Consequently, we're often faced with an editorial dilemma when deciding which dish to feature, or what recipe to publish. Should we post a recipe that requires an ingredient that is virtually unobtainable outside Brazil, or should we avoid publishing it so as not to frustrate readers who'd like to try the recipe but can't find the ingredients they need? For example, many dishes from Bahia require dendê oil, made from a palm tree and not widely available in North America or Europe. You can't make Brazil's famous acarajé without dendê, and Flavors of Brazil couldn't pretend to any sort of completeness without a recipe for acarajé.
Our solution has normally been to publish the recipe, indicate which ingredients might be difficult to find and to suggest substitutes where possible. Where substitution of an ingredient would render the recipe meaningless, we try to suggest possible sources of the ingredient.
All of which brings us to the topic of this post. Just as Flavors of Brazil might make a list of Brazilian ingredients which are hard to find, with suggestions about substitution, one of Brazil's national newspapers, Folha de S. Paulo, this week published an interesting piece on ingredients from other countries and cultures which are difficult or impossible to source in Brazil. Readers of this blog from the USA, from Australia or France, for instance, might be surprised that foods that are absolutely mundane to them and universally available are considered exotic and strange in Brazil.
I remember the first time I finally tracked down fresh celery here in Fortaleza, and served it on a vegetable platter. Almost none of the twenty or so guests at the party knew what it was or recognized the flavor when they sampled it. Celery just doesn't have a place in most Brazilians' kitchens, and its distinctive flavor doesn't contribute to stocks and broths, or to tuna salad, or to vegetable platters in this part of the world.
So, just to amplify this list, and exemplify the notion that exoticism is in the eye of the beholder, here are some ingredients discussed in the piece from Folha de S. Paulo:
- curry powder
- maple syrup
- sour cream
The next time you're in the produce section of your local market and spot a package of celery, or pick up a tub of cour cream, just think to yourself, "How exotic!"