Brazil and food, a love story

Ten dishes for your delight:

  • Once upon a time, landowners used to invent dietary taboos to convince their slaves that they shouldn’t eat certain things. Two of these taboos remain strong. The first says that you might die if you ate mangoes with milk. Mangoes were (and are) very abundant in the Northeast and, thus, common in the slave’s plate. Thus, the masters were trying to avoid their access to the milk. The other taboo involves eating bananas, another abundant fruit in most of the country. “Banana, de dia é ouro, de tarde é prata, de noite mata” (Banana is gold in the morning, silver in the afternoon, and fatal during the night) warns a popular saying, efficient in keeping the slaves away from the orchard after the twilight.
  • Overheard in an international cruise, days ago. “Brazilian passengers want lots of food, don’t really care if a dish is hot or cold,  salty or sweet. But they want to eat a lot and several times a day”, writes architect and blogger Duílio Ferronato, who is working as a cook in a transatlantic, as he describes the orders he received from his superior. “European passengers, in contrast, eat less, use less salt and are more exigent. They want their dishes warm, with a beautiful presentation”.
  • The following dishes have something in common: arroz à grega (literally, Greek rice), americano and beirute. Contrary to what you might think, they are not typical of Greece, the United States or Lebanon, but popular Brazilian dishes. Arroz à grega is  rice mixed with minced cooked legumes. Americano is a sandwich with a fried egg, tomato, lettuce, cheese and ham. Beirute is a sandwich made with pita bread.
  • Certain dishes only make an appearance in restaurant menus at certain moments of the day, the week or the month. Pizzas are rarely served at lunchtime (unless you are in a padaria, the omnipresent bakeries that sell icy cold slices). In most of the country, feijoada (a hearty stew of black beans with pork and several side dishes) is served only on Wednesdays (maybe) and Saturday (definitely). In São Paulo, Sunday is frequently reserved for macarronada (pasta), cooked by your mamma or nonna. Also, due to the strong Italian influence, paulistas frequently eat gnocchi on the 29th of every month (after hiding a real bill under the dish). This is considered a lucky charm for those who need some extra money.
  • Brazil is not only the biggest meat produced but also a big consumer. If given a chance, Brazilians eat industrial amounts of beef. Most of  those in the middle and the upper classes have steak everyday. It is a growing tendency. By the end of the sixties, each Brazilian ate, in average, 30 kilos (66 pounds) per year. Around 2000, they were consuming more than twice – 70 kilos (154 pounds) per year. It is a problem, among other reasons because a growing percentage of animal protein produced in the country comes from the Amazon region, that is progressively losing its forests, substituted by pastures. If you have a chance, watch “A Marvada Carne” (Evil Meat), a brilliant movie directed in the mid-eighties by André Klotzel, that discusses the Brazilian obsession for meat. It tells the story of a country girl who wants badly to find a husband, and a young man that will do anything to eat some beef. You can watch it on Youtube here (divided in several parts, no subtitles).
  • When you bring home an unexpected guest, you frequently shout to the cook: “água no feijão que chegou mais um” (add water to the beans pot because one more arrived). I think it is, in fact, an indirect message to the guest: don’t expect too much.
  • An average middle-class Brazilian family wastes around 500 grams (1.1 pound) of food daily, including left overs and spoiled vegetables or meat.
  • The Lebanese, Japanese and Italian cuisines practiced in Brazil are frequently considered more traditional than the ones found today in their regions of origin. This is because they were introduced in the country one century ago, when  immigration from those countries was stronger, and they kept faithful to the classical recipes.
  • The city of São Paulo has over 6,000 pizza places and consumes around 1 million pizzas a day. Yes, you got it right. 1 million. Each paulista has two whole pizzas a month. The all-time favorites are Mozzarella, Margherita, Quatro Queijos (Four Cheeses) and Calabreza, but some creative options have their own fan clubs. Among these, chocolate (for dessert) and rúcula (arugula with dried tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, a big hit since the nineties) pizzas.
  • If you are in trouble, you got um abacaxi (a pinapple) or um pepino (a cucumber) or um angú de caroço (a cornmeal mush with nuts – this last ingredient just doesn’t belong there). If you are really nice, you are um doce de coco (a coconut candy). If you are a moron, you are um banana. If you are in a bad mood, you are azedo como limão (sour like lime). If you are bland, you are sem-graça como chuchu (you lack interest like the chayote).  If you rolled on the beach sand (maybe in good company) and are all dirty, you are like bife à milanesa (a steak dipped in beaten eggs and bread crumbs and then fried). If you are sarcastic you are ardido como pimenta (spicy like chili). And if you spent ours under the unforgiving sun without sunscreen, you are probably looking like um tomate or um pimentão (tomato or bell pepper).

If you want to learn more about the Brazilian cuisine, check my post on 10 unforgettable dishes.

And if you have some cool anecdote about Brazilians and their relationship with food, please, share with me.

6 thoughts on “Brazil and food, a love story”

  1. Daniel, I loved your pepperoni post, and I learned that pizzas in Garanhuns are very different from those made in São Paulo. You say they are very thick and never use tomato sauce, using instead ketchup and mayo. In Sampa, different pizzarias go for different dough thicknesses. I always preferred the very thin ones. And I think the tomato sauce is commonly used (unless you choose a tuna or catupiry (a type of cheese) pizza – other favorite flavors I forgot to mention in my post).

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