Monday, April 16, 2012

The Beirute - A True-Blue Brazilian Sandwich Classic

Just as French toast didn't really originate in France, the sandwich known universally in Brazil as a beirute wasn't invented in the Lebanese capital. It was invented, created or put together for the first time in Brazil's largest metropolis, São Paulo.

French toast's anonymous creator chose the name he (or more likely, she) did not because the dish came from France, but more as an homage to France and French cooking, a recognition that the dish was inspired by French cooking techniques and ingredients. Brazil's beirute sandwich was given its name for similar reasons.

Levantine immigrants, Brazil, early 20th century
In the early years of the 20th century, burgeoning São Paulo received a large number of immigrants from the Old World, and among them were significant numbers of immigrants from the Levant, specifically from Syria and Lebanon. They prospered in Brazil and their community grew to be one of the most important ethnic communities in the giant melting pot that is São Paulo. In fact, at present both the mayor of the city of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, and the governor of São Paulo State, Geraldo Alckmin, have Lebanese background. Current estimates of the number of Brazilians who identify as purely or partially of Lebanese of Syrian stock is between 10 and 13 million.

One of the foods that these immigrants from the Levant brought with them from their homeland was the round, often pocketed flatbread called pão sírio (Syrian bread) in Portuguese and best known in English as pita bread. Variations of this bread can be found throughout the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, and in Brazil, pão sírio is now considered an integral part of Brazilian food culture.

No doubt it was the Levantine bread used that caused the sandwich to be called beirute, because it's the one essential ingredient of a beirute. The meat, cheese and everything else that goes into the filling can vary from place to place and from restaurant to restaurant, but if it's not served on pão sírio, it's not a beirute.

Most typical recipes, however, do include some sort of cold meat and slices of cheese, making the sandwich a member of the Brazilian meat/cheese sandwich family along with the Bauru and the misto quente. The classic beirute is filled with sliced cold roast beef, sliced cheese, a fried egg, plus lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. In a beirute, the filling goes between two whole pieces of pão sírio, not into the pocket, making the sandwich a true meal in itself. This is not finger food - a good beirute will fill the whole plate and requires nothing else to make a complete and satisfying lunch.

2 comments:

  1. I am a vegetarian and I recently discovered the beirute at a brazilian juice bar / cafe in Redondo Beach California . They substitute any meat in there pita pockets and beirutes with hearts of palm which add a juicy yummy goodness that is simply IRRESISTABLE !

    Victoria ( Marina Del Rey , CA )

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    1. Victoria - They sound wonderful! I've found that you can use hearts of palm to substitute for meat in many recipes, making them vegetarian. There's something about the texture and consistency of palm hearts that makes the substitution succeed.
      JAMES

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