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Eating Oaxaca

oaxaca

 

After 6 days in Mexico City (aka DF), we decided it was time to get out of the big city and see a bit more of Mexico. We had heard that there was some big annual cultural event going on in Oaxaca (a city located in the state of the same name, around 500km southeast of DF), so we hopped on an overnight bus and rolled into town at 6.30am.

Feeling shattered from a bad night’s sleep on the bus, we stumbled into our hostel and asked if we could check in early – we were desperate for a shower and bed. The woman at reception looked as us impassively and said check-in was at 3pm. Urgh! Six and a half hours to kill!

We dumped our bags and sloped off into town to see if we could find breakfast. What we found was a city with almost no buildings higher than 2 stories, full of markets, crafts and street food. We wandered into the first market we found and had what turned out to be a very traditional Oaxacan breakfast.

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brownie-do-luiz

Brownie do Luiz

Brownie-do-Luiz

Sweet, sweet temptation…

 

I waited across the street from the small shop in Laranjeiras and watched. In just 20 minutes I saw more than a dozen people enter with cash and leave moments later, hurriedly tucking tins or small foil envelopes into their bags and pockets. The clients were content for another day now that they had their fix.

This dangerously addictive substance, known as veneno da lata (literally ‘poison in a tin’, but meaning something closer to ‘good stuff in a tin’), is sweeping across the city of Rio and it has been winning over thousands of fans. But who is responsible for this and what should be done about it? The trail leads back to a guy called Luiz Quinderé, and it all started when he was just 15.

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sonho-de-valsa

Brazilian Brands: Sonho de Valsa

Brazilian Brands is back! Today’s item in the spotlight has a somewhat romantic association which reminds me of a British confectionery favourite. Rolos were (and possibly still are) milk chocolate covered caramels that came in a tube-shaped wrapper. The tag line was “Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?”. I suppose this led romantic 9 year olds to handing over a half melted choccy to the object of their desire (not that I ever gave or received one).

Anyway, on to the Brazilian chocolate for the romantically minded.

 

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Sonho-de-valsa

Sonho de Valsa

Name: Sonho de Valsa

Product: Chocolate bonbon

Description: Sonho de Valsa was released by Lacta in 1938 and they say that the packaging hasn’t changed much in all those years.

As you can see, the chocolate comes in a very distinctive pink wrapper and sports a fairytale couple having a little dance. The dance in question is a valsa (waltz) and apparently the musical notes that you can just make out between the images of the couple are from an actual waltz by Johann Strauss!

Break open the wrapper and you will discover a milk chocolate covered ball. The chocolate is covering a crispy sphere, not unlike a Ferrero Rocher. Bite through the shell and you find a crunchy, buttery cashew nut filling.

 

sonho-de-valsa

Creamy cashew filling surrounded by a crunchy wafter shell and a layer of milk chocolate. Very sweet, very tasty, hits the spot.

 

Verdict: Am I actually turning into a Brazilian? Sonho de valsas are seriously sweet but I like them! I like the crunch from the crispy wafer shell and I like the creamy, crunchy cashew filling.

Apparently these sweets were originally designed to appeal to women (hence the mushy name) and they are now a classic gift “for your loved one”. It seems like it must have worked because Lacta’s rivals, Garoto, brought out the virtually indistinguishable Seranata de Amor (Seranade of love) in 1949.

As romantic gestures go it’s not quite up there with a dozen roses, but hey, it tastes good so stop complaining! I’ll leave you with more sappy mush highlighting Sonho de Valsa’s marketing ploy.

 

Awww, it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye isn’t it? It isn’t?! Oh you heartless people!

 

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Brazilian Brands: Diamante Negro

What is it about chocolate that inspires such adoration? I’m sure you’ve all seen those articles in which “scientists say” all kinds of things about chocolate (it releases endorphins, is good for your heart, etc). But on top of all that science stuff, I think many of us are more than a little sentimental about chocolate aren’t we? I for one could talk for hours about the various chocolate bars and confectionery of my youth (don’t get me started on the infamous case of the shrinking Curly Wurly).

You can gauge the amount of love there is for a product by the intensity of longing that exists among expats who can’t get hold of it anymore (personally I obsess over Marmite, HP Sauce and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk). I wonder how many Brazilians living abroad have saudade for  today’s Brazilian Brand.

 

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Diamante Negrodiamante-negro

Name: Diamante Negro.

Product: Chocolate.

Description: This chocolate bar goes back a long way and (surprise surprise, this being Brazil!) it has a football connection. In 1938, the World Cup was being held in France. Germany had just invaded Austria (the Anschluss even extended to the football teams, leaving the tournament one team short!), but for French journalist Raymondo Thourmagem, the story of the tournament was a Brazilian player, Leônidas da Silva. Thourmagem was so impressed with Leônidas that he dubbed him the Diamante Negro (Black Diamond) and the name stuck.

Lacta, a Brazilian chocolate manufacturer, opportunistically decided to rename their chocolate bar after the great player and again, the name stuck. They came up with a rather nice slogan too: “Viver é bom, com Diamante Negro é melhor” (To live is good, with Black Diamond it’s better).

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Brazilian Brands: Toddy & Toddynho

When I think of Brazilian food, the dishes that spring to mind are feijoada, moqueca, pão de queijo, picanha, farofa and I’d better stop before I start drooling on the keyboard. But if you asked someone else they might provide an alternative list: doce de leite, beijinhos de coco, pudim, kindim, pão de mel, creme de papaia com cassis and (of course) brigadeiro.

Brazilian cuisine provides plenty of satisfaction for savoury food people like me, but it also has a lot for you glucophiles. Today’s Brazilian brand falls squarely into the latter category – something this sweet was sure to be successful in Brazil wasn’t it?

 

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Toddynho

Toddy & Toddynho

Name: Toddy / Toddynho (sounds like Todgey and Todge-EEN-yo respectively).

Product: Chocolate powder / chocolate milk.

Background: In 1916 Pedro Erasmo Santiago, a Spanish immigrant in Puerto Rico, lost his entire Cacau plantation in a hurricane. He moved to the USA where he worked his way up from toilet cleaner to prosperous businessman in the food industry.

In 1928 he bought the rights to the brand name “Toddy” for all of South America. Prior to this, “Toddy” was the name of a Scottish drink made of blended whisky, sugar/honey and spices, served hot. However, Pedro’s product, a sweetened cocoa powder to be made into a chocolate drink, was just as often served cold.

In 1933 Pedro Santiago was granted permission to market Toddy in Brazil. He set up a factory in Lapa and set about marketting his product with innovative publicity stunts, such as using planes to write the name of his product in smoke in the skies over Rio.

In the following decades, Toddy became a hugely popular drink across Brazil. Although Toddy was the first chocolate powder in Brazil, other brands soon followed, notably Nescau made by evil Swiss company Nestlé.

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Chocolate’s strange journey

Last month I spent two very enjoyable weeks in Bahia, Brazil’s 5th largest state. It really was a great holiday – there were comedy translations, amazing beaches and one ridiculously beautiful tarantula.

We flew into Salvador, the state capital, and spent a couple of days exploring the city before heading south. Our route followed the coast and as we drove I noticed signs indicating that we were on the Costa do Dendê (Dendê is the fruit of the Oil Palm). Sure enough there were Oil Palms everywhere.

Then, just as we reached our destination, I noticed that the signs had changed and we had crossed into the Costa do Cacau. Of course, we traditionally associate cacau (that’s the Portuguese spelling of cacao/cocoa) with chocolate, but the only real contact I’ve had with this fruit since I’ve been in Brazil has been as a delicious, refreshing drink made from the pulp that surrounds the cocoa beans.

Although we were now on the Cacau Coast, we didn’t see much in the way of cacau. Then one day when we were driving through a small town, I noticed this:

cacau drying

“What?” I imagine you asking (that’s what everyone else in the car said when I pointed this out). You should be directing your attention towards the orange patches on either side of the road.

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The Brazilian Sushi Experience

There are times when the thought of some heavy Brazilian or European food just doesn’t do it for me. I feel hungry but can’t quite work out what it is that I want to eat. Then it comes to me – sushi! Light but also satisfying. The clean, fresh taste of fish, the salty tang of soy, the burn of wasabi, the vinegar edge to the pickled ginger. All washed down with a crisp beer or a glass or two of sake. Yum!

sushi selection platter

Yummy sushi selection platter. Great when it’s hot. Also great when you have a hangover (or is that just me?).

 

I wouldn’t want to eat sushi every day, but if I go more than a few weeks without, I start to get cravings. Luckily for me, sushi is very popular in Brazil, most likely due to the huge Japanese Brazilian community (the largest Japanese population outside of Japan) based primarily in the states of São Paulo and Paraná.

Before I go any further I should tell you that I have never been to Japan. I am dying to go, but so far the opportunity hasn’t arisen. The reason I mention it is that I want to make it clear that what I’m about to say is not about ‘authenticity’. I am perfectly happy to believe that what the British commonly refer to as ‘sushi’ is just as unauthentic as what the Brazilians call ‘sushi’ (maybe even more so). OK? So moving on, I want to tell you about the aspects of the Brazilian sushi experience that I find interesting/unusual.

 

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Going over to the sweet side

There may be hope for me yet people! There is a fairly decent Kilo restaurant near work which has become my regular lunchtime haunt (largely because of the excellent chilli oil they serve alongside the arroz e feijão). Recently I have noticed that after a particularly spicy lunch, I find myself craving chocolate. And as I was queueing to pay yesterday, I saw this:

Mmmm, sparkly wrapping = good. Pão de Mel (honey bread) = yum. Artesanal = I doubt it, but still, a good aspiration. Com recheio de Brigadeiro (with Brigadeiro filling) = Nooooo!

 

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