Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Recife's Surprising Favorite Beach Snack - Soup!

When you're at the beach on a hot and sunny day and you start to feel peckish, what perks your appetite? A cooling fruit salad? A bowl of gazpacho? A chilled, frosty drink? If you're from Recife, in Brazil's always-tropical northeast, it's not like to be any of those things. What makes your mouth water on a scorching afternoon at the beach is a cup of hot soup.

Hot soup?

That's right, in Recife, according to a survey by the city's municipal government and judging by the number of soup vendors that populate the city's most popular beaches, what beachgoers want is a cup of soup (called caldinho or "little soup" in Portuguese), steaming hot. Whether it's bean soup, shrimp soup or fish soup, soup is what hits the spot in Recife.

There is a scientific basis to this predilection for hot soup on a hot day. Ingesting hot food causes the body to sweat, and as the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. It's for the same reason that Thai food, Indian food and other cuisines from hot climes are often spicy - the chiles cause sweating, which cools the body. It's counter-intuitive, but it does work. And it seems that Recife's beach crowd has figured it out.

The garnishes that accompany caldinho are almost as important to customers as the soup itself, according to many of the ambulant vendors that walk the beach all day long, dishing out plastic cups of soup from a thermos jug and adding garnishes according to the customer's desires. Traditional accompaniments include quails' eggs, torresmo (pork rinds), corn kernels and olive slices.

In addition to ambulant vendors, there are beachside stands that sell soup to walk-up customers, and in the most popular of those, it's not uncommon to sell 80 liters (80 quarts) of soup on a weekend afternoon. Many of the stands are weekend-only propositions and are staffed by members of a single extended family.

Customers and vendors alike stress the importance of sanitation and hygiene, and regular beachgoers often have their own list of trusted vendors, from whom they buy caldinho exclusively. Vendor José Carlos da Silva, who has 20-years' experience selling soup on Recife's beaches, points out that the hot soup itself is normally safe to eat, but that one must take extra care when choosing the accompaniments which are normally at ambient temperature.

Coming up in our next posts are some typical caldinho recipes from northeastern Brazil. They're great whether served on a tropical beach, or in a snowbound cabin in the mountains.

7 comments:

  1. I love caldo, wish I was on the beach in Recife right now

    ReplyDelete
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  3. caldinho de camarão, de feijão or sururú! ôtimo. Man I remember a few years ago when the public health department shut down all the beach vendors in one fell swoop, claiming health and sanitation concerns. Really it had more to do with fiscalização.. It's not as if there had been any outbreaks of sickness from food sold by the ambulent vendors. You eat on the beach or on the street from a vendor, you know you are taking a risk to a degree and should deal with the consequences yourself. Personally I won't eat raw oysters in Recife because unless you know where they come from, it's not worth the risk, the water is too polluted in the area.

    Needless to say there was public outcry as well as protests shutting down major avenues in Boa Viagem.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've been to Recife twice, and I just can't believe I never tried this!

    ReplyDelete
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