Monday, September 20, 2010

Exotic is in the Eye of the Beholder

Even though I've been living for two years in Brazil, and had been visiting it for many years previously as a tourist, I'm still running across foods and cooking techniques that make me think, "Wow, that's something I've never seen before," or "That's really strange looking (or tasting)." These exotic ingredients are one of the things that keep writing this blog so much fun - researching what they are, how they are used, and where they came from.

This past weekend, I learned a lesson about what is or isn't exotic. It's not that things in one location or another are more or less exotic, it's just that they are more or less different from what one already knows from previous experience. One person's exotic is another's "oh no, not this again!"

On Saturday night, I had a group of Brazilian friends over for appetizers and drinks, a way of entertaining that's very popular here in Brazil. I often try to make dishes that my guests might not be familiar with, as I know that they can easily get Brazilian cooking anywhere, but some other styles of cooking are not really well known here. In preparation for the party, I visited Fortaleza's best greengrocers, called Mercadinho Japonês . It does sell Asian foods but is more of a generalized store for fruits and vegetables. I find it to have the best quality and selection in the city, and I can often find vegetables that aren't available in local supermarkets. I had decided to make a plate of raw vegetables with dips, and at the store I found a nice variety of them.

I prepared the dish when I got home, and had it on the dining table when the guests arrived. I was standing at the table when the first few guests began to sample the vegetables, and was slightly surprised when they asked me what some of the vegetables were, as they had never seen them. I of course knew the names in English but couldn't come up quickly with the names in Portuguese, so I availed myself of my bi-lingual dictionary to find the proper way to translate them into Portuguese. The response was "Oh! I've heard of these (or read about these) but have neven seen them before. I'll have to try them."

And what were these vegetables that my guests found so exotic and strange? Nothing more than these vegetables which are so common in North America that they might be considered boring or "done to death."

The radishes and celery were the talk of the party, and throughout the night guests were discussing them and comparing them to locally-available veggies. Most of the guests seemed to love most of these vegetables, though a few found their flavor to be strong and very assertive.

It just goes to show that anything can be exotic when it's out of its normal geographical range. An interesting lesson to remember.

PS. I forgot to mention the Portuguese terms I discovered for these two vegetables - celery is known as either aipo or salsão and radishes are called rabanetes.

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