Friday, July 16, 2010
Rice and beans, of course, plays a large part in the cuisines of many other parts of Latin America - Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, etc. But it is in Brazil where this combination of an Asian grain (brought to Brazil by the Portuguese)** and a native legume (known to the Indians long before the arrival of Europeans) reaches its prime importance. It provides the nutritional basis for the feeding of the nation.
Regionally, the type of beans used in making this dish varies. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, black beans are favored, while in the northeast a bean similar to Pinto beans is preferred. The rice used, however, is almost universally long-grain white rice. Naturally, if the rice were brown the dish would be nutritionally richer, but long-held custom requires white rice. The rice is steamed or boiled, and the beans are cooked until just soft. The broth for the beans is normally seasoned with at least onion and garlic, plus if economic conditions allow, some form of animal fat or meat - things like bacon, smoked pork, or carne de sol.
Daniela Mercury, used this symbolism on the cover of her 1996 album Feijão com Arroz, which was lauded as the best album cover in Brazilian history by an important music magazine. (Incidentally, the album is also marvelous musically, and is worth searching for.) In Brazilian Portuguese, the phrase "arroz com feijão" has come to mean anything that is ordinary or everyday - someone who is looking to change their life might tell their family or friends that they want to get out of this "rice and beans" and find a new life. In actuality, they might find a new life, but they are unlikely ever to get out of the habit of eating rice and beans daily. It's in the blood.
** Check the comments for this posting for a reader's response regarding the possible routes by which Asian rice arrived in Brazil - perhaps via Portugal, perhaps via Africa.