Friday, September 17, 2010

Land of the Shrimp Eaters

While the United States just has one Rio Grande, along the border with Mexico, Brazil has two states called Rio Grande. Fortunately, they are quite far apart (nearly 2000 air miles between their respective capitals), and are located at two geographical extremes of the country, so they are identified as Rio Grande so Sul (Rio Grande of the South) and Rio Grande do Norte (Rio Grande of the North).

With names like these, one serious question becomes what do you call the inhabitants of these states? Imagine if the English names shown above were state names - would you call someone from Rio Grande of the North a Riograndeofthenorthian? Or would there be folks identified as Riograndeofthesouthites? Any way you look at it, for these places any demonym which employs the actual state name is a non-starter. In Brazil, they've solved this dilemma by creating demonyms that don't employ the name of the state. People from Rio Grande do Sul are knows as Gaúchos, which is term that relates to the cowboy culture that runs from the south of Brazil into Uruguay and Argentina, and which is familiar to North Americans and Europeans through its Spanish equivalent, Gaucho. People from Rio Grande do Norte take their demonym, Potiguar, from the name of a Tupi nation of Indians that have inhabited the territory since long before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. In the Tupi language, Potiguar means "eater of shrimp."

Shrimp abound in the seas, lagoons and creeks of this state, which occupies the eastern-most position in all of the Americas. Local cooking traditions revolve around this seafood as the prime source of protein, which has been the case since time immemorial. Shrimp has also always been of enormous economic importance to the state, an importance which has grown tremendously in the past 20 years, during which time the farming of shrimp has become the main industry in many parts of the state. The two largest sources of income in Rio Grande do Norte presently are tourism and shrimp-farming.

In addition to the shrimp industry, Rio Grande do Norte is a large producer of fresh fruits, both for the domestic and exports markets. This is due to the hot, sunny climate, and the abundance of groundwater for irrigation. Melons are of particular importance, and the state produces 95% of Brazil's total exports of melons.

The next few posts on Flavors of Brazil will concentrate on "potiguar" ways to cook and serve shrimp, including some that combine the shrimp with the cornucopia of tropical fruit that this land produces.


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