Brazilians consume 1.4 billion liters of cachaça a year. The national spirit, made of sugar cane, seems to have seduced the American president in his recent visit to Brazil. But Barack Obama most certainly missed one of the funniest aspects of cachaça culture: the bottle labels. Inspired, campy, erotic or self-deprecating, they are an eloquent portrait of the country’s irreverence.
Here are some examples, divided according their inspiration:
Açaí, cajú (cashew) and maracujá (passion fruit), native from the Brazilian rainforests, conquered the world and can be found in many upscale markets in the developed countries. What could be the next fruit to follow their path? What about ….
1 Bocaiúva (Acrocomia aculeata) – Similar to a tiny coconut, it has different names around the country – macaúba in São Paulo and Minas Gerais, bocajá close to the border with Paraguay, macaíba in the Northeast. Its pulp is very sweet and full of fibers and that’s why it has the nickname of “ox chewing gum”. Learn more about it here (in Portuguese).
Baianas – those elderly ladies that sell acarajé and other typical dishes on the beach in Salvador – represent all the charm of the capital of Bahia. Every tourist and every politician that visits the town take a picture by their stands that smell of palm oil and Africa.
Now, this postcard is under menace. Last week, the city of Salvador was notified by the federal government that no commercial activities should be allowed on the beaches, to respect the legislation that rules the management of the Brazilian coast (Lei Nacional de Gerenciamento Costeiro). Mayor João Henrique Carneiro protested and is trying to find an alternative solution. Around 650 baianas work in the 51 km coast of Salvador, some of them for over 30 years .
It is, of course, a less than clever way of interpreting the environmental legislation.
Even in a country prone to informality, such as Brazil, certain attitudes or habits may stir controversy or criticism. Before you cross the line and step on somebody’s toe, check these big no-nos:
Soccer – When I met my husband, Lenny, who’s American, I told him that, as an honorary Brazilian, he was supposed to choose a soccer team to support. He told me to ask my father’s opinion on this relevant subject. My dad’s answer: “on one hand, you have a certain Italian vibe, so you might support Palmeiras. On the other hand, you are not snobbish and like to blend in, so you might go for Corinthians”. Naturally, he suggested teams from São Paulo, where we come from. Wisely, my husband, answered: “ok, but which is your dad’s team?” Since my father is corintiano, Lenny followed his lead. It is easy to incur in a faux-pas in this arena. So, check if your friends or colleagues are passionate about a certain team before bashing it. Also, be extremely cautious if you decide to wear a team’s official t-shirt. Imagine this scenario: you are walking past a stadium. The game is over and you are spotted by the opposing team. Things could get ugly. Continue reading 5 faux-pas in the land of laissez-faire→
Boteco, botequim, bar, pé-sujo or sujinho – the names can vary but the irreverent, relaxed spirit is always there. Continue to read for a great sample of Brazilian bars collected by Flickr.
And one more thing: tonight I will be at Bar Veloso, considered by many the best place to have a caipirinha in São Paulo. If you are in town and show up at Veloso after 9 pm, try to spot me (I will be the only woman with natural red her). The first Deep Brazil reader that finds me will get a free caipirinha! Bar Veloso´s address: Rua Conceição Veloso, 56, in Vila Mariana.
What makes caipirinha, Brazilian national drink, unique? A mix of lime, sugar, cachaça and ice – you will answer. Not so fast, my friend.
The same way you cannot make a bacteria by putting together a bunch of proteins and carbs, you won’t be able to produce caipirinha by simply mixing its ingredients.
But first, a little History. Nobody knows, for sure, who conceived the first caipirinha. Some believe it was invented by slaves, who might have mixed garapa (sugar cane juice), lime and cachaça (which, you know, is distilled from sugar cane). Others believe it was originally meant for medicinal purposes – honey, garlic and lime were mixed to cachaça to cure colds, a prescription popular to these days. But my favorite version is told by Ernesto Britto, from Caipirinha Club. “In old times, people used to put cloths damped in alcohol on the forehead to reduce the fever and suck limes to improve the immunity. According to the legend, a feverish guy was sucking a lime and the alcohol dripped from his forehead to his mouth. Because it was bitter, he ate a spoon of sugar and, this way, came up with the idea for the drink”, he tells.
Also, nobody knows for sure why it was named that way – caipira is the native of rural parts of the state of São Paulo. Caipirinha might be his young daughter (the suffix inha indicates somebody young or small). Go figure.
All I know is it evolved to its present composition, which was made official by a 2003 federal decree (so the country can keep the intellectual property and the trade mark).
So, back to the secrets. Here are 10 tips to make your caipirinha experience unforgettable. They were collected from interviews with barmen from all over the country:
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”. Continue reading Brazil and food, a love story→
A worker that earns the average Brazilian salary would need to work 40 minutes in São Paulo and 51 minutes in Rio to buy a Big Mac. In contrast, an average New Yorker would have to work mere 14 minutes to buy McDonald’s bestselling sandwich. The so-called Big Mac Index is only one of the instruments used by the Swiss bank UBS to illustrate the fluctuations of the purchasing power in several parts of the world.
São Paulo and Rio are, indeed, pricey cities. The disproportion is the same for other products. To buy 1 kilo of rice, for instance, you have to work 12 minutes in São Paulo, 15 in Rio and 8 in New York.
Still according to UBS – that systematically compares the cost of life in 73 cities – São Paulo got the 45th position and Rio the 48th in the last survey. This means they are more expensive than Prague, Bangkok, Beijing or Moscow. Naturally, there are fluctuations depending on the product or service you look at. Even if renting an apartment is expensive in Brazilian metropolis it cannot be compared to the exorbitant NY rentals. This explains why New York appears in the UBS study as the 6th most expensive metropolis.
Thomas Berner, an American economist that works for UBS on this study, says prices have been growing consistently in Rio and São Paulo in the last 10 years. The price of the products and service that the bank uses as a reference became aproximately135% more expensive in reais, the national currency, between 2000 and 2009. Berner was interviewed by G1, a website related to Globo, the main Brazilian news network. G1 chose the Honda Civic to illustrate this. The car costs around 15,000 dollars in the United States and 65,000 reais (35,000 dollars) in Brazil.
Once the average income didn’t grow proportionally, you have to work many more hours to keep buying the same. Consequence: the average paulistano may consume less than half what a New Yorker can purchase.
What is your experience? Do you find you find your purchasing power lower in Brazil?
Caipirinha – a mix of sugar cane spirit (cachaça), crushed lime, white sugar and ice – is a big hit among foreigners that visit Brazil. It is pretty much everywhere in the country and many Brazilian families own the special wooden mortar used to prepare the beverage. Caipirinha and its variations, such as caipiroska (with vodka) or saquerinha (with sake), are just a tiny sample of popular Brazilian drinks.
Follow me in the discovery of other national specialties. Most of them carry cachaça (also known as pinga, aguardente de cana, caninha or “a brava“/”the nasty one”):
Batidas – This mix of cachaça, fruit, ice and lots of sugar is a favorite in the kiosks that line the Brazilian coast. You name the fruit – maracujá (passion fruit), coco (coconut), morango (strawberry). In fact, caipirinha is just one more type of batida.
Meia de seda (probably named after pantyhose because it is a girlie drink) – Those with a really sweet tooth can try this mix of 1/3 of gin, 1/3 cacao liqueur (made with the fruit, not cocoa), 1 spoon of sugar and cinnamon (some recipes abolish the gin or substitute it by rum). Sort of old-fashioned, a souvenir of the golden fifties. Continue reading 10 Brazilian drinks as cool as caipirinha→