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Brazilian Cuisine 101

Brazilian Cuisine 101

Brazil is a country with wonderful people, traditions, beaches and most importantly food! The world cup was hosted in Brazil last summer and the Summer Olympics of 2016 will occur next year. Because there is so much attention on this South American country right now we figured we'd offer up some basic background on Brazil and their food so you can impress your friends over a plate of feijoada (fey-zhoo-ah-dah), the national dish.

In April 1500, Brazil was claimed by Portugal on the arrival of the Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral. At the time, the land's major export was a tree the traders and colonists called pau-Brasil (Latin for wood red like an ember) or brazilwood, which is where the country got its name. Brazil is the largest country in South America and is the fourth-largest country in the world. Because of this the cuisine varies from region to region, much like the regions of the United States. The culture is a blend of native Amerindian, African, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Syrian, Japanese, Lebanese and plenty of others. Much like Northern Africa, it has a history that is influenced by the many cultures that spent time there at one time or another.

The National Dish

While each region has its own particular style and flair, the feijoada is recognized as the national dish. Feijoada  is a stew made with black turtle beans and various cuts of pork and beef. It's often served with rice and collard greens or deep-fried cassava or bananas. It can also be served with an orange salad. It's a very common meal on Wednesday or Saturday lunch in the Southeast cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Feijão is Portuguese (the national language) for beans.

Even though many Brazilian meals consist of rice, beans and pork or beef, the variety of foods found throughout the country can be compared to the diversity we have here in the United States. A large variety of bread products can be found fresh daily at local shops and markets, including pão de queijo, which is a delicious cheesy roll. Many fresh pastries are eaten for breakfast along with fresh fruits such as mango, papaya, guava, passion fruit and oranges. These fruits are also juiced and enjoyed fresh at either breakfast or brunch.

Salvador, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janero
Some cities that are considered Brazil's tourism capitols are Salvador (the capitol of Bahia), Sao Paulo and Rio de Janero. These large cities on the Eastern coast of Brazil have some advantages when it comes to fresh seafood and red meat. 

In many of these cities, street foods can be found including pastels. Considered fast food by Brazilians, pastels are along the lines of something that might be found at a state fair. They consist of a thin pie crust filled with ground beef, chicken or shrimp, mozzarella and heart of palm. They are then deep fried in vegetable oil to crispy perfection and then eaten like a sandwich.

Curitiba and Porto Alegre (Southern Brazil)
The Southern region of Brazil has a distinct European flavor and long tradition of livestock production. Meat is a major staple of Southern Brazilian cuisine, but is often cooked with little to no spices; mainly just salt to bring out that extra bit of flavor. Pizza is also a surprisingly popular food found in the South thanks to Italian influence. A Brazilian pizza is very different from a typical Italian or American pizza (so don't let them fool you) in that it is made in a wood-fire oven with a thin, flexible crust and little or very little sauce. The best part is the creative toppings such as guave and Minas cheeses, banana and cinnamon (it's also a popular dessert), poultry and catupiry cheese. The biggest difference is that in some regions they prefer to top their pizza with olive oil, but some people prefer ketchup, mustard and even mayonnaise!

Cuiaba, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte (Central Brazil)
Until the 1950s, central Brazil, especially the Western states, was isolated from outside influences. This changed drastically when Brasilia was built as the new capitol. With this change, many people migrated to the central region and their cuisine became more recognized.

Because of the isolation, this region took from the land to find their staple foods. This area of the country contains the Pantanal, one of the world's largest wetland areas. This is one of the best fishing and game regions in the world. As you probably could guess, fish is a large part of the daily diet in this area. Carne seca, dried meat like beef jerky, and plaintains (fried bananas) are other food staples in this area of the country.

Fortaleza, Natal and Recife (Northeastern Brazil)
The Northeast region of Brazil is known for its coastal areas from Pernambuco to Bahia and is heavily influenced by African cuisine. Bahia is known for its acarajé which is peeled black-eyed peas that are formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil or dendê. It's a typical street food found not only in Bahia, but also the markets of Rio de Janeiro and other larger cities. The other thing Bahia is known for is tempero baiano which is literally Bahian seasoning. Tempero baiano varies, much like Indian curries, from family to family each having their own preference and recipe. Usually they all consist of oregano, one or more kinds of pepper, and parsley but can vary greatly in heat. It is typically used to season fish, veggies, and soups.

Manaus (The Rainforest)
The Northern region is distinctly indigenous in their cuisine. Their most popular dish is Pato no tucupi (duck in tucupi) which is served during the Roman Catholic celebration Círio de Nazaré. Tucupi is a yellow sauce extracted from wild manioc root and is extremely toxic until it is boiled down for hours. Fish is also a large part of the daily diet in this area. They are either fried or grilled and then served in either tomato sauce or coconut milk. Staples of Amazonian cuisine also include manioc, a starchy root vegetable, as well and many exotic fruits.

Now that you know a little about Brazilian cuisine, you're all set to watch the World Cup or the Olympics in the traditional fashion with a pastel or plantain in hand!

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