Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You Say Kibbeh and I Say Quibe...

For some reason unknown to me, one of the most-read posts ever here at Flavors of Brazil was an article I posted back in June 2010 on a Brazilian meat pie of Levantine origin called esfirra or esfiha (both pronounced the same way - es-FEE-ha). In the few months since it appeared in this blog, it's been viewed 514 times. I'm aware that the immigrants from Lebanon and Syria who arrived in Brazil in great numbers in the early decades of the 20th century brought with them many treasures, material and immaterial, but I wasn't quite aware that the recipe for esfirra was among them.

But since readers of Flavors of Brazil seem to be most curious about the Levantine influence on Brazilian cuisince, I thought it would be interesting and instructive to do some research on another extremely popular Arab-Brazilian dish called in Portuguese, variously, kibe or quibe. In most instances I have seen the word in most instances transliterated into English as kibbeh, but there are spelling variations in English as well as in Portuguese. All these words go back to a common Arabic root kubbe meaning "ball". And that's what quibe is, basically - a deep-fried ball of spiced ground meat mixed with bulgur wheat stuffed with (what else) ground meat. Originally the meat used in quibe was ground lamb, but in contemporary Brazil it's much more often ground beef.

To give some idea of the popularity of quibe in Brazil, there isn't a direct Portuguese translation for bulgur, the Middle Eastern cracked, parboiled and dried wheat. In Brazil, if you want to buy bulgur you have to look in the store aisles for trigo para quibe - wheat for kibbeh.

Brazilians love to eat quibe as a quick snack at a lunch counter, as part of a plate of Levantine mezze, or most often as a bar snack to enjoy with an ice cold beer. In more traditional establishments it's served with a tahini sauce, but the snack has become Brazilianized to the extent that it is more commonly spiced up with hot sauce or even ketchup.

The classic quibe is the deep-fried version, but there is also a baked variation which is less greasy and caloric. Additionally, there is a traditional variation (quibe cru) in which the meat and bulgur wheat mixture isn't cooked at all - it's served raw, as in steak tartare. Next post on Flavors of Brazil will have recipes for all three of these versions of quibe.


  1. SO looking forward to your Kibe recipes; I've been trying to get one from a student of mine for a few weeks now! I miss your "labels" links at the right side of the blog. I would frequently just go thru those to follow different themes. Have you written anything about cheese from Minas Gerais? I'd love to find a website that describes the different kinds of cheeses, and how they are made. If you know of any, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!

  2. Hi Shelley - I should have the kibe recipe post online tomorrow, Nov. 10. I took out the labels links because it was getting long, but I could put it back again if it was useful. Did you know that you'll get the same results just be typing in any label in the "search this blog" gadget? Try it out, and let me know if you want the labels link back in. It's easy to add it again.

    Also...I have some interesting material in my books on queijo mineiro, so keep reading this blog. I've been meaning to post something on that topic for quite a while. This might spur me along.

  3. Kibe is actually from Armenia, where it's known as Kufte, altough it was popularized in Brazil thru the 1st generation of Lebanese immigrants.

    1. I'm sorry it was brought to Armenia by Muslim raiders, it is from the Middle East and is more commonly known as Kubbeh or Kibbeh. Is like national dishes in some countries, but found in Iraq,Palestine,Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and even turkey. My Syrian uncle used to make this wth frond lamb and also falafel for the vegans in the house.