixture and covered with flour cooked with butter)

Guisado de tartaruga
(turtle stew)

Pirarucu and tambaqui
(freshwater fish)

Pato no tucupi
(duck in a sauce made with wild cassava)

North East

Carne de sol
(salted and sun-dried meat that is kept for a long time and is used for long journeys across the arid lands of the sertão to escape the drought. When cooked, shredded, fried with seasoning and topped with cassava or corn flour, it lasts even longer and is called "paçoca")

Lagosta com leite de coco
(Lobster with coconut milk)

Peixe de coco
(literally "coconut fish" - fish prepared with coconut and its milk.)

Moqueca de camarão fresco
(fresh shrimp stew seasoned with herbs, especially coriander, lemon, onion and with coconut milk and palm oil. Ground pepper will make this dish piquant)

Acarajé
(this is street food eaten before lunch or dinner as an appetiser, or at any time as a snack. It consists of a ball fried in palm oil with black-eye beans. It may or may not be left open and stuffed with "vatapá" (a dish made with cassava flour, oil, pepper, fish or meat) and dry shrimp sauce. In Bahia it is sold by women who are traditionally black-skinned wearing regional dress consisting of a skirt, a decorated jacket, a super-abundance of necklaces and bracelets and a turban, clothes that were stylized and immortalised for the outside world by the Brazilian actress, Carmen Miranda)

Xinxim de galinha
(a dish with an African influence consisting of pieces of well-seasoned chicken, cooked in a sauce of peanuts, cashewnuts, dried shrimp and ginger ground together to give a delicate flavour)

Frigideira
(a fried dish consisting of fish and shellfish, with dough made from beaten egg and coconut milk, cooked in a clay or metal dish)

Centre West

Lombo de porco
(roast loin of pork)

Tutu de feijão
(beans cooked normally and enriched with cassava flour drizzled on top of them. Generally eaten with dry-preserved spicy sausage and fried eggs)

Roupa velha
(literally "old clothes". This is salted dried meat or roast meat leftovers fried with cassava flour)

Pão de queijo
(bread rolls with file cassava flour and cheese, freshly baked and eaten straight from the oven)

Caça
(game)

Jacaré
(alligator)

Arroz com suã
(the meat from the lower part of a pig's back is stewed together with rice and potatoes)

South East

Lombo de porco, virado de feijão, couve picada
(roast loin of pork with almost whole beans stewed and mixed with cassava lour and served with shredded cabbage)

Galinha ensopada com quiabo e angu
(braised chicken with okra and cornmeal)

Cuscuz
(couscous, a savoury mixture made from corn flour and shrimp or chicken, cooked over steam in a couscousière)

Bacalhau desfiado
(dried cod)

Feijoada
(beans with dried and fresh meat, usually accompanied by slices of orange, finely shredded cabbage, cassava flour and pepper)

Sardinha na brasa
(grilled sardines)

South

Barreado
(layers of meat and bacon, cooked in a clay dish with cornmeal)

Churrasco
(barbecued meats)

 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Brazil
Brazil has a lot to offer... - it is officially.

Immigration to Brazil
Immigration to Brazil began when the country opened its ports to "friendly nations" (1808), and gathered momentum in the wake of the Declaration of Independence (1822). Brazil's emperors sought to attract European immigrants to the south of the country by offering them plots of land that they were entitled to work as smallholders. German immigrants were the first to come. They were followed in 1870 by Italians.

Duty-free Allowances
- USD500 (or equivalent in other currency) worth of goods bought duty-free in Brazil
- 400 cigarettes or 25 cigars
- 250g of tobacco
- 2 litres of alcoholic beverages
- Books and periodicals

Prohibited Goods
- Meat (fresh, dried, canned or otherwise) or meat products
- Diary products (ie milk, eggs, cheese etc)
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Plants or parts of plants (ie flowers, seeds, bulbs, stakers, mushrooms, soil etc)
- Animal feedstuffs
- Apicultural products (ie honey, wax etc) or live insects and snails
- Vaccines, viruses, germ cultures, human or animal tissues (ie semen and embroyos) and biological products or materials used in veterinary medicine
- Agricultural defensives (ie pesticides, herbicides etc)
- Birds

Special Notes
- Customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation or export of items such as firearms, antiquities, tropical plants, medication and business equipment.