In Brazil, the main Christmas meal is served not at mid-day on December 25th as in USA and Canada, but late at night on Christmas Eve, as in many parts of Europe. It is known in Portuguese as "ceia de Natal" (simply, Christmas supper). Among the traditional dishes are bacalhau, or salt cod, and peru, or turkey. The turkey is usually roasted, but the North American accompaniments of stuffing, and mashed potatoes with gravy, are missing from the standard Brazilian buffet table.
Dessert at this Christmas supper differs from what North Americans and Northern Europeans are used to, as well. There is no pumpkin pie, and no Christmas pudding normally. The most traditional dessert is one of Portuguese origin called rabanada. The word rabanada means "gust of wind" or "a blow with the tail." Although the name might be unfamiliar, the dessert is certainly well-known to English speakers under a different name, and they associate this dish with another time of day - breakfast, to be precise. For rabanada is nothing less than what we English speakers call French toast.
Day-old bread dipped in a bath of eggs and milk and fried, then served with a sweet syrup. It's the same thing whether you call it rabanada or French toast, although in Brazil there is no such thing as maple syrup (nor maple trees for that matter). Instead, Brazilian sprinkle the fried bread with suger, then drizzle a syrup made from spiced port wine over their rabanada. The bread used is likely to be some type of French bread, such as a baguette or French rolls.
For many Brazilians a Christmas supper without rabanada would seem as incomplete as Christmas dinner without pumpkin pie or steamed pudding would seem to Northern Hemisphere residents. Tradition is all-important at this time of year, and what's been served for countless generations in one's family is what should be served this year, and for generations to come.
In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a typical recipe for Port wine syrup for rabanada. Do try it for dessert some time, it's wonderful. Just don't do it at your family's Christmas dinner, or your family is likely to revolt. Save it for another occasion.