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:
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:
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→
You most certainly heard of, or even tasted, churrasco (barbecue) and feijoada (a complex meal that includes a stew of black beans with pork and several side dishes, including rice, collard greans, pealed orange, cassava flour, red pepper sauce and our national distilled beverage, cachaça).
Now, can you tell me what a buchada de bode is? Or pato no tucupi?
Here I list 10 classics, not necessarily easy to digest, but amazing windows to Brazilian culture. The links lead to recipes, whenever possible in English:
Cuscuz – Despite having the same origin as the Moroccan couscous, it looks and tastes way different. In São Paulo, where I come from, it is made with corn flour, olives, tomatoes, eggs, peas, sardines and has the look of a decorated cake.
Barreado – Typical of the coast of the southern state of Paraná, it probably originates from the Portuguese Azores islands. This meat stew served with rice is prepared in a very peculiar way. It is cooked in a clay pot for around 20 hours – the time needed for the meat fibers to be dissolved in a thick sauce. The pot is layered with banana leaves and its outside is covered with hardened manioc flour paste, in order to avoid the heat to escape. Continue reading 10 wonders of Brazilian cuisine→