Flavors of Brazil spent the New Year's holiday in Rio de Janeiro, celebrating New Year's Eve (Reveillon in Portuguese) along with millions of others on Rio's famous Copacabana beach - attending a free concert by some of Brazil's most famous musical talents, and being astounded by the amazing 20 minute firework show that kicked off 2011 in Brazil.
I took advantage of this trip to Brazil's most famous city and tourist destination to learn more about the carioca food culture. (Carioca is a Portuguese word that means a person from Rio de Janeiro, or any object connect to that city). Of all Brazilian cities, Rio is the city that most retains a Lusitanian, or Portuguese, quality. For much of Brazil's colonial and post-colonial history - up to the construction of a new capital, Brasília, in the 1960s - Rio was Brazil's largesst city and capital. For a time in the 19th century, Rio was the capital not only of Brazil, but of the entire Portuguese empire - Portugal, Brazil, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Macau and others. So it's entirely natural that many dishes that come from Portugal are now considered part of carioca cuisine, often little changed from their Portuguese roots.
Cariocas inherited a love of salt cod (bacalhau) in all its forms from the Portuguese. A New Year's Eve party would not be complete without at least one dish of bacalhau, often the well-known Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá. When the weather turns chilly in Rio, during the winter months of July and August, cariocas yearn for a hot, satisfying bowl of the Portuguese soup known as caldo verde. Rio is also known for it's pastries and sweets, and many of the best-loved of these originated in the convents of Portugual.
Rio de Janeiro is a city with a strong and vibrant black culture, but interestingly, unlike Salvador, Bahia, it hasn't developed an african-based food culture. It is also home to many immigrant communities, and as an internationally known destination city, fittingly, it is home to restaurants from all the cuisines of the world. But true carioca cuisine is strongly based on those original colonial ties to the Portuguese motherland.