I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. Someone had posted something about the food not being great in a certain part of Brazil and then someone else had responded “Well, no one goes to Brazil for the food”. My initial reaction was “Harumph! That’s rather dismissive of Brazilian food!”. But then I thought back to my first few months in Brazil.
Back then I was not impressed with the food at all. There was my first taste of farofa which reminded me of a mouth full of dry sawdust. Then there was some weird gooey slop with prawns called Bobó. The rice and beans were OK, but if you had asked me about the best food in Latin America, I would have told you about the Ceviche in Peru, almost everything in Mexico and, of course, the sublime beef and red wine of Argentina.
So maybe that Facebook comment was fair after all? When people think of a holiday in Brazil they generally think of beaches, samba, carnival and football – not the food. But even if people aren’t obsessing over the food when they arrive in Brazil, what do they think of it when they actually try it?
My guess is that the response is mixed. I know many people who love Brazilian food (in case you haven’t guessed, I fall into this category), but I’ve also heard people describe Brazilian food as being heavy, greasy (think of all those deep fried salgadinhos) and lacking in subtlety. Despite the fact that I’m a fan of Brazilian food, I do understand why someone visiting Brazil for a few weeks might feel that way.
First off, a lot of Brazilian food is quite heavy. If you buy a prato feito (a cheap lunchtime dish favoured by workers) it will almost always include rice, beans and french fries (plus some chicken, beef or fish and a fried egg). Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, is amazing, but I find it is best followed by a 2 hour snooze on the nearest sofa. Bottom line is that you’re not into carbs then many Brazilian dishes will disappoint you.
Are you getting good stuff?
All the best restaurants I’ve been to in Brazil have been recommended by a friend or relative. Conversely, when Mrs Eat Rio and I just pick somewhere random to eat, the food is usually no better than passable. Of course visitors/tourists can look up restaurant recommendations, but very often they just wander out to see what they can find. I think this is the easiest way to leave Rio with a bad impression of Brazilian food (if only you knew someone who could recommend some good places!).
Learning the food
I used to disparagingly compare farofa to dry sawdust, but now I love it! At first I even thought that moqueca, now one of my favourite Brazilian dishes, was boring. So what changed – the food or me? Of course eating in the right places helps, but I also think that it takes many people (including me) a little while to understand the food and come to appreciate it.
Having indulged heavily (a little too heavily perhaps) in the delights of Brazilian cuisine, I am now able to tell the difference between a good moqueca and terrible one. What seemed at first like no more than a big, sloppy fish stew is now a wonderful combination of seafood, coconut and dendê (palm) oil. That ‘dry sawdust’ farofa is now an essential accompaniment to rice and beans, which makes me incredibly happy.
Exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F…
So, does Brazilian food stand up against the cuisines of other countries? I may be a little biased here, but I think it does. There is so much variety, from the amazing meats and comfort food of the south, to exotic fruits and and other ingredients from the Amazon region. And then there’s many Brazilian’s favourite, the comida nordestina (food from Brazil’s north-eastern states).
So, with this post I make my case for Brazilian food – varied, interesting, and deeply satisfying. What’s your favourite Brazilian dish?