Monday, January 31, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Gizzards (Moela)

When I was a kid, our family was pretty vanilla when it came to the foods that were put on the table - nothing to strange or exotic really. The family's idea of something foreign and sophisticated was lasagne. We ate a lot of meat and potatos (and casseroles!) Certainly no sweetbreads, tripe, or even much in the way of liver. However, from time to time, my mother would serve a dinner in which the main course was sautéed chicken gizzards. Where did that come from? I really don't know but as a kid I loved them. With a chewy, muscular texture, and meaty taste, I thought they were wonderful.

Later, I lost my taste for gizzards, based probably on cultural prejudices against organ meats, I stopped eating them. Offal and awful were synonymous to me. For a long time I didn't give gizzards a second thought. Moving to Brazil, though, has brought gizzards (called moela here) back to mind. They are a favorite food of many Brazilians, and along with chicken hearts, a favorite bar food. While chicken hearts are normally served grilled on a skewer, gizzards in Brazil most often come braised in a sauce and are served with chunks of French bread to sop up the sauce. Sometimes the sauce is spicy, sometimes it is tomatoey and herbal, and sometimes it's just a quick gravy made with the pan juices. But it's almost always delicious.

Served with rounds of icy-cold Brazilian lager beer, and shared, along with the conversation, among friends around the table in a boteco or bar, gizzards make a marvelous light meal. If you've never been a gizzard-eater, or like me had forgotten about them, return them to their rightful place on the plate. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a typical Brazilian recipe for gizzards sparked with a sophisticated, contemporary twist.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RECIPE - Brazil Nut Brownies (Brownie de Castanha-do-pará)

One very typical American baked treat that Brazil has taken entirely to heart (and to the stomach) is the brownie. They don't even bother to translate it - brownie in English is brownie in Portuguese. With the national love of chocolate and of sweets, it's no wonder that brownies pop up everywhere here in Brazil - on restaurant dessert menus, on dessert tables at fancy feasts and parties, and at fine bakeries everywhere.

This recipe has slightly Brazilianized the standard American brownie recipe by substituting Brazil nuts (castanha-do-pará) for the more usual walnuts or pecans. The recipe calls for a large amount of these nuts - 2 lbs - so making these brownies isn't cheap. The yield, however, is 16 portions, so the per portion cost isn't exorbitant. You could, of course, reduce the cost by buying unshelled Brazil nuts - though, as anyone who's every tried to crack open a Brazil nut can tell you, shelling 2 lbs of those shells of steel is not childs' play. Fortunately, Brazil nuts are relatively cheap here in Brazil, even the shelled ones, so self-shelling really isn't worth the time and effort.

(NOTE: Please read comments to this post about possible problems with this recipe. Until I've checked the source recipe and confirmed quantities, do NOT follow this recipe. I'll update the post as soon as possible.)
RECIPE - Brazil Nut Brownies (Brownie de Castanha-do-pará)
Serves 16 portions

10 large eggs (free-range if possible), at room temperature
4 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 lbs (1 kg) bittersweet baking chocolate
4 cups (2 lbs) unsalted butter
2 cups crème fraîche or sour cream
2 lbs (1 kg) shelled Brazil nuts
4 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat over to 200C (400F). Generlously butter a 9x9 baking pan.

In a stand-mixer or in a large bowl with a cake mixer beat the eggs and sugar for 10 minutes at medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Break up the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler or over boiling water with the butter and crème fraîche or sour cream. Remove from heat, let cool and reserve.

Chop the Brazil nuts into coarse chunks in a food processor. Don't overprocess. Mix them with the flour.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and egg mixture, then the hot melted chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, mix completely. Then fold in the flour and nut mixture, a bit at a time, until you have a homogenous mixture.

Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan, and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the mixture comes out clean. Remove from the heat and let cool in the pan, set on a wire cake rack.

Cut into 16 serving pieces and serve, dusted with confectioner's sugar if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brazileira by Abril Editora.

Friday, January 28, 2011

RECIPE - Leeks with Wild Basil (Alho-poró com Manjericão)

This very simply, but delicious vegetable side dish makes a great accompaniment for grilled chicken or fish. In Brazil, the recipe calls for manjericão, and although manjericão strictly speaking is not the same thing as basil (click here for more information), basil is the best substitute for Europeans and North Americans. If you're lucky enough to live in Hawaii, you can make this dish more authentically Brazilian by using wild basil, which is what manjericão truly is.

Although leeks (alho-poró in Portuguese) are a crop of temperate climates, they are part of Brazil's culinary tradition through the influence of Portuguese cooking. One of the most well-known Portuguese dishes, the hearty soup known as caldo verde, contains leeks, and this soup is as popular in Brazil as it is in Portugal. In the more tropical parts of Brazil, like my Brazilian hometown Fortaleza, leeks are expensive and can only be found in more-specialized greengrocers. Further south, where the climate is more temperate, leeks are cheaper and more readily available.
RECIPE - Leeks with Wild Basil (Alho-poró com Manjericão)
Serves 4

3 leeks
1 Tbsp. extravirgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
Trim the leeks then carefully wash them, separating the leaves to remove sand and grit. Cut them into thin slices (and 1/4 inch, 1 cm). Reserve

In a large frying pan heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil, then fry the crushed garlic cloves until they just begin to brown. Remove the garlic and discard. Add the chopped onion and cook until transparent but not browned.

Add the leeks, plus the one cup of water, and cook over medium-high heat for five minutes, or until the leeks are just softened and tender.

Remove from heat, season with the salt, then stir in the chopped basil. Put into serving dish and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from BBel UOL

Thursday, January 27, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Untangling Basil in Brazil (Manjericão and Alfavaca)

If you look in almost any English - Portuguese bilingual dictionary you'll find that the English word "basil" is translated into Portuguese as "manjericão." One multilingual dictionary translates manjericão into a number of languages such as French (basilic), English (basil), Italian (basilico) and German (basilienkraut). However, when I go to my local supermarket here in Fortaleza, or any fruit and vegetable market anywhere in Brazil, the plant that is labelled manjericão is not what I know as basil, or as basilic or as basilico.

Manjericão certainly has many of the same flavor elements that basil does, and the overall taste is quite similar. The appearance of the plant is very different, though. Instead of large, glossy, bright green leaves it has small, velvety leaves that are a somber green in color. I've come to rely on manjericão in many recipes that I use that call for basil. Even when raw basil is included, I've been able to substitute manjericão without changing the overall flavor of the dish. But my culinary curiousity always made me wonder why Brazilian "basil" didn't look like the plant I was used to.

In researching various foods for Flavors of Brazil, I've come to realize that the only wayto make certain that the English word and the Portuguese word  for something refers to the same species is to try to find the scientific name for each and see if they are the same. Doing a bit of internet-digging I discovered that I was right - dictionaries notwithstanding, basil (Ocimum basilicum) and manjericão (Ocimum gratissimum) are not identical. They do belong to the same genus, Ocimum, so they're related, which explains the similarity in taste, but they are not the same thing.

Using the scientific names as a starting point, I thought I'd see if there was a word in Portuguese that correctly translated basil, and one in English that correctly translated manjericão. It turns out that these words do exist. The plant that we know of in English in basil is known in Brazilian Portuguese as alfavaca and in Portugal they call it manjericão-de-folha-larga. I've run across the name alfavaca in Brazilian cookbooks and gastronomy magazines, but have never seen it in supermarkets or markets. I was curious as to what it was but since it wasn't available to me, I didn't bother to try to find out. Now I know. Conversely, the plant called manjericão is called African basil in English, or in Hawaii where it is naturalized, wild basil.

My guess is that these two herbs, with similar tastes, differ in choice of climatic conditions for cultivation. The basil that is familiar to English, French and Italian speakers grows best in Mediterranean climates - hot, dry summers and cooler, sometimes rainy winters. The manjericão that Brazilians prefer would seem to be a tropical variety, cultivated here, in Africa and Hawaii.

All of which is interesting from a botanical and linguistic viewpoint, but perhaps less so from a culinary one, as I see no reason why the two plants are not totally interchangeable for all culinary purposes. The only exception might be in something like an Italian salada caprese, where the bright red tomato, white mozzarella and vivid green basil mimic the colors of the Italian flag. In that case, it would be worth walking past the manjericão in the produce section and search out some true alfavaca.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rei Leão - Interview with Chef Léo Filho

With a thirty-year career that dates back to the early 1980s, well-known Brazilian chef Léo Filho was one of the precursors of the "New Brazilian Gastronomy" that is changing the way chefs cook in Brazil, the ingredients and techniques they use, and which is also changing Brazilians' own perceptions of their national cuisine. For twenty years, Filho was chef at São Paulo's Maksoud Plaza Hotel, helming the hotel's French restaurant, Cuisine du Soleil. Today, he is not only a professor at a prestigious gastronomic academy in São Paulo, but also divides chef duties with his partner Walter Cordeiro at E.A.T., their very successful restaurant in São Paulo's upmarket Itaim Bibi district.

Born just over 50 years ago in the small town of Amargosa, in the northeastern state of Bahia, Léo Filho was one of the first black chefs to make it to the top of gastronomic circles in Brazil. Although in many ways, as Brazilians are proud to proclaim, racism is not a large social problem in Brazil, it is not to say that black Brazilians have all the opportunities, especially economic ones, afforded their white or mixed-race compatriots. Statistically, black Brazilians are under-represented in the professions and in upper echelons of the business world, and over-represented in the numbers of unemployed and underemployed.

In this interview with chef Filho, which I've translated from the original Portuguese and which comes from the Brazilian food and cooking magazine Prazeres da Mesa, he looks back at his career and how Brazilian gastronomy has changed during that time. He also speaks about what the future might hold for Brazil in the world of 21st century global gastronomy.
After twenty years as executive chef at Cuisine du Soleil, what did you do after you left there?
In recent years, I decided to remain low profile and dedicate myself to my own catering company and my career as a professor in an institute of gastronomy here in São Paulo. During that time, I traveled extensively around the country, and received many invitations to return to restaurant work. But at Eat, I act on my own as a chef, alongside the promising black chef, Walter Cordeiro. We create and cook with four hands.

It's not very common for a black man to rise to the level of executive chef. Does discrimination exist also in the world of gastronomy?
I haven't felt much discrimination in my own professional life. For that, I thank the Maksoud Plaza Hotel. But I have to say that I had to prove myself more than a white chef might have had to do, just like every black man must prove himself better. The fact is that I had a strong family base, which gave me the incentive to study and fight harder. However, it is clear that there is discrimination is this area, which has as a cause the social conditions and low levels of education of the majority of black Brazilians. As a matter of fact, I have a current project of which I'm very fond - creating a technical culinary course for Brazilians from lower economic classes. I had an invitation to build this project in Angola, but I preferred to make my ideas concrete here, in one of São Paulo's favelas (slums). This is my grand dream which I plan to fulfill, since I love a challenge and a good fight.

With so many activities, what is your greatest professional pleasure?
Besides my family, and especially my grandson Lucca, cooking is my passion, my life.

Is it easier to work today than when you first began?
More than 25 years ago, we felt we were, and in fact were, pathfinders. Brazil had everything it needed in the area of cooking and cuisine. I belong to a generation of chefs, which included Laurent Suaudeau and Claude Troisgros, and which had a mission to shape suppliers, enable restaurant employees, locate products of true quality and create from zero a system of managing all this. Many times, I returned to Brazil laden with truffles, morels, foie gras and kitchen utensils hidden in my luggage.

But clients are better informed gastronomically today, aren't they?
Brazil loves novelty, but unfortunately, gives little value to the classics. Because of this, may chefs follow fads and surf that wave called "gastronomic re-readings" - and sometimes, they don't reread the gastronomic past very well. Of course a chef must today know how to make a foam, but he or she should also know how to make a classic brown sauce. One important French chef once said, "If you just mix ingredients without any critical thought, you run the risk of the result being nothing more than a culinary parade float." It's necessary to respect the taste of things - always.

Are the ingredients as important as the chef's skill in creating a great dish?
I think it's about fifty-fifty. You have to have a balance between the two. I think that kitchen stress and hard-times at the stove are essential if a chef doesn't want to lose his touch. You must study and gain academic knowledge, sure, but you have to continue to practice your art. Some chefs today spend more time giving interviews than they do in the kitchen. And in cooking school, some students are more intent on appearing in a magazine and achieving rapid success than they are on learning their craft. This shocks me: they want to be famous, that's all. You have to climb step by step and respect every stage in the process.

Is the increase in the number of culinary schools a good sign?
I think this growth is natural and a good thing, as long as the schools have the necessary qualities. However, the majority of students in these schools will not remain in the field. When they discover that a true chef has to work up to 15 hours a day, they throw in the towel. But those who have a vocation for cooking remain. And they will triumph, clearly, after a long fight and much personal investment.

And how to you perceive which students have that vocation?
Just by observing. Such a student loves what he or she is doing so much that their eyes shine. It's the way she picks up a knife, the way he cuts a vegetable. The true cook treats food as if it were diamonds. Also, they listen more than speak. And even more, they must love to work in a team, be disciplined, concentrating, and demanding of themselves. I consider my profession an art, and I demand the same of my students. For an artist, concentration is crucial. I work in total silence, and refuse to answer my cell phone when I'm working.

What still remains before Brazil will be recognized as a first-rate power in the world of global gastronomy?
We're getting close. Brazil's the flavor of the month today, and we already have great culinary diversity, great products and material with which to work, and a group of very talented chefs. But we still have to correct one thing: It's not necessary to for us receive accolades from outside Brazil, and only when we do clap our hands here. In other words, we don't need to wait for  Madonna or Ferran Adriàto to praise our sapoti, or our piracuru in order for us to recognize their worth and their quality.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Making Graviola/Maracujá Juice (Soursop-Passion Fruit Juice)

Yesterday, a friend of mine stopped by with a gift from her back yard. She has a graviola (soursop in English) tree growing there, and we're currently in the middle of the harvest season for graviola here in Fortaleza. She's overwhelmed with graviola, and kindly brought a good-sized one over as a present.

The fruit was very ripe, and I knew I had to do something fairly quickly with it, even though I refrigerated it immediately. I am a total fan of graviola juice, and so decided I would make fresh juice with the aid of my blender. I snooped around the internet a bit before I started, and found a suggestion to add the juice of one maracujá (passion fruit) per jar of graviola juice, which I thought was a wonderful idea. First, because I love maracujá. Second, the highly-acidic juice of the maracujá might cut the sometimes-sticky, custardy flavors of the graviola and would provide just a bit of a bite, which seemed to me would be a good thing. Fortunately, I had a couple of maracujás in the house, so I didn't need to go shopping before beginning.

I started off with one medium-sized graviola, very ripe.

First, I cut the graviola in half, and with my hands pulled the pulp out from the halves, seeds included.

I placed the pulp in a blender, and blended until the pulp was pureed and smooth. I then strained the pulp through a small sieve to remove the seeds and seed bits, plus any woody remainders of the pulp.

Then I poured the strained graviola puree into a juice car.

Next up was the maracujá.

I cut it in half, blended it and strained it just as I had done with the graviola. I was left with a small amount of juice that was very concentrated and acidic.

I added this maracujá juice to the juice car, plus about 2 cups of cold water to thin down the graviola puree. Brazilian recipes invariably call for the addition of sugar, but after testing I found that the sweetness of the graviola, even with the added maracujá juice, as just right and didn't need additional sweetening.

The juice was creamy and rich, and absolutely delicious. Pure graviola juice can be overly aromatic and almost cloying in texture and taste, and I thought the maracujá juice was exactly what was needed to avoid both of those problems. The juice still tasted like graviola juice, not maracujá juice. But it was tamed by the presence of maracujá and certainly made more refreshing. From here on out, I'll not make graviola juice without adding that magic ingredient - maracujá.

Monday, January 24, 2011

RECIPE - Mineiro-style Oxtail Stew (Rabada)

This very traditional and homestyle reipe for a stick-to-your-ribs oxtail stew comes from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where winter nights are cold and often damp, and where rabada is much loved.

As with all traditional recipes, everyone has their favorite was of making rabada, and heated discussions occur in the kitchen (or today, even online) as to whether cachaça is an obligatory or an optional addition, and whether or not root vegetables should be added to the stew. This recipe, though, is a fairly standard one and shouldn't displease anyone. Feel free to add to subtract ingredients, or to adjust quantities depending on your mood, the amount of time available, or simply on your whim.
RECIPE - Mineiro-style Oxtail Stew (Rabada)
Serves 8

4 lbs (2 kg) oxtail, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices
1 cup (250 ml) fresh-squeezed lime juice (can substitute lemon juice)
1 cup (250 ml) cachaça
1/2 cup (125 ml) neutral vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large manioc root (macaxeira), peeled and cut into chunks (can substitute potatoes)
salt to taste
1 Tbsp. annatto powder (can substitute sweet red paprika)
2 bay leaves
Wash the oxtail well in warm water. Place in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, cover with cold water, then add the lime juice and cachaça. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat and cook at a slow boil for 15 minutes. Remove the oxtail from the cooking liquid, rinse it well in hot water and reserve.

In another large saucepan, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and onion, turn down heat and saute for a minute or two. Increase the heat, then add the reserved oxtail. Stirring constantly, cook until the oxtail is nicely browned on all sides. Sprinkle the oxtail with annatto powder, add the bay leaves to the pot, then add water slowly - add just enough to half-cover the meat. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for about 1 and 1/2 hours at lowest heat, adding water as needed to avoid the dish drying out. Add the vegetables, then continue to cook for about 30 minutes.

When the oxtail is very tender (almost falling off the bone) and the vegetables are cooked remove the pot from the heat. Let rest a minute or two, then correct the seasoning with salt. Serve immediately accompanied by white rice and angu, or other side dishes of your preference. Red wine is the drink of choice in Minas Gerais when rabada is served.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

BEEF CUTS - Rabo (Oxtail)

There's an old saying about eating pigs - "You can eat everything but the squeal." Although Brazilians do eat pork, they are much more beef lovers when it comes to favorite cuts of meat. So perhaps that old saw should be adapted to Brazilians something like this - "Brazilians eat everything on the cow except the moo." Certainly they eat the whole animal, be it cow or steer, from head to tail - literally. One of the favorite cuts of many Brazilians is the tail of the animal, which they call rabo and which is generally known in English as oxtail.

This cut of meat is full of connective tissue and fat, and as such must be braised for a long time over low heat to release its qualities - and it is a quality cut, if handled right. There's no such thing as an oxtail steak, for obvious reasons. It would be fatty and very, very chewy indeed.

The region of Brazil that's most intimately associated with rabo is the mountainous interior state of Minas Gerais. This region is Brazil's dairyland, famous for milk and cheese, and so there's a ready supply of cattle for butchering. Also, because of it's mid-southerly location and its high altitude in Minas Gerais the winter months of June/July/August can be cold indeed, especially at night when the temperature can approach 32F (0C). Perfect weather for enjoying a hearty and nourishing stew of slow-cooked meat and root vegetables - Brazilian comfort food. Which is exactly what the most well-known dish made is rabo is - an oxtail stew called rabada, rich and redolent. And very filling!

Rabada is eaten all over the country, and in Brazil there seems to be none of the cultural resistance to this delicious cut that exists in some other countries. It's in Minas Gerais, however, where it's most highly appreciated. Rabada is a staple menu item in Mineiro restaurants around the country (Mineiro means "in the style of Minas Gerais" or "from Minas Gerais"). But like so many traditional dishes, rabada tastes best in its home territory, perhaps on a cold night in one of the historic mining towns of Minas Gerais, like Ouro Preto, or Tiradentes, or Diamantina. On a hot tropical night in the Amazon or along the northeastern coast, it's just as delicious, but it's just not quite so much at home.

In the next post here on Flavors of Brazil there will be a recipe for rabanada. Oxtail is generally available in good butcher shops in North America and Europe, even though it might not be featured on supermarket shelves. Ask your butcher for it on a cold rainy or snowy day, early in the morning. Let it cook all afternoon, and in the evening you'll be warmed down to the very cockles of your heart. I promise. Give oxtail a try - you won't regret it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

RECIPE - Seriguela Caipiroska (Caipriroska de Seriguela)

The first few times I returned to North America from a visit to Brazil my raves about the cocktail called caipirinha drew blank stares - and when I explained that the caipirinha was a drink made with crushed whole limes, sugar and cachaça the stares grew even blanker. No one had heard of the cocktail, or even of the sugar-cane liquor that fueled it, except for others who had been to Brazil, and who raved along with me.

Now, of course, the increasing fame of the caipirinha and the world-wide availability of cachaça means that I usually don't have to explain what a caipirinha is. Almost any upmarket bar in North America or Europe will serve you a caipirinha, and cachaça can be found in many liquor stores (although at astronomic prices, by Brazilian standards).

What isn't so well known outside Brazil is that the caipirinha has engendered a whole family of cocktails, all based on the same formula of crushed whole fruit + juice, sugar and distilled liquor. In Brazilian Portuguese, if the fruit used in not the original lime, but the drink still includes cachaça, then it's called a caipifruta. However, when the liquor used changes, so does the name. The two most popular variations on the caipirinha are the caipiroska, which substitutes vodka for the cachaça, and the caipirissima, which employs white rum. If neither the fruit juice nor the liquor is the one used in the caipirinha, then the name changes, as in the recipe below, to something else - caipiroska de tangerina, caipiroska de caju, caipirissima de manga.

This recipe is one that I found on the website Petitchef, a great source of recipes from the blogosphere. As the name caipiroroska de seriguela would indicate, it's made with vodka not cachaça and the fruit used is seriguela. I've not yet tried it, but since it's currently seriguela season here, and my fridge is full of them, I'll have to give it a try. From the photo on the site (above) it looks wonderful.
RECIPE - Seriguela Caipiroska (Caipriroska de Seriguela)
Makes one drink

2 oz. (60 ml) good-quality vodka
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, to taste
4-6 fresh seriguelas
roughly smashed ice cubes
In an old-fashioned glass, put the skin and pulp of 4-6 feshly washed seriguelas, discarding the central seed. Add sugar to taste, then using a mortar or the end of the handle of a wooden spoon, crush the pulp until the juice has released and the sugar has dissolved. Add the vodka, then fill the glass with ice. Stir thoroughly to chill the drink and serve immediately.

(Note, this recipe can easily be turned into a caipirinha de seriguela or a caipirissima de seriguela by substituting cachaça or rum, respectively, for the vodka.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011


For such a small fruit, the seriguela (Spondias purpurea )has an astonishing number of names - besides the most commonly-used seriguela, there's siriguela, ciriguela, ciruela in Portuguese, and in other languages we have jocote (Spanish) and red mombim, purple mombim, hog plum and sineguela (English), prunier d'Espagne, mombim rouge, cirouelle (French) and even Момби́н пурпу́рный in Russian. What it's called in Farsi I don't know!

The seriguela is a well-loved fruit in the northeastern part of Brazil, where I live, and when seriguela season rolls around in mid-summer (December to February south of the equator) I'm likely to have some in my fridge - as I do right now. The state of Ceará where I live, and in particular the semi-arid interior of that state is the largest seriguela-producing area in Brazil, although the market is largely restricted to Brazil's northeast - the fruit is not well known in other regions of the country.

This vitamin-packed fruit is a small and round or oval, with a yellow-orange skin that is often mottled with red. It's most commonly eaten as-is, raw, and that's the way I like it best. During the harvest season, vendors sell seriguelas from carts throughout the city, and at traffic lights, people sell net bags of seriguelas to drivers and passengers in the cars waiting for the light to change. I usually buy from these sellers, as I find buying fruit from them a refreshing way to hold off the army of squeegee kids that also populate busy intersections in Fortaleza.

I find that seriguelas keep best in the fridge, floating in cold water in a bowl. Every time one opens the door to the refrigerator there's an automatic excuse for popping a seriguela in the mouth, skin and all. The soft skin surrounds a not-too-sweet but very aromatic pulp that melts in the mouth and is very juicy. The flavor has hints of mango and cajá, which is not surprising as these three fruits are all from the same botanical family. In the center of the fruit is a single seed that takes up at least half of the volume of the fruit, but which is surprisingly light. I've never opened one, but I think the seeds must be hollow, they're so light.

Besides snacking and nibbling, other uses for seriguela are in fresh juice, and as a flavoring ingredient for ice creams and popsicles. But, for me, nothing beats a icy-cold, juicy seriguela "straight up." They're only available for a couple of months, and that's one more reason to gorge while the gorging is good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Floods in Rio de Janiero State - How You Can Help

News media around the world have recently been giving a good deal of coverage to the tragic situation in the mountain regions of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Torrential downpours have caused massive flooding and a large number of mudslides that have killed at least 700 people and have destroyed the homes and livelihoods of thousands. It is the largest natural disaster in Brazil in the past forty years, and perhaps, by the time the final count is made, the largest natural disaster in the history of the country.

Here in Brazil, donations of money, food, clothing and shelter have been making their way to help those in dire need in the cities of Teresópolis, Petrópolis, Novo Friburgo, and other smaller towns in the alpine region, only 100 km. from the city of Rio de Janeiro. Information on how and where to donate is available everywhere - in the internet, on the radio and TV, and in newspapers and magazines.

For readers of Flavors of Brazil who are not in Brazil but who would like to help in the relief efforts, we suggest that you make a donation for a charitable organization called ShelterBox, headquartered in the UK, but with offices in many countries of the world. They specialize in rapid-action teams who move directly into distaster-struck regions and aid local workers in any number of ways. They currently have a team on the ground in the Brazilian disaster area. On the ShelterBox website, there are links to all the offices in various countries, with information on how to donate. According to the USA-based Charity Navigator Rating, ShelterBox is a highly reliable agency, with over 81% of money donated being spent used in program expenses, and only about 18% divided between administration and fundraising expenses. A copy of the repost of ShelterBox is available here. Flavors of Brazil urges all its reader to do whatever they can to help the people who have been devastated by floods and landslides in Rio de Janeiro state.

Thank you. Muito obrigado.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RECIPE - Green Weakfish with Pirão (Pirão Gourmet)

This stylish and elegant re-imagining of a simple and traditional Brazilian dish of fried fish accompanied by pirão (click here to learn about pirão) was created by São Paulo chef Rufino Casal Treinta for his eponymous restaurant Rufino's. In his recipe, he uses a fish, common along the coasts of Brazil, called pescada cumbucu in Portuguese and bearing the scientific name Cynoscion virescens. The English name for this delicately flavored, white-fleshed fish is, rather unappetizingly, green weakfish. Perhaps this unappealing name was chosen by the fish itself in an effort to remove it from the commercial marketplace. There's something distinctly unsavory about the name - "Waiter, I think I'll have the green weakfish, please," just doesn't ring true.

The fish, name notwithstanding, is delicious. However, it's range is restricted to the tropical western Atlantic, and readers from North America and Europe are unlikely to find it in their markets. It is a member of the drum or croaker family of fishes and any member of that group will serve well as will any other non-oily, white-fleshed fish that can be filleted.

It's interesting to compare this recipe to the one in the previous post on Flavors of Brazil. The technique for making the pirão is virtually identical - it's the way it's presented and what it accompanies that lifts it from home-style staple to gourmet treat.
RECIPE - Green Weakfish with Pirão (Pirão Gourmet)
Serves 4

fish fumet and pirão
2 heads, green weakfish or other medium-sized non-oily fish
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cubed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 stalks Italian parsley
1 cup manioc flour (farinha) - available in Braziliand and Latin American markets
salt and pepper to taste

4 individual-serving size fillets green weakfish with skin (see above for acceptable substitutes)
4 Tbsp. extravirgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste

green bell pepper, cut into small cubes
red bell pepper, cut into small cubes

Prepare the pirão - Thoroughly wash the fish heads. In a large pan heat the olive oil, then add the onion and bell peppers. Cook until softened but not browned. Add the garlic, and continue cooking until the onion begins to lightly brown. Remove the vegetables and reserve them.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine over low heat. Add the tomato paste and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the fish head(s) plus the reserved vegetables, and cook for a few more minutes. Add cold water to cover, along with the bay leaves and parsley. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam or scum that may form.

Reduce the heat to simmering and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then strain the liquid through a fine strainer. Return the liquid to the heat, in a new pan, and over medium heat reduce it by one half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce heat to simmering. Sprinkle the manioc flour over the surface of the stock, bit by bit, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When all the flour has been added, cook for about 5-10 minutes over very low heat, until the pirão has thickened. Remove from heat, reserve and keep warm.

Prepare the fish - Season the fillets with salt and white pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy, preferably cast iron, frying pan until hot but not smoking. Add the fish fillets and fry, turning once, until the fish is just cooked and the skin is crispy.

Prepare the final dish - Pour hot pirão onto 4 heating dining plates until it almost covers the surface. Carefully place one fillet, skin side up, in the middle of the pirão. Sprinkle the fillet with bell pepper cubes and serve immediately, accompanied by white rice.

Recipe translated and adapted from Revista Gosto #16

Monday, January 17, 2011

RECIPE - Fish Pirão (Pirão de Peixe)

This traditional recipe from the coastal state of Espírito Santo is pirão at its most basic. A flavorful broth made using fish heads combined with manioc flour to thicken it and give it the proper consistency, and you've got a dish that goes back to prehistoric times. These kinds of pirão were the basic dietary item of the native indigenous populations of Brazil and today accompany fish stews everywhere in the country. Every family has its own recipe, and everyone thinks that their mother is the only person in the world capable of making a proper pirão, but as is the case with turkey stuffings, almost every pirão is delicious.

Manioc flour is available in Brazilian and Latin American markets in North America and Europe. Just look for farinha de mandioca or even just plain farinha written on the package. Farinha comes in white and yellow varieties and either is suitable for making pirão.
RECIPE - Fish Pirão (Pirão de Peixe)
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. extravirgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. ground annatto (can substitute sweet red paprika)
2 crushed cloves garlic
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 fish head, about 1 lb (400 gr) (or two smaller heads), well washed
2 cups hot water
salt to taste
1 1/2 cup manioc flour (farinha)
Heat the olive oil in a deep pan. Add the annatto and the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Then add the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, fish head(s) and the hot water. Salt to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool completely. Remove the fish heads, then separate the meat from the bones. Shred the meat and return it to the broth, discarding the bones.

Reheat the broth to the simmering point (not boiling) then sprinkle the surface with manioc flour, stirring constantly and slowly adding more manioc. Stir vigorously so that lumps do not form. Reduce the heat to low and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the pirão has thickened. Serve immediately as a side dish for any fish or seafood dish.

Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pirão - At the roots of Brazilian cuisine

In traditional gastronomy, in every corner of the globe, you'll find classic combinations of a protein-based main course with an obligatory carbohydrate-based side dish. In the minds (and stomachs) of those who consume these dishes, one dish without the other is unthinkable. For example, classic Lombardian osso buco is always served with risotto alla milanese. And what is the Parisian bistro standard steak without its frites? Or a proper English roast of beef without a light and airy Yorkshire pudding standing proudly at its side? Equally unimaginable for Brazilians is the idea of eating any one of the numerous regional variations of a fish or seafood stew unaccompanied by a serving of pirão. "It's just not done" as Brazilian cooks and eaters would all agree.

Pirão is uniquely Brazilian, and has been an integral part of the Brazilian way of eating for a very long time - how long no one knows. However, it is known that the indigenous population of what is now Brazil was eating pirão-like dishes long before Europeans arrived on these shores. Basically, pirão is nothing more than a gruel made by stirring manioc flour into a fish- or meat-based broth (in times of dire need, it can even be made with manioc flour and water alone). The manioc flour thickens the broth and provides the bulk and the nutrition that only carbohydrates can give.

Manioc is the staple food on which native Brazilian cuisine depended (and depends). Potatoes and corn (maize), two other New World staple crops were known to the native populations in Brazil, but didn't have the importance in native cuisine that manioc did.

Production of manioc flour (farinha de mandioca) was a long and arduous task, and in indigenous cultures was primarily women's work. After harvesting the roots of the manioc plant, the women would grate them on graters fashioned from wooden boards studded with sharp stones. The grated manioc had to be soaked first, then wrung dry in plaited nets called tipiti to rid it of its poisonous cyanide, dried over an open fire and finally ground into flour. When completely dried, manioc flour could be stored for up to one year, and thus provided stability and certainty to the nutritional requirements of the natives.

Manioc flour (like our Western wheat flour) can be used to create a great number of dishes and food products. One of the simplest is to add flour to a heated liquid, be it water or something more flavorful, then let the flour expand in the liquid to create a pap. It can be an thin as a light gruel, or as thick as a sturdy Scottish oatmeal. The thinner versions can be drunk, while the thicker varieties can be eaten with the fingers, or even with a spoon.

Today's standard-variety Brazilian pirão is neither thin enough to drink, nor thick enough to eat with the fingers - it's somewhere in the middle. It's a consistency that isn't common in European cuisines (at least not in the ones I'm familiar with). If you are familiar with Italian wet polenta and can imagine it even wetter, you have an idea of how a well-prepared pirão should appear. When poured onto a plate from a serving spoon, it should spread out, but not so much that it covers the plate. Getting the proportions of manioc flour and broth just right is something that only comes with time and practice.

In the next couple of posts here on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a recipe for basic, traditional pirão and another for a contemporary re-imagining of this dish that sits right at the base, the very beginnings, of Brazilian gastronomy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A New Look at the Columbian Exchange

Christopher Columbus
The Columbian Exchange, a term coined in 1972 by Alfred W. Crosby in a book of the same name, was the dramatic exchange of food plants and animals between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres in the years after the European "discovery" of the New World in 1492. In the Age of Exploration that followed Columbus' initial voyage across the Atlantic, foodstuffs from the New World, whether animal or vegetable in origin, made their way eastward to the Old World, and an equal number moved in the opposite direction, arriving on American shores with Pilgrims, conquistadores, bandeirantes, and countless other immigrant groups.

Today it's hard to imagine what people ate and how they cooked prior to the Columbian Exchange. Try to imagine Italian cooking and Italian food culture without tomatoes. Or Thai or Indian cooking without chili peppers. Or Brazilian food without limes or coconuts or mangoes. Impossible. Yet, until sometime after 1492 cooks in these cultures did not have these ingredients available, though today these ingredients are essential to the food culture of these countries. For an interesting chart of all the foods that were part of the Columbian Exchange, click on this link to a Wikipedia article - incidentally, the chart also shows the diseases that were part of this same exchange.

Recently a Portuguese scholar and historian, José Eduardo Mendes Ferrão, published a book on the Columbian Exchange, with particular emphasis on the role that Portuguese navigators and explorers played in this process. The book is entitled A Aventura das Plantas e Os Descobrimentos Portugueses (The Adventure of Plants a The Portuguese Discoveries) and was published by the Portuguese institute IICF - Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical or Institute of Scientific Tropical Research. Sr. Ferrão's thesis is that because of the patterns and the history of Portuguese exploration and colonization in the 16th and 17th centuries, Portugal played a major role in the Columbian Exchange, a role that was far larger than might be expected. And because Brazil was Portuguese territory during those times, it played a large part in the Exchange as well.

Unlike Spanish colonization during those centuries which was centered on the New World, Portugal explored and colonized not only the Americas, but also Africa and Asia. According to Sr. Ferrão is it the geographically widespread nature of Portuguese exploration that makes Portugal such a major player in the Columbian Exchange. Another factor, as he points out, was that Portugal possessed islands in the Atlantic, such as Madeira, Porto Santo and the Cabo Verde archipelago. These semi-tropical islands allowed Portuguese planters to acclimatize new species to the cooler European climate prior to bringing them to mainland Portugal. They survived, whereas plants carried directly from the tropics to the Iberian peninsula might not have. In effect, these off-shore territories became botanical laboratories for the Europeanization of Asian, African and American foods.

A good example of the role Portugal played in the Columbian exchange is the dissemination of corn (maize) - milho in Portuguese. Although this plant did not originate in Brazil but came from Central America, it was already widespread in the indigenous cultures of Brazil prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1500. The Portuguese carried corn back to Europe with them, and from there, carried it to their colonies in Africa. From these colonies it spread throughout the continent, and today corn is the most widely-eaten staple food on the African continent. In the other direction, the Portuguese brought the coconut palm from Asia (either South Asia or Southeast Asia) to Africa and thence to Brazil. Brazilian food, particularly the African-based cuisine of Bahia, is unimaginable without the presence of coconut and coconut milk.

As far as I've been able to determine, Sr. Ferrão's book has not yet been translated into English. As the field of historic gastronomy grows and becomes a more prominent academic subject, I hope that this situation will be remedied. The Columbian Exchange is one of the fundamental shifts in the history of world gastronomy, and the Portuguese contribution to it should be made better known.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (MASTER POST WITH LINKS)

Just like we did last month with our posts from São Luís, Maranhão, Flavors of Brazil has compiled a complete list of all of the postings from our recent On the Road trip to Rio de Janeiro. Each listing contains a link to the article itself, and a simple click will take you to the posting in question. Judging by the number of hits that our previous master post with links received, this seems to be a popular feature with readers of this blog, so we'll continue the practice in the future when Flavors of Brazil hits the road once again.
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 1) - The Cuisine of Rio (Comida Carioca)
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro - Pt. 2) - Filé Osvaldo Aranha
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 3) - RECIPE Filé Osvaldo Aranha
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 4) - São Pedro Fish Market, Niterói
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 5) - Lunching at the São Pedro Fish Market
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 6) - The Botecos of Rio
On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 7) - Pet Delícia, Rio's Canine Restaurant

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 7) - Pet Delícia, Rio's Canine Restaurante

During Flavors of Brazil's recent visit to Rio de Janeiro, on a side street in Rio's Copacabana neighborhood we came across a newly opened establishment called Pet Delícia. A sign outside proclaimed it to be Rio's first dog restaurant. Before any animal lovers get their hackles up, the restaurant doesn't serve dogs to humans, it serves the dogs themselves. This is a space where canine lovers can take their beloved pets for a delicious lunch or dinner, served in style at the restaurant, or where they can buy premade and frozen doggie dinners to take home to Bowser, or Fido, or Fifi.

The restaurant had only recently opened when we passed by - it opened in December 2010, with, according to a business column in O Globo newspaper, a capitalization of $R500,000 or about USD $300,000. There are already plans afoot, apparently, to open a branch in São Paulo in the near future.

The restaurant serves four dishes, each featuring a different protein - beef, chicken, lamb or fish. According to the Pet Delícia website, the advantages that restaurant dining affords a dog include a meal that is 100% natural, free from preservatives and coloring agents, that includes omega oils #3 and 6 and is full of vitamins and minerals, and finally "perfeita para cães com paladar exigente" (perfect for dogs with demanding palates). Depending on the size of the portion, the price ranges from R$6 (USD $3.50) to R$25 (USD $15.00) per serving, fresh at the restaurant, or frozen for consumption in the doghouse.

Not having a dog on a leash with me, I didn't enter the restaurant when I happened across it. I wasn't sure it unaccompanied humans were welcome. Next time, I'll borrow a dog from a friend, and then after a meal at Pet Delícia, my canine companion and I promise to offer a review.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 6) - The Botecos of Rio

The hole-in-the-wall-push-out-onto-the-sidewalk type bar known as a boteco, botequim or butequim is to Rio de Janeiro what the neighborhood tavern is to Milwaukee, WI or Boston, MA, or what the local pub is to denizens of small towns and villages throughout the UK and Ireland. It's an institution, and anyone who wants to mess with the formula had better be careful, because it's a beloved institution. Cariocas (residents of Rio) are fiercely loyal to the idea of the boteco in general, and to their own particular boteco in particular.

Botecos can be found in all corners of this sprawling city, from tony Lebon and Ipanema, to the tourist haunt of Copacabana, and right through to the middle-class suburbs in the northern zone of the city. Even the hillside slums known as favelas have botecos.

The standard boteco is a small space open to the sidewalk, with a small stand-up bar, a cashier's cage, a display case for pre-cooked snacks, plenty of refrigerators for icy-cold beer, a minimal kitchen and a rudimentary bathroom. On the sidewalk in front are any number of plastic tables and plastic chairs, all sponsored by one or another of Brazil's major breweries and sporting the brewery's colors. There's often barely enough room to stand inside the boteco itself, so the majority of patrons stand outside or sit at one of the sidewalk tables. During the day, when stores and shops are open, the tables might be restricted to the space directly in front of the boteco, but as soon as retail stores close, the number of tables blossoms, and the sidewalk for half-a-block or more can be taken up with patrons sitting, chatting, drinking and snacking.

All botecos sell beer, and a they sell a lot of it. They all also serve soft drinks and bottled water, but in minimal quantities. It seems that mixed drinks are almost unheard of. Beer is normally sold in 600 ml (20 oz) bottles, and served in thermal coolers to be poured into small glasses. This avoids the problem of warm beer, which Brazilians universally detest and which is the inevitable result of a too-large glass.

Botecos sell snacks and sandwiches too - packaged snacks like potato chips and nuts, savory pastries and pies almost everywhere, and "blue-plate special" meals at some botecos during meal times. The quality of these snacks and meals varies greatly and customer loyalty often depends on the quality of the food - after all, as long as it's served properly cold, a bottle of Brahma or Antartica beer is not going to vary from boteco to boteco.

These bars are extremely social places, and also extremely casual. In the frequently hot climate of Rio, it's not at all unusual to see a bunch of guys standing at the bar in a boteco dressed only in flip-flops and skin-tight Speedo-style bathing suits. (And it's not only the young and well-built who adopt this style of dress). I sometimes wonder where they keep their money and keys! Everyone seems to know everyone in a boteco, and a stranger is likely to be questioned, in a friendly manner, about where he or she is from and what he or she thinks of Rio and this boteco. In short order a newcomer can become a regular - it happens here almost as fast as it does in Ireland, but not quite.

The original-style botecos, of which many remain, have recently been joined by more up-market cousins. In the newer, more stylish botecos, there will be space to sit at a table inside, the decor will be cleaner and more tasteful, and there is likely to be waitstaff. The menu will be more varied, and the quality of the food is higher, as are the prices, of course. (The whole concept of these new botecos is a bit like the British gastropub.) To distinguish between the two styles, cariocas have begun to use the terms -sujo and -limpo. Translated these mean "dirty feet" and "clean feet". The original style, naturally, is the "dirty-feet" boteco, and they newer style, where patrons are expected to have at the very minimum washed their feet before entering, is the "clean-feet" boteco.

To travel to Rio and not spend some time getting to know the boteco culture would be a shame. Probably even a crime. In the sections of the city that tourists are likely to visit, botecos are very safe, if a bit rowdy at times, and the most worrying thing might be the unwanted attention of the local drunkard. Take it all with a smile, a word or two of Portuguese, and soon you'll be everybody's new best friend. And when they tell you that they mean it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt.5) - Lunching at the São Pedro Fish Market

In an eminently practical and gastronomically inventive move, the São Pedro Fish Market in Niterói, Brazil, just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, built a mezzanine above the double row of stalls that house the fish market itself. This mezzanine, which looks down onto the hustle and bustle of the market is home to about 10 or 12 independent restaurant operations. Each has a space along one of the walls for a kitchen, and a few have separate air-conditioned dining rooms. Most, however, place their wooden tables and foldaway chairs out in the central space of the mezanine to make one great common dining room.

These restaurants specialize, of course, in seafood, and they do have menus from which one can order. The overwhelming majority of their customers, however, shop at the fish market before climbing the stairs to the mezzanine. At the market they choose the seafood they want to have for lunch (the market closes long before dinnertime) then carry it with them upstairs. It might be a pound of shrimp, or perhaps a cavaquinha. Then again, it might be a fillet or steak from a large fish like salmon or dourado, or a mess of whole sardines. Or even a whole fish, like snapper or mackerel, for grilling. Or if you're with a group, some of all of the above to share, family-style.

With their main course in hand, diners ascend the flight of stairs at either end of the market to the mezzanine. Any of the restaurants will cook one's purchase to order, and for the price of about R$10 (USD $6) will cook, garnish and plate whatever you bring them from downstairs. In addition, they can provide side dishes - fries, salads, beans, etc. - and lots of ice-cold beer, the drink of choice at São Pedro.

When we were at the market during Flavors of Brazil's recent visit to Rio de Janeiro, we purchased 1 lb (500 gr) of ocean-caught grew shrimps, whole and unpeeled, for R$17 (USD $10) and the same amount of dourado (dolphin-fish, mahi-mahi) for R$10 (USD $6). After checking out several of the restaurants on the mezzanine, we chose to hand our purchases over to one of the smaller restaurants called Parada Bonde ("The Tram Stop" in English). Our hard-working waitress, Graça, handled a huge number of tables and larger number of diners with efficiency and charm - she treated all of her customers with a Brazilian version of the truck-stop-waitress "tough love" that kept all of them in line and in love with her.

Our shrimps arrived first, fried just until crisp yet still juicy. We pulled off the heads, though many diners at adjacent tables ate the entire animal from head to tail. Tails were discarded too, but in the Brazilian fashion, we ate the body of the shrimp unpeeled and with legs attached, with a squeeze of lime. Accompanied by a 600 ml (20 oz) bottle of Antartica Original beer, the shrimp were salty from the sea, crunchy on the outside, and tender and flavorful on the inside. Absolutely delicious.

Just as we were finishing the shrimp, the dourado arrived, breaded and fried. It was served with more wedges of lime, plus raw onion rings. The firm, white flesh of the fish was cooked just right, and was very juicy. To my taste, the breading was too thick, but it was easily flaked away, and its thickness had prevented any oiliness from reaching the boneless fillet of fish. The fish, of course, required another bottle of Original to wash it down.

It all made a filling, protein- and iodine-rich seafood lunch. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, just the freshest possible seafood purchased right off the crushed ice in the fish market, simply fried and served piping hot, with a super-cooled beer or two. And to top it off, the warmth and charm of Graça. Couldn't be better than that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 4) - São Pedro Fish Market, Niterói

If Rio de Janeiro is Brazil's San Francisco, a comparison that's been made many times, then the city of Niterói on the other side of the Bay of Guanabara is its Oakland. Connected to Rio by a trans-bay bridge, Niterói is less cosmopolitan, less glamourous and less wealthy than Rio. If Gertrude Stein had been from Niterói she might have written "Não tem ai ai" about that city instead of "There's no there there" about Oakland.

Apart from a spectacular museum of contemporary art designed by the famed Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer, Niterói doesn't have much to draw the tourists away from the beaches, bars, shops and restaurants of Rio de Janeiro. Except for tourists like Flavors of Brazil, for whom Niterói possesses a location of great interest - its fish market, named after St. Peter (São Pedro). For reasons of geography and access to fishing grounds up and down the coast of Brazil, it makes sense to have the area's regional fish market in Niterói, not in Rio de Janeiro itself.

Housed in a non-prepossessing industrial style building near the waterfront, the Mercado São Pedro is one of the world's great fish markets. The variety and quality of fish and seafood available in amazing - and with the exception of farmed salmon which comes from the cold waters off of Chile, it's all local. You won't find cold water fish here, only the bounty of the tropical oceans and freshwater lagoons of Brazil.

The first floor of the market is divided into retail stalls for direct sales to customers. One floor above is a collection of bar/restaurants. Fish market customers often choose their fish or seafood downstairs, carry it upstairs to one of the restaurants, and have it cooked and served to them right then and there. The next post here on Flavors of Brazil will discuss these restaurants.

The best way to show the range of products available at Mercado São Pedro, their freshness and presentation, is through photos. The following were all taken on day in late December 2010 at the market, and give some indication of what's available for sale at any given time.

The market is easy to reach from Rio de Janeiro by bus/bridge, or by ferry and a short walk from the pier. For anyone who is a tourist in Rio and wants a gastronomic day-away from the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, you can't do better than an excursion to Niterói's fish market - plan to be there at lunch time so you can choose your own fish or shellfish for lunch upstairs, and if possible, go during the week, when it tends to be somewhat less busy.

(click on photos to enlarge)

fish stall


shrimp vendor

dourado (dolphin fish, mahi-mahi)

fish cut into steaks

unidentified tropical fish


dourado fillets