Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Artisanal Food - The Bride's Big Thigh

When I'm at farmers' markets, or in artisanal craft shops anywhere in Brazil, I'm always on the lookout for home-made food products. They are usually delicious, usually unknown to me, and often have interesting histories or traditions associated with them.

This week, in Fortaleza's Mercado Central, I came across a small package labeled "Coxão de Noiva". It appeared to be some sort of sweet at first glance, and I have to admit I was initially intrigued by the name, which can be translated into English as "The Bride's Big Thigh."  On the label were the words "doce caseiro" which means home-made sweet, and a list of ingredients. There were only three ingredients on the label - coconut, sugar and condensed milk.

I bought a package to sample Coxão de Noiva at home, and perhaps to add a post to Flavors of Brazil. When I got home an unwrapped the package, I noticed the interesting shape or form of the sweet - sliced like a piece of terrine or pate, the Coxão de Noiva was formed by stacking alternate layers of coconut candy and doce de leite, a mixture of condensed milk and sugar, more commonly known in North America by its Spanish name, dulce de leche. As the layers were hard at the time they were stacked, the slice was not solid. The effect was more like an airy or lacy layer-cake, sliced thinly. I tasted it, and though it was extremely sweet for my tastes, it was simple and tasty, with flavors of burnt coconut, and butterscotch.

I talked to several friends here in Fortaleza who told me this sweet was well-known as a traditional candy from the interior of Ceará state. Some remembered it from childhood. Being curious to know a bit more about the history of this food, I decided to do some research on the internet on Coxão de Noiva. To my surprise there was not one reference to it in Google, nor in any other search engine. Every time I searched, the search engine suggested that perhaps I meant Colchão de Noiva. This translates as The Bride's Mattress, and is a popular cake in Brazil, of Portuguese origins, made with flour, sugar, eggs. etc.

Because the words coxão and colchão have almost identical pronunciations in Portuguese, I'm wondering if somehow, somewhere along the line someone misunderstood one word for the other, and what was originally The Bride's Mattress suddenly became The Bride's Big Thigh. Or perhaps, there was once a linguistic joker who just couldn't resist the opportunity to change the name. It will probably remain a mystery, unless someone decides to post something on the internet to explain it. No one I know here in Brazil can.


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