Friday, February 19, 2010

The Ashes of Carnaval

I'm back in Fortaleza, having survived (and in fact having really enjoyed) Carnaval in Recife, Brazil, and specifically in the neighboring historic town of Olinda. Olinda is a wonderfully preserved baroque city, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During Carnaval the steep cobblestone streets of Olinda are filled with throngs of locals and tourists - walking, talking, drinking, eating, dancing, laughing, crying, kissing and hugging. Bands of musicians pass by regularly, playing the local Carnaval music, which is called frevo (see photo above), and each band is followed by enthusiasts dancing their way to the beat of the frevo band. From time to time giant figures, called bonecos, pass by in parade.

During Carnaval people must eat and drink to keep their energy up, of course, but Carnaval is not about indulging in great food experiences. Food during Carnaval is to fuel the engine for continued revelry, and drink (almost exclusively beer) is to add the spark of folly. Prodigious quantities of beer are sold and consumed during Carnaval - and at ridiculously low prices by North American standards. A 12 oz. (350 ml) can universally costs 1.50 reais (about USD $0.75) and the more popular 16 oz. (473 ml) cans sell for 2 reais (just over USD $1.00). In Recife and Olinda, only one brand of beer is available during Carnaval, Skol. For this right, Skol contributes a large amount of money to the city government for the expenses of Carnaval.

To satisfy one's hunger pangs during Carnaval, the only option is street food. All restaurants and stores are closed, so food choices are limited to such things as popcorn, hot dogs, kebabs, fries etc. One particularly satisfying dish varies from the standard street food format, and is very good value at 5 reais (about USD $2.50). It is a small bowl of manioc (called macaxeira in Portuguese), which is a tropical tuber somewhat like a potato, which has been boiled until soft. On top, a small portion of either stewed chicken, or chopped sun-dried meat (carne de sol) with vegetables, is added. The combination is hearty and filling, and satisfies one's basic need for food for a long time.

I'll post some more photos later of Olinda during Carnaval, even though this blog is food-focused and these photos are not. Perhaps they'll be of some interest to visitors to Flavors of Brazil.

But for now, it's time for the rigors of Lent in post-Carnaval Brazil.

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