Friday, June 17, 2011

American TV Discovers Rio de Janeiro's Food Scene

This week popular American TV show Bizarre Foods, starring Andrew Zimmern, cast its eye on Brazil's number-one tourist destination, Rio de Janeiro. The episode aired in the USA on June 14, and information about it and video clips from the show can be found here. The complete episode can easily be found on various download and torrent sites around the Internet, which is how Flavors of Brazil came across its own copy, since this series is not aired in Brazil.

For those not familiar with  Bizarre Foods, the premise of the show is that the host travels the world looking for unusual, unfamiliar foods and food cultures, with an emphasis on the outrageous and the disgusting. Zimmern happily chomps down on live animals, a variety of insects and worms, inner organs of all descriptions as well as toxic fruits and vegetables.

Pork face and ears for feijoada
In the Rio episode, Zimmern does manage to find some "bizarre" foods in a number of neighborhoods of the cidade maravilhosa - pork faces and tails in the feijoada served at the Imperio Serrano samba school, chicken in a sauce of its own blook (frango ao molho pardo) in a boteco, a gigantic hermit crab caught just off famed Copacana beach, and strawberry calves' foot jelly at the São Cristóvão market.

In spite of the show's focus on the exotic and bizarre, the episode does manage to show some of the city's many faces, including some that aren't highlighted in tourist board publicity or airline commercial. He visits two of the city's infamous favelas, vertical slums that climb the sides of local mountains and which are often under the control of drug gangs. A look at the culture of Rio's samba schools includes the gritty reality that exists behind the glitter and lithe bodies of Carnaval's samba parades. Yet he doesn't exclude the other end of the economic scale, A segment on churrascaria restaurants provides a good how-to guide to eating in these establishments, and a chat with a upmarket celebrity chef opens up the world of fruits and vegetables from the Amazonian rain forest.
Frango ao molho pardo

Flavors of Brazil started watching the episode with trepidation, as it's all too easy to turn foreign cultures, especially foreign food cultures, into nothing more than show-off moments of the host's culinary machismo. Zimmern avoids that trap, and though clearly the show is tilted to serve its audience a portion of the outrageous, Zimmern allows his affection for the city, its food and especially its people to come through. Worth tracking down for an insight into Carioca food culture.

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