When the Special Schools’ Samba Schools’ Competition is over and the winner is announced, Rio goes back to business and waits for the great celebration when the six top teams parade at the Sambadrome on Saturday night. 2015’s winner by the way was Beija Flor, with Brazil’s African heritage as its theme.
While Travelstripe waits for Saturday, let’s take a look at something that is dear to everyone’s heart – food.
One of the great delights of Brazil is its food. With its roots in Portugal and Africa as well as its own native soil, Brazilian cuisine is diverse, different and decidedly delicious.
The Portuguese brought stews, empadas and the famous baccalau, or codfish dishes to their colony, along with desserts like doce de leite (caramel) and ovos queimados, (burnt eggs) a concoction of egg yolks, sugar, cloves and cinnamon. The indigenous Indians contributed fish, corn, beans and cassava dishes. But the most significant influence on the Brazilian table came from the African slaves, probably because they had control of most colonial kitchens. To Portuguese and indigenous fare, they added their own unique twist, spicing it with peppers and ginger and blending it with palm oil and coconut milk.
Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, was born in the slave kitchens and is served traditionally on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This rich, spicy stew of black beans (feijao) and pork includes, according the locals, “every part of the pig except its squeak”. The Feijoada banquet or Feijoada Completa, offered at many Rio Hotels for Saturday lunch is a gastronomic experience not to be missed. The feijoada is the star among smoking cauldrons of Portuguese sausage, beef jerky, smoked tongue, pork chops, pork tenderloin and bacon. It is accompanied by couve (collard greens or kale) ground cassava, rice, sliced oranges, Milanese bananas and sauces of searing malagueta pepper or of slightly milder marinated onions with peppers.
Just as popular as the feijoada and just as typically Brazilian is churrasco, the grilled or barbequed meat pioneered by the gauchos, or cowboys of the south of the country. Often it is simply salted, but often it is marinated in garlic, onion and olive oil before being grilled on a long skewer over a charcoal fire. The cooked meat is dipped in cassava or manioc meal. The Churrascaria at Barra Beach delivers your choice of meat, with your own personal brazier to your table. You then cook it to your own standard of perfection. The food is sensational, not just the meat, but the myriad of delicious accompaniments. The experience is fun, even if it does leave you smelling like a walking barbeque. Barra da Tijuca Brasa on Avenue Ayrton Senna offers a different approach to churrasco, the rodizio. Here an endless parade of meats are brought to your table on a skewer and sliced onto your plate. They include sausage, beef, chicken, lamb and chicken hearts. A giant buffet groans under every imaginable kind of entrée, accompaniment and dessert. The risk of eating to the point of pain is high here!
The queen of the Brazilian dessert buffet is the exquisite and extremely healthy acai. Made from the fruit of the indigenous acai palm from the southern Amazon, it is most commonly served as a thick sweet jelly topped with grains. Mashed and frozen in a bowl, it is known as acai na tigela or acai in a bowl. The best acai in Rio, according to the locals, is found in the kiosks which line the beaches from Copacabana to Barra. In southern Brazil acai is served like a smoothie in a bowl or glass and is topped or mixed with tapioca or granola and fruits. Considered one of nature’s most complete foods, the acai berry is packed with anti-oxidants, anthocyanins, amino acids, omega fats, protein and fibre. The health benefits of acai have been known to Brazilians since the beginning of time and in recent years the name has appeared in bottles and packets on the shelves of health food stores across the globe. In 2005 three Brazilians from Rio founded Acai Roots in San Diego, selling all things acai, with the slogan “Not just a berry, a lifestyle!”