Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Definitely Kitsch, but Is It Lewd? The Strange Story of Sacanagem

Flavors of Brazil didn't live in Brazil in the 1970s, but according to numerous Brazilian friends that decade was the era of a party appetizer with the very strange name - sacanagem.

According to the UOL/Michaelis online Portuguese to English dictionary, sacanagem is a noun meaning:
1 filthy behaviour, dirtiness, unfairness. 2 derision, raillery, mockery. 3 lewdness, licentiousness.

And in the authoritative Houaiss Portuguese-only dictionary, sacanagem is defined variously as "dirty trick", "peverse act", "libidinous behavior" and even "the act of masturbation."

One wouldn't think that this word would be used to name any dish that a self-respecting hostess would want to serve at a chic cocktail party, but in the 1970s (and at times even today) you can spot a dish of sacanagem on a Brazilian buffet table, or offered with cocktails. If you ask Brazilians about the dish (and we have), none of them can tell you how it came to have such a strange name, but they all remember sacanagem nostalgically, even as they admit that it really should be considered more kitch than cuisine.

Sacanagem isn't very far removed from some North American cocktail-party treats of the same vintage, particulary those parties that were called luaus or puu-puu parties - those with a Polynesian theme. Although there are numerous variations on sacanagem, boiled down to its basics it consists of toothpicks or small skewers on which are threaded slices of hot dogs, cubes of cheese, an olive and perhaps a cherry tomato, those picks then being stuck into some round ball-shaped object to hold them decoratively.

The ball-shaped holder for the sacanagem was sometimes a half of a watermelon, though the most popular was a half of a head of cabbage. At the most chic gatherings, the cabbage was covered with tin foil, giving the dish a Sputnik-like appearance.

Although the list of ingredients that can be employed to make sacanagem is large and includes things such as pineapple or watermelon cubes, everyone agrees that the only item that must be included in a proper sacanagem is chunks of hot dog - not fine charcuterie either, real mystery-meat hot dogs.

We won't be publishing a recipe for sacanagem like we usually do for Brazilian foods we discuss here on the blog, as the description above and the photos below should give you sufficient information to go wild and create your own sacanagem for your next cocktail party. You can be sure that your guests will ask you what is that bizarre looking satellite-type thingie sitting on the coffee table and whether it's safe to eat. You can amaze and surprise them by telling them its an exotic Brazilian dish from the 1970s. You can even tell them it's called sacanagem in Portuguese - just don't tell them what the word means.


4 comments:

  1. haha this is amazing, I want a foil-covered cabbage centerpiece NOW (and the name is the proverbial day-glo maraschino on top)

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  2. Ha ha! I heard someone talking about this not so long ago and was very confused! Thanks for clearing it up. This seems very similar to something I remember (also fondly) from my youth. Childhood parties would always include the "Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog" - half a grapefruit similarly skewered with toothpicks. Each toothpick would hold a cube of cheese and a cube of pineapple. Ah, good times... :)

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  3. I grew up in Sao Paulo and never knew it as "sacanagem". We always called this dish "biriba".

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