Food reveals a lot about a place and its people. Cold, uninviting climates often produce bland, uninviting food. How else do you explain English cuisine? Brazilians on the other hand, dish up tons of native warmth and spiciness with their cuisine. It’s no coincidence that red peppers and olive oil serve as typical condiments on Brazil’s tables and not ketchup or salt. Pre-fabricated and one-dimensional won’t do for Brazilian meals. Traipsing across this huge country, from South to North, I’ve sampled prato típico or typical Brazilian dishes.
The heaping, simmering portions of Feojada (fez jwada) the national dish, personifies Brazilian food. Dating back from the time when enslaved Africans were restricted by the foods they were allowed to eat, they concocted a stew of black-eyed peas filled with leftover pork pieces. Today, it’s said that the most complete feojada uses every part of the pig. Menus list the choices of meat available, from tongue and tail, to loin and feet. Since I don’t eat read meat, I experienced the dish visually. I noted the thick, meaty portions that can feed 2-3 people and the spicy aroma.
My favorite is mocqueca, (Mo kecka) a flavorful fish stew simmered in coconut milk. Also served in football- player -sized portions, this rich dish is studded with tomatoes, peppers and manioc pieces. In Salvador, it’s a requirement to try acaraje (acara jay) from one of the colorfully dressed baianas. A hot fritter that’s fried curbside, it’s stuffed with your choice of shrimp, callaloo (a type of greens also cooked with shrimp) or vatapa, a palm oil and shrimp mixture. Quick, filling and robust, acaraje is fast food the Brazilian way. Instead of the famous caiprinha, the lime, sugar and cacacha concoction that’s considerably stronger than the vodka based version that’s common in the States, I drink cashew juice with everything. Squeezed from the fruit of the cashew plant, the beverage is sweet and refreshing.
I’m serious about desserts and refuse to eat anywhere that doesn’t serve them. Although they’re a little different than American cakes and ice cream, Brazilian desserts don’t disappoint. tried the intriguing guava sweet, a slice of candied guava atop a piece of local white cheese. It’s a sophisticated mixture of savory and sweet but I much prefer cocada, an addictive, sticky treat of coconut and sugar that boasts a presentation that mirrors Brazil’s population. It’s served white with the sugar gently cooked, brown with the sugar caramelized or mixed with both light and dark together.
Based in Chicago, Rosalind Cummings-Yeates specializes in African and Caribbean culture and travel. Her travel features have appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, Hemispheres, Where, Pathfinder’s Travel and ebonyjet.com.
As a travel essayist, she has been anthologized in Rough Guide To Women Travel, Go Girl! A Black Woman’s Guide To Travel and Adventure and the Not For Tourists Guide To Chicago.