Thursday, January 6, 2011

On the Road - Rio de Janeiro (Pt. 2) - Filé Osvaldo Aranha

When I'm doing research for posts here on Flavors of Brazil, I sometimes end up learning intriguing, but totally non-food-related, facts. You just never know where online research will lead you. For example, while doing some reading about an iconic dish from Rio de Janeiro called filé Osvaldo Aranha this morning, I learned not only that the first speech in each year's United Nations General Assembly is always given by a Brazilian, but also that the reason Brazil is accorded this honor is the same reason why a dish of beef filé covered with fried garlic is called filé Osvaldo Aranha in Rio de Janeiro.

Osvaldo Aranha (1894 - 1960) was a Brazilian politician, diplomat and statesman. In 1947, he was the head of Brazil's delegation to the newly-founded United Nations, and president of the General Assembly. He gave the first speech in that year's General Assemply and thus began the tradition of opening the meeting with a speech by a Brazilian. During his time at the United Nations, he lobbied intensely for the creation of the state of Israel, and today, various streets, squares and monuments in Israel are dedicated to his memory.

But what about the steak? Well, it has nothing to do with diplomacy or the United Nations. It turns out that Osvaldo Aranha was not only a diplomat but a bit of a gourmet. In an earlier stage of his career, when he served in the cabinet of Brazilian president Getulio Vargas, he was accustomed to eat in a restaurant in central Rio de Janeiro called Cosmopolita. This restaurant was so popular with politicians that it gained the nickname "Senadinho" meaning "Little Senate." Aranha loved beefsteak, and was very partial to fried garlic. He would often ask for his steak to be served with large amounts of fried garlic on top, and he liked to have it served with white rice, house-made chipped potatoes and farofa, a side-dish made with manioc flour. Soon waiters began to refer to this plate by his name, and eventually it became so popular and so closely linked to the famous politician that it was added to the menu with his name and in his honor. Today, the dish can still be found on the meno of Cosmopolita and thousands of other Rio de Janeiro restaurants, still bearing Aranha's name.

One of Aranha's idiosyncracies was that he liked to mush all the steak's accompaniments together - potato chips, rice and farofa. Some versions of filé Osvaldo Aranha continue this tradition, but in most restaurants, the side dishes are served unmixed, leaving it up to the diner's discretion whether to mix them all up.

So there you have it. Osvaldo Aranha is probably the only politician in history to be honored by a United Nations tradition, streets and squares in Israel, and a famous steak from Rio de Janeiro. To my mind, that's quite a legacy.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a recipe for filé Osvaldo Aranha.


  1. What a great blog. I was looking for some Aranha's pics, and I found this amazing blog.

    You can follow mine too:

    Continue with this great work!

  2. Thanks for the comment and for the link to your very interesting and beautifully laid out blog. I've bookmarked it for future reading!