Tuesday, January 31, 2012

FISH OF BRAZIL - Tucunaré (Peacock Bass)

You can call the tucunaré, a Brazilian fish native to the fresh waters of the Amazon basin, a peacock bass if you wish, but according to Wikipedia, although the fish IS known in English as the peacock bass, it isn't a bass at all, rather it's a chiclid. Since the first humans to baptize the fish and give it a name were the native indian tribes of the Amazon, the fish's original name is clearly tucunaré, which means "friend of the trees" in Tupi-Guarani. Only at some later date was the fish given a name in English, and then it was given the wrong one, though admittedly the name peacock bass has a nicer ring to it than peacock chiclid, which sounds more like the name for a baby peacock.

Looking at a photo of a tucunaré it's easy to see where the peacock part of the English name comes from. It's not from the color, for the fish isn't blue or green. It's from a large eye-like circle on the tail of the fish which looks rather like the similar forms on a peacock tail.

In Brazil, the tucunaré is known in both the culinary and sports-fishing worlds. The fish is a predatory carnivorous hunter in its native waters, and a fierce fighter when caught on a hook. Sports fisherman travel miles up the tributaries of the Amazon to reach tucunaré fishing grounds, and there are luxurious fishing lodges in some remote backwaters of the region catering to wealthy fishing enthusiasts from all around the world. (Click here for one lodge's website).

Because of their value as a sport-fishing species, tucunaré have been introduced into other tropical waters in Brazil, in the Caribbean and in Florida. Because, they don't have their own predators in these new waters, however, and because of their agressive behavior, the introduction of tucunaré has sometimes resulted in the decimation of local species. And once they've killed off all the native species in new waters, tucunaré have been known to resort to cannibalism, reducing their own stock levels precipitiously.

Fortunately, tucunaré, fierce though they are, are not large enough to dine on humans, and in the human-tucunaré relationship, it's humans who are the predators. Tucunaré are very good eating fish, with firm white flesh and without many bones. They have been an important food source for millennia in the Amazon, and today are served not only in the simple riverside homes of native populations, but in sophisticated restaurants in the large cities of the rain forest, like Manaus or Belém, and further afield in places like Rio de Janeiro or Brasília. The flavor of  has been likened to that of grouper or snapper, and because  grows to somewhere between 1-3 feet (30 - 100 cm) in length, it can be cooked in any way suitable to either of those species.

In upcoming posts, Flavors of Brazil will feature recipes for tucunaré.

Monday, January 30, 2012

RECIPE - Watermelon and Guava Sundae (Sundae de Goiaba e Melancia)

To honor the victorious Brazilian team, who brought home two first-place trophies from the recent Ice Cream World Cup in Rimini, Italy, here is a easy-to-make Brazilian recipe for a composed ice cream dessert - what we (and the Brazilians) call a sundae.

A sundae is a dish of ice cream (usually but not always vanilla-flavored) topped with one or more sweet sauces and possibly finished off with nuts, chocolate sprinkles, small candies or other treats. The word sundae, most dictionaries agree, is a variant spelling of Sunday, but exactly how the name came to be applied to a dessert and why the spelling was changed seems to be an unsolvable conundrum among linguists and etymology nerds.

This dish adds chopped fresh guava to the basic sundae ingredients, and layers the dish like a parfait. The sauce is a fresh watermelon coulis, laced with the strong flavor of fresh ginger. The resulting sundae is tropical, vibrantly-flavored and light - well-suited to Brazil's tropical climate. The only ingredient that might be difficult to source outside Brazil is fresh guava, but in areas where there is a Latin-American or Asian community ethnics markets often sell fresh guavas. Try to choose guavas that yield just slightly to the touch - if they don't give at all, the fruit isn't yet ripe, and if they are very soft, it's a sure sign of spoilage.
RECIPE - Watermelon and Guava Sundae (Sundae de Goiaba e Melancia)
Makes 6 sundaes

1 cup chopped and de-seeded watermelon
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (use rasp-type grater for best results)
3 Tbsp potato starch
4 Tbsp granulated white sugar
5/6 guavas, peeled and cubed
good-quality vanilla ice cream
Use a blender or food processor to liquidize the watermelon. Transfer the watermelon puree to a medium saucepan, add the ginger, potato starch and sugar, stir thoroughly to mix, then heat over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is hot and has thickened. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Using transparent parfait or sundae glasses, fill each about halfway up with guava cubes. Add one or two scoops of ice-cream, then top with a few spoonfuls of watermelon sauce. Garnish, if desired, with a small wedge of watermelon with peel and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Gastronomia & Negocios UOL

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brazil Scores at the Ice Cream World Cup

At the recent Ice Cream World Cup, held in Rimini, Italy, as part of SIGEP, the 33rd International Exhibition for the Artisan Production of Gelato, Pastry, Confectionary and Baking, Brazil's five-man team walked home with two major prizes.

The team included a chief ice-cream chef, Frederico Samora, vice-president of ABRACES (Associação Brasileira dos Confeiteiros e Sorveteiros ), the Brazilian Association of Pastry and Ice Cream Chefs, a chief pastry chef, Philippe Soffieti, chef de cuisine Sandro Mota and two master pastry chefs, Marcelo Magaldi and Eduardo Beltrame.

The Brazilian team
To win gold in Italy, the home of ice cream gastronomy, is a significant achievement, and although the Brazilian team did not win first place overall, they did win two first prize trophies -  for the best ice-cream cone and the best artisanal ice cream.

Brazilians love ice cream, and Brazilian ice cream can be very good indeed. Much of the credit for this tradition goes to the numerous Italian immigrants to Brazil and to their descendents. Combining Italian techniques, good-quality dairy products and the best of Brazil's cornucopia of tropical fruits, ice cream from Brazil can stand with the best in the world. And the prizes that Brazil's team is bringing home from the World Cup is proof of the pudding (or of the ice cream).

Friday, January 27, 2012

RECIPE - Shrimp São Paulo Style (Camarão à Paulista)

Although São Paulo is not a maritime city, its situation on a 2500 ft (760 m) high plateau is only 50 miles (72 km) inland from Santos, Brazil and South America's largest port. The Atlantic coast of São Paulo state is lined with beach resorts and Santos has a significant commercial fishing industry.

Because of the maritime links between metropolis and port, seafood is an important part of São Paulo's diet, and many fish and shellfish dishes have pride of place in São Paulo's gastronomy. This recipe, which is part of Flavors of Brazil's week-long celebration of São Paulo's 458th birthday, is a favorite appetizer or first course in simple, neighborhood bars and restaurants. It's so closely connected with the city that it is known as São Paulo style shrimp.

The recipe itself is very easy and quick. The only important thing to note is that it requires best-quality shrimp, as fresh as possible. As the shrimp are fried in their shells and seasoned only with garlic, parsley and lime, the briny flavors of the crustacean itself predominate in the dish. If you prefer, you can cut the shells open along the back of the shrimp to remove the vein. But don't remove the shell (nor the head) - if you do it won't be Camarão à Paulista.

Serve very hot with a large bowl for the shells and finger bowls with warm water. You'll need them.
RECIPE - Shrimp São Paulo Style (Camarão à Paulista)
Serves 4

2 lbs (1 kg) large whole shrimp - with heads and unpeeled
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup neutral vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 limes, washed and cut into wedges
In a large mixing bowl combine the shrimps, salt and pepper to taste and the lime juice. Toss the shrimps to cover with juice and let marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.

Drain the shrimp and pat dry. Reserve.

In a large heavy-duty frying pan heat the vegetable oil until it's very hot but not smoking. Add the shrimp and fry, stirring from time to time, until the shrimp have turned pink and are cooked through, about three minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon, and drain them on paper towels, keeping warm.

Meanwhile, add the sliced garlic to the oil the shrimp was fried in. Fry until the slices just turn light brown. Do not overcook. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Put the shrimp in a large deep serving bowl. Sprinkle the sliced garlic over all, then sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Add the lime wedges around the edges of the bowl and serve immediately.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Round-up of Paulista Recipes

Avenida Paulista and MASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Among the nearly 700 posts on Flavors of Brazil, there are lots which are concerned with Brazil's largest city, São Paulo. We've reported about the various ethnic traditions of Paulista gastronomy - Italian, Portuguese, Syrian and Japanese among others. We've discussing the boom in high-style, high-price contemporary gastronomy - restaurants that are ranked among the best in the world, and prices which are ranked among the highest in the world. And we've talked about how the São Paulo food scene is only just beginning to value the traditional regional cuisines of other parts of Brazil.

We've also printed a number of the most well-known and well-loved recipes from São Paulo. As part of São Paulo's birthday week, we've decided to revisit some of these recipes and to highlight some new ones. Today, we'll provide links to recipes from São Paulo that have previously been published on Flavors of Brazil and for the rest of the week, we'll add a few more to our "São Paulo collection."

Simply click the links below to be directed to some of São Paulo's most famous recipes:

Cuzcuz Paulista

Fresh Ham Sandwich

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Virado à Paulista

Fried Fish, São Paulo style

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

São Paulo - 458 Years Young

Today, January 25, is a day of celebration in Brazil's largest city (and one of the largest cities in the world) São Paulo. It was 458 years ago today, in 1554, that Jesuit fathers Manuel de Nóbrega and José de Anchieta founded a village on a plateau 42 miles inland from the port city of São Vicente and baptized it São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga. Fortunately, that cumbersome name has since been shortened to São Paulo, just as another mission farther north in the Americas, Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, has had its name shortened to Los Angeles, or even to just plain LA.
São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga

Affectionately nicknamed A Cidade de Garoa by Brazilians, a nickname which means "The City of Drizzle" and which refers to a frequent climate condition on São Paulo's plateau, the city has grown to be one of the ten-largest metropolitan agglomerations in the world (some sources place it as high as third  place, others in fifth, sixth or seventh).

São Paulo isn't an easy city to love, and it doesn't have the picture-postcard appeal that Rio de Janeiro luxuriates in. It's noisy, hectic and overcrowded. Traffic is terrible, and the subway system would better suit a city one quarter of the size. (Nonetheless,  São Paulo's subway has more that 750 million riders annually). It's the economic and political powerhouse of Brazil, and the capital of Brazil's most populous state, also called São Paulo. As far as we know though, no one has written a hymn to São Paulo entitled "São Paulo, São Paulo" along the lines of "New York, New York." But São Paulo does have its own peculiar charm, and many Paulistanos swear they wouldn't live anywhere else on Earth.
São Paulo today

São Paulo is without contest the gastronomic center of Brazil. Clearly it leads the country in the sheer number of restaurants, food suppliers, meat and produce wholesale markets. But it also at the forefront of Brazil's new gastronomy - one São Paulo restaurant was recently voted the seventh best restaurant in the world, and every week a new and avant-garde restaurant is lauded in the food sections of local papers and in food and wine magazines. Because São Paulo is home to a number of large immigrant communities, the largest being Italian, Portuguese and Japanese, and also home to communities of internal migrants from other regions of Brazil, you can find almost any type of cuisine in São Paulo - whether international cuisines or regional Brazilian cuisines.

In the next few days, Flavors of Brazil will feature some typical Paulistano recipes and link back to some we've published earlier. Today, we'll just join the chorus of those wishing all 20 million or so residents of São Paulo a very happy municipal birthday.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Queijo do Serro - Brazil's First Protected Cheese

Yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil was concerned with the complicated nomenclature of artisanal cheeses coming from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, and detailed the recent inclusion of some cheeses from Minas Gerais in the government's IG (indicação geográfica ) program, which grants protected status and naming rights to locally produced food products. In 2011, the governmental body responsible for administering the IG program granted IG status to Queijo do Serro cheese from the Serro region of Minas Gerais. Queijo do Serro is the first cheese in Brazil, and the 14th food product overall, to receive this status and to have its name protected and prodution restrited to a specific region.

Currently there are 80 small chese producers scattered among 11 municipalities whose cheeses meet the geographical and technical standards required by the IG program. Only the cheeses made by these 80 producers are now entitled to call their cheese Queijo do Serro. (Queijo is the Portuguese word for cheese).

According to the leader of the Seroo region cheese producers' association, the granting of IG status is important for his group because it means that the name is protected nationally and that cheese manufacturers from other states will not be entitled to use the name Queijo do Serro for their products. If a cheese bears that name, it will mean that it was produced in the Serro region and nowhere else.

This is all very good news for cheese producers, but it does mean that for many Brazilians they will not have access to Queijo do Serro at all. Interstate shipping of raw-milk cheeses is currently prohibited in Brazil (a situation we've covered before), and so at the momento Queijo do Serro, the true one, can only be sold in Minas Gerais. Now that these dairy farmers have successfully convinced the government to protect their right to be the sole producers of Queijo do Serro, perhaps now they can persuade the government to let them sell it in other parts of the country!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Cheese Map of Minas Gerais

Charles de Gaulle once quipped when asked how he enjoyed governing France, "Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 variétés de fromage?" ("How would you like to govern a country which has 246 types of cheese?") Well, if there are 246 types of French cheese, there are probably an equal number of different types of cheese come from the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Which stands to good reason because that state is just about the same size, only slightly larger, than France.

Just as the sheer number of French cheeses can overwhelm all but the professional turophile (look it up here), the nomenclature of cheeses from Minas Gerais is equally confusing. Some of the best artisanal cheeses are produced only in small quantities and remain virtually unknown outside their area of production. And to complicate matters, many of the cheeses have similar sounding names, or identical names.

In an effort to relieve some of this confusion and to create a systematic naming and cataloguing of the many mineiro (from Minas Gerais) cheeses, the central market of Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, has produced a cheese map of the state, indicating the four principal areas of cheese production in Minas Gerais and detailing within those four areas the names of the municipalities that make cheese. The four main areas of production are called Cerrado, Araxá, Canastra and Serro. Each of these areas gives its name to cheeses produced locally, but each is also split into small units which can further define a cheese's origins. The map is below. (Note that the map is high resolution - if you wish to read the detail, simply click on the map).

In order to systematize the geographical names for these cheeses, the Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial of Brazil has begun to grant indicação geográfica status (geographical indication) to mineiro cheeses, starting with artisanal cheese from the Serro region. This IG status, as its known, is similar to European schemes to preserve and protect the geographical integrity of a number of food products, such as cheese, processed meats and wines. France has had a system called AOC in place to safeguard wines for many years, and Italy grants DOC status to many food products. Brazil's IG status is intended to serve the same purpose. Combining protected name status with promotional activities and products like the cheese map will, it is hoped, preserve and protect those artisanal cheeses which are an important part of the gastronomic heritage of Minas Gerais.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

RECIPE - Jackfruit Conserve (Doce de Jaca)

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we're well aware that our loyal readers in Europe, North America, and other corners of the globe don't have access to fresh jackfruit. For obvious reasons - the fruit is gigantic and heavy, so transport costs would be astronomical, once ripe the fruit is only good for a few days and then begins to rot, there's no local cultural tradition of eating jackfruit. However, there are readers of this blog, many of them, who live in Brazil and probably in other tropical regions of the world. So this recipe, for a conserve of fresh jackfruit, is for them.

For the rest of you, come to Brazil and we'll serve you a dish. It's utterly delicious.
RECIPE - Jackfruit Conserve (Doce de Jaca)
serves 4

1 cup cold water
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups fresh jackfruit segments, separated and with pits removed
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Put the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, and then add the jackfruit segments and the ground cloves. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook the fruit for 45 minutes. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and reserve in a mixing bowl. Bring the remaining water back to a boil and reduce by one-third. The syrup should be slightly thickened, but don't let it become overly thick. Pour the syrup over the fruit and let cool completely.

Once cool, place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill for at least four hours. Serve chilled.

The cooked fruit can be stored for up to one week in the refrigerator.

Friday, January 20, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Jackfruit (Jaca)

The world's largest edible fruit, the jackfruit (jaca in Portuguese), although not native to Brazil, is one of Brazil's most characteristic fruits, and is cultivated throughout the tropical regions of the country. This gigantic fruit has been known to reach a length of up to 3 feet (90 cm) weighing 80 lbs (36 kgs) or more. There are some vegetables which grow larger, notably members of the pumpkin family, but no other fruit reaches these dimensions.

The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) originated in South or Southeast Asia, and archeological evidence shows that it has been cultivated in India for more than 3000 years.  It is still widely cultivated in Asia, and is closely associated with the cuisines of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. From Asia it was introduced by the Portuguese to Africa (it's grown extensively in Uganda and Mauritius) and to the New World (Brazil and the Caribbean).

Although the jackfruit tree was deliberately introduced to Brazil, its introduction has had negative effects environmentally and outside of jackfruit plantations it is considered an invasive species. In forest reserves and in native rain forests it has been subject to culling to minimize the damage it can cause to native species. In Rio de Janeiro's urban Tijuca rain forest, where its spread has been aided by marmoset monkeys, more than 55,000 seedlings have been uprooted in an attempt to stop its spread.

A jaca tree is an impressive sight, even more so when it is bearing its massive fruits. The tree can grow up to 80 feet (25m) high with a canopy spread of 22 feet (7m). The wood of the jackfruit tree is a beautiful orange-brown in color and is used in the manufacture of wood furniture. The fruits either hang from the branches of the tree, or startlingly sprout directly from the trunk of the tree. The fruits look like large rounded, spiky sacs and are usually a yellowish-green in color.

The fruits can be eaten when immature or when they have matured. Immature jackfruit is savory in flavor rather than sweet, and in India and Sri Lanka it often substitutes for meat in curry dishes. Brazilians normally only eat mature, or sweet, jackfruit. In Brazil, three varieties are widely cultivated. Jaca-dura (hard jackfruit) has firm flesh and is the variety that reaches the largest size. Jaca-mole (soft jackfruit) is a smaller variety and it is noticeably sweeter as well as softer. Midway between these two in terms of sweetness and consistency is the third variety, jaca-manteiga (butter jackfruit). The fruit is sweet, starchy and good source of dietary fiber. The flesh of an opened jackfruit can be pulled apart into bright creamy-yellow segments, each of which contains a seed. The fruit is highly aromatic, almost flowery, and the taste has been described as a cross between a tart banana and bubble-gum.

Buying a whole jackfruit is something that only the largest family might consider, as the fruit ripens and spoils rapidly in Brazil's hot climate. For this reason, in Brazilian markets and road-side fruit stands it's common to see a jaca already cut open. Customers can specify whatever weight they want, and the vendor will cut off a chunk with a machete.

Most of the jackfruit consumed by Brazilians is eaten fresh and natural as a snack or dessert. There are some desserts and conserves made from jackfruit, and in the next posts, we'll feature some. In North America fresh jackfruit can often be found in Asian (particularly Philippine) markets, and most Asian markets will sell canned jackfruit - be careful as both immature and mature jackfruits are canned, so make sure to buy the one you want. Also be careful not to buy a jackfruit based on looks - the very similar looking but unrelated durian has some characteristics (e.g. smell) that might just have an unwanted effect on your family!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RECIPE - Salmon with Sorrel Sauce (Salmão ao Molho de Azedinha)

As mentioned in our most recent post, the sharp acidic bite of sorrel (azedinha in Portuguese) perfectly complements fatty proteins, as the acid cuts into the richness of the protein and prevents the dish from seeming over-rich. This recipe, from São Paulo chef Fred Frank, is a perfect example. Salmon is a fish that is high in fat (but remember - it's the good kind of fat, Omega 3) and is often served with acidic sauces to reduce the sensation of fattiness. Citrus juices and sour berries are common sources of acid in salmon dishes - here the acid is provided instead by sorrel leaves.

Sorrel can often be found in better quality supermarkets and natural food stores, and it can easily be grown in most areas of Europe and North America.

The recipe calls for fish stock and includes instructions on making the stock. If you have access to fish stock or have some in the freezer, omit the portion of the recipe for making fish stock and substitute an equivalent quantity of your own.

RECIPE - Salmon with Sorrel Sauce (Salmão ao Molho de  Azedinha)
Serves 4

For the fish stock:
8 cups ( 2L) water
2 lbs (1 kg) fish bones, from firm-fleshed white fish (NOT from salmon), well rinsed
1/2 cup thin slices of carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup sliced leeks (white part only)
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

For the sorrel sauce:
1 cup (250 ml) fish stock (save extra for another use - best to freeze)
1 cup (250 ml) creme fraiche or sour cream
1 large bunch sorrel, stems removed, leaves shredded finely
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
salt and white pepper to taste

For the salmon:
4 pieces salmon, steaks or 3" slices from fillet
salt and white pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil to taste
In a stock pot or large sauce pan, heat the oil, then add the carrots, celery, onion and leeks and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the water and fish bones, bring to a boil, and cook at a slow boil for 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then drain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, pressing down on vegetables and bones to extract the flavors. Reserve,

In a medium sauce pan combine the creme fraiche or sour cream and 1 cup of the fish stock. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce the sauce by about 1/3. Meantime melt the butter in a small fying pan, then add the sorrel and cook for a few minutes, until the leaves wilt and take on a bright color. Mix the sorrel into the sauce, add salt and white pepper to taste and reserve, keeping warm.

Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then grill or broil just until done and nicely browned.

Serve the salmon, dressed with the sorrel sauce immediately. May be accompanied by mashed potatoes, a potato gratin, noodles, or soft polenta.

Recipe translated and adapted from Nossa Panela Brasil.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

INGREDIENTS - Azedinha (Sorrel)

The European herb sorrel, which came to Brazil with Portuguese colonists and which has been enthusiastically adopted by Brazil cooks, is very appropriately named in Portuguese. It's known as azedinha, which can be translated literally as "the little sour one." Anyone who's familiar with the taste of sorrel will know how well that name describes the plant - sorrel's primary taste is a sharp, tangy sourness. (Incidentally, the English name refers to the same characteristic - sorrel derives from an old French word surele, meaning "sour.")

The sour taste of sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is due to the presence of oxalic acid in the plant. In high concentrations, oxalic acid is toxic and can be fatally poisonous, although it would almost be impossible to eat enough sorrel to receive a toxic dose. Spinach also contains oxalic acid, though in a lesser quantity than sorrel. The only food plant that has dangerously high concentrations of this acid is rhubarb and in rhubarb oxalic acid is only found in the leaves of the plant, which are not normally eaten. Rhubarb stalks do not contain the acid. Black tea also has oxalic acid in low concentrations.

Sorrel grows well in most regions of Brazil with the exception of the tropical rain forest zone in the the country's north. It's used most frequently in parts of Brazil where there is a population whose ancestries can be traced back to Europe - to Portugal, Spain or Italy in particular. Sorrel is used to flavor soups stews and sauces, dishes whose flavor can be lifted and freshened by a hint of acid. Adding sorrel to a dish has the same effect as adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice - it cuts fatty richness and perks up the flavor of the dish's protein component.

In the next post, Flavors of Brazil will publish a Brazilian recipe for grilled salmon with a sorrel sauce.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RECIPE - Chocolate Bread Pudding (Pudim de pão ao chocolate)

Bread pudding - love it or hate it? Most people seem to fall into one or the other of those two extremes. As with the related rice pudding, people are either attracted to the dish's sweet, eggy, creamy taste and texture or repelled by it.

Part of the problem, in our opinion, is that for many people both desserts are in memory forever linked with school cafeteria, summer camp, or, God knows, even prison. Maybe it's the institutionality of bread pudding and rice pudding that puts people off.

Certainly, a badly-made example of either one can be quite nasty stuff. Pasty and glutinous, ghastly white, jiggly, a plastic dish of either to top off an already dreadful meal can be the straw that broke the camel's back.

But if these dishes are prepared with quality ingredients and with attention paid to detail and to presentation, they can be heavenly. Still eggy and creamy, but with just the right amount of sugar and a minimum of starchiness, they can be worthy of a place alongside flan, egg custard and crème brûlée in the pantheon of milk-and-egg desserts.

Most bread puddings contain rough-torn pieces of stale bread, still recognizable as such in the final products. And spicing is restricted to cinnamon, with perhaps a touch of ginger or nutmeg. The bread pudding in this recipe, which comes from São Paulo restaurant Casa da Li, uses a blender to homogenize all the ingredients prior to baking, and adds chocolate to give the dish a whole new flavor profile. It's practically unrecognizable as bread pudding, and it's delicious.

If you are serving dinner to bread pudding haters and are feeling sneaky, don't tell them what the dish is (just tell them it's Pudim de pão from Brazil). After they've eaten it and lavished you with praise, it's then up to you whether to spill the beans about it being bread pudding or not.
RECIPE - Chocolate Bread Pudding (Pudim de pão ao chocolate)

3 day-old French rolls, torn into small pieces
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
2 cups granulated white sugar
1/2 cup seedless raisins, soaked for 15 minutes in hot water
1 whole egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of clove
pinch of nutmeg
1/3 cup creme de cacao chocolate liqueur
In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Bring slowly to a boil over medium-low heat. When the liquid reaches a boil, stir in the pieces of bread. Remove the pan from the heat and let the bread soak in the liquid for 20 minutes.

Pour the ingredients from the saucepan into a blender and blend until completely homogenized. Let cool.

When the custard liquid is cool, separate the egg and beat the white until it forms soft peaks. Lightly beat the yolk. Stir the beaten yolk into the custard, then gently fold in the egg white. Do not overmix. Finally stir in the raisins and the chocolate liqueur.

Pour the custard into a non-stick tube or bundt pan, place the pan in a baking dish and pour boiling water into the dish to the level of the custard. Place in a pre-heated 350F (180C) oven and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire cake rack and let cool completely.

Chill the pudding in the refrigerator for at least three hours. Unmould onto a decorative serving platter and serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

Monday, January 16, 2012

That's No Baloney! Brazilian Mortadela

A gastronomic passion that's shared by Brazil and Italy is the large, often shockingly-pink cold cut known as either mortadella or mortadela. The number of l's in the word differentiates Italian spelling (two l's) from Portuguese (only one). A noble sausage with a long pedigree, the image of mortadella has been tarnished in North America by cheap and sometimes nasty versions sold as Bologna sausage or baloney. No one is sure how Bologna came to be pronounced baloney in the USA, but it did. And somehow baloney's meaning was expanded to mean not only an Italian sausage but also foolishness or nonsense. Some theorize that this meaning came from the popular conception that bologna was made from the odds and ends of the slaughtering process, but no one has been able to prove the word's etymology.

In Brazil, mortadela is not looked down upon in the same way as baloney is in the USA. Nor is it worshipped and treated as a national treasure as it sometimes is in Italy. It's considered one of the basic cold cuts, and mortadela can be found in almost every butcher shop, delicatessen and supermarket in the country. Brazilian mortadela normally comes in the form of large round sausages, weighing up to 14 lbs (6 kgs). In Italy, by contrast, some mortadelle reach the stupendous size of 28 lbs (12 kgs). Other differences between the Italian and Brazilian versions is that the classic Italian version is made from 100% pork and the Brazilian with a mixture of pork and beef. The manufacture of mortadela in Brazil begins with the grinding together of the meats to be used, then adding spices and cubes of pure pork fat to the mixture (optional). Then the mixture is used to fill either an artificial or natural sausage casing. The sausage is then very lightly smoked and finally steamed for 18 hours at a temperature of 175F (80F). Once the steaming is completed the sausage is cooled by being sprayed with cold water and then hung for at least 24 hours to dry. Although mortadela is ready to eat as soon as it is dry, most butchers suggest that it be allowed to age for one week or more at cellar temperature to allow the flavor to develop.

Most Brazilian mortadela is consumed as part of a tray of cold cuts, or more likely as a filling for a sandwich made from a French roll. The mortadela sandwich is particularly associated with the city of São Paulo, with its large Italian community, though it's eaten everywhere in the country. Previously, Flavors of Brazil published an article about the famous mortadela sandwich of the Bar do Mané in São Paulo's municipal market.

As with all processed meats, the range of quality of Brazilian mortadela is enormous, and it's important to buy a high-quality product from a respected producer. The Brazilian Agriculture Department has established four mortadela categories and set out minimum standards for each one. The lowest standard is called simply mortadela, and higher quality ones are called mortadela tipo bologna, mortadela italiana and mortadela bologna, in ascending order of quality. The standards for plain mortadela as very low - "meat from any variety of animal, with up to 60% of meat mechanically separated, organs and offal (stomach, heart, tongue, liver, kidney), skin and tendon (limit 10%) and fat." The best quality, mortadela bologna, is restricted to sausages made from "muscular cuts of pork and beef, ham, in a rounded form, without addition of starch."

I guess the next time we at Flavors of Brazil run into mortadela on a tray of cold cuts, we're going to ask it it's plain ole' mortadela or mortadela bologna!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

RECIPE - Pumpkin Pudding (Curau de Abóbora)

Pumpkin pie is unknown in Brazil, or it seems to be from what we've discovered researching Brazilian cookbooks, websites and blogs. Nonetheless, Brazilians cook frequently with pumpkins - in fact, with all the hard winter squashes - and they are familiar with pumpkin's ability to shine in sweet dishes as well as savory ones.

In this easy dessert dish, which comes from the northeastern state of Ceará, pureed pumpkin is combined with coconut milk and whole milk, then cooked down to create a thickened pudding. The use of coconut milk adds a distinctly Brazilian touch and the addition of powdered cinnamon at the end of the cooking process recalls the way pumpkin is spiced in North American sweet dishes.

RECIPE - Pumpkin Pudding (Curau de Abóbora) 
Serves 4

1 lb peeled and cubed pumpkin or winter squash
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
powdered cinnamon
Cook the cubed pumpkin in boiling water until it is very soft. Drain thoroughly. When slightly cool, place the pumpkin in a blender or food processor with the coconut milk, the milk, the sugar, salt, cornstarch and butter. Blend until completely homogenous.

Put the blended mixture in a double boiler and cook over boiling water, stirring constantly, for thirty minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat.

Pour the mixture into four ramekins or custard cups. Sprinkle the surface with powdered cinnamon. Place the cups in the refrigerator for at least three hours and serve cold.

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Week in Unnecessary Local Food Trends

As regular readers of Flavors of Brazil know, the blog is a firm believer in the benefits of eating locally - that is eating food produced in relatively close proximity to where it is eaten. For many reasons, it's generally a good thing - the food is fresher, tends to be less expensive because of reduced transportation costs, and it's more authentic, among other good reasons.

However, last night at a party we were introduced to a product that certainly must be described as local, as it is manufactured here in Flavors of Brazil's hometown, Fortaleza. But we're not sure that it's really all that relevant that this drink, called Forró Power, qualifies as being part of our "100 Mile Diet". We did find it kind of fascinating nonetheless, and worthy of an article in the blog.

Forró Power is an energy drink - that is, it's a locally-produced variation or imitation of Red Bull. Sweet and sugary, it carries a potent stimulating kick. It's "power" comes from caffeine, guaraná and assorted other herbs. Energy drinks typically have three or four times the stimulating effect of coffee or Coca-cola. In flavor and effect, Forró Power is no different than any of the other energy drinks on the market.

What makes Forró Power interesting, though, is not the fact that it's made locally in Ceará, but more the way the manufacturers have decided to market it with a distinctly local name and advertising campaign.

 The name Forró Power was chosen to appeal to fans of an energetic style of music and dance that originated in this region of Brazil and which is  the most popular music style locally even in this day of international music stars like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Adele. The word forró itself (pronounced foh-HO) has a unidentifiable etymology (click here for more) but the music has been popular in northeastern Brazil for close to eighty years. Forró dances, held in large halls similar to country music venues in the USA, draw thousands of fans weekly. Dance floors hold hundreds of couples at a time, and Forró events carry on all night, ending only when the sun comes up.

To give the blog's readers who might not be familiar with forró some idea of what it's all about (and why dancers might need an energy boost at 4 am!) here are two videos from YouTube. The first one shows the more traditional style of forró, which is referred to as the Pé de Serra style. Pé de Serra means "foothill" and refers to the rural origins of the dance in the mountainous interior of Brazil's northeast. The second shows modern pop forró, electrified and sexed up. The intended market for Forró Power is definitely the fans of this genre. Dancing all night at this speed requires a lot of stamina, which is maybe why Forró Power doesn't come in small 6 oz cans like Red Bull does - it delivers a full liter (about a quart) of caffeine-induced stimulation.

Pé de Serra  forró

Pop forró

Thursday, January 12, 2012

RECIPE - Kisir Salad (Salada Kisir)

This salad makes a light and refreshing side dish for a grilled piece of meat, chicken or fish on those days when it's just too hot to cook (which, in many parts of Brazil, is almost any day of the year). Made with couscous, served at room temperature or slightly chilled, it is substantial enough to stand as a meal's carbohydrate, yet light enough not to overstuff diners. It also obviates the need to serve a side dish and a salad as it functions as both.

What most of the rest of the world considers garden-variety couscous is known in Brazil as Moroccan couscous (cuzcuz marroquinho). Brazilians have to add the term Moroccan because cuzcuz plain and simple asmade in Brazil is fabricated not from wheat but from corn. (Click here for more information about Brazilian cuzcuz.)

In addition to its other virtues, this salad is very quick and easy to make. Since spending a lot of time in the kitchen is something that one tends not to want to do on a hot day, it's just one more reason that makes this salad a perfect summer-time treat. (For readers of this blog who are suffering through a wintry January, save the recipe for next summer!)
RECIPE - Kisir Salad (Salada Kisir)
Serves 4

1 1/4 cup (200 gr) dry quick-cook couscous
3/4 cup (200 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (200 ml) water
pinch of salt
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
8 oz (200 gr) mixed baby salad greens
diced green onion, to taste
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Put the dry couscous in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle half of the olive oil over, then mix well with a fork to cover all the grains. Let rest 5 minutes.

Bring the water, with a pinch of salt added, to the boil, then pour over the couscous. Mix briefly then let stand until the couscous is cool. Toss with a fork to loosen the grains.

When the couscous is cool, mix in the tomato and peppers. Mould in ring molds if desired (as in photo), or mound on salad plates. Top with the mixed salad greens, then sprinkle the remaining olive oil over all. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe translated and adapted from Gula magazine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Brazil's Rank in the Big Mac Index

For years now, the influential English weekly newspaper The Economist has annually published something called The Big Mac Index. Basically, the magazine plots the local price of a Big Mac in a number of countries (expressed in US dollars) and uses their ranking to indicate which countries have over-valued or under-valued currencies. Countries in which the Big Mac costs more than in the USA have, according to The Economist, over-valued currencies and countries which have a cheaper Big Mac have under-valued currencies.

In their most recent edition of The Big Mac Index, the Economist has ranked Brazil as having the fourth most expensive Big Mac in the world, indicating a severe over-valuation for Brazil's currency, the Real (pronounced hay-aww). The sandwich is more expensive only in three countries traditionally known for being very pricy - Switzerland, Norway and Sweden. The average price for a Big Mac in Brazil is USD $5.68, which is 32% higher than the US average of $4.20, indicating that the Real is over-valued by that same percentage.

Because Brazil is a South American country, many people not familiar with the Brazilian economy assume that it's an expensive country and a cheap place to visit. The Big Mac index shows that not to be necessarily true. Brazil can be very expensive, especially in the big cities and in areas that host a large number of tourists. And certainly, Big Mac are expensive here, as is everything at McDonald's. We here at Flavors of Brazil have never quite been able to figure out how McD's gets away with charging what they charge. Part is the allure and appeal of American culture, which Brazilians are not immune to. Eating in McDonald's is seen as an exotic treat, even a sophisticated one, not as a cheap and cheerful stomachful of fast food.

But Brazil, fortunately, is more than McDonald's and a tasty and well-made meal in an unassuming but clean restaurant can cost much less than a Big Mac in a McDonald's. The large Brazilian middle class, particularly the lower middle class, probably doesn't spend much of their discretionary income on Big Macs. When they eat out, they're far more likely to go to a homestyle restaurant where they can get rice, beans, salad and a piece of meat for the same price.

Here's a graph of the latest Big Mac Index. It's in Portuguese, but it's quite understandable for the most part. Try to figure out the countries by their Portuguese names (some help on lookalike country names Suíça and Suécia- they are Switzerland and Sweden respectively). Note that in India McDonald's doesn't sell Big Macs, as the eating of beef is prohibited by law. The Indian price is for something called a Maharaja Mac, made with chicken.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Slumming It - Dining in a Favela

Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro
The Portuguese word favela has come to mean, in English as well as Portuguese, the type of slum that prevails in poor neighborhoods in all major cities in Brazil. In a typical favela, city services are non-existant or are pirated, houses are simple homemade brick structures, commerce is rudimentary, and in Rio de Janeiro, up til recently, gangs of drug traffickers are de facto the only law.

Rio's favelas are the most well known in Brazil first because Rio is Brazil's primary tourist destination and second because they are so visible. Rio's unique geographical and topographical structure means that the richer neighborhoods carpet the flat land stretching back from the world-famous beaches, while the favelas are perched right behind them, precariously clinging to almost perpendicular mountainsides. Because of this, neighborhoods of million dollar homes have a view of the sea out of their front window and often a view of a nearby favela out the back window. And residents of the vertical favelas often have the best views in town.

In the past two years, in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Rio's politicians and civic government have used Brazil's military police forces to "re-occupy" many of the city's favelas, which had ignored for decades and left to the drug gangs to run. In favela after favela an initial police invasion began the process, followed by the return of municipal servies such as garbage collection, establishment of governmental offices and restoration of municipal water and energy services. The term used for this process is pacification.

Up to today, the government has had some major successes in pacifying various favelas, although their ability to root out drug-related crime in the long run remains to be seen. Nonetheless, in those favelas which have undergone the process, pacification has meant a reduction in levels of intimidation and violence, an increase in property values, and a overall reduction in tension.

One ancillary effect of pacification has been that favelas, which were previously strictly "no-go"zones for non-residents, are now becoming accessible to non-favela inhabitants, residents of Rio and tourists alike. Several tour companies now offer favela tours, as do community-based non-profit organizations. Curiousity is part of the attraction, of course, but there are those who realize that the favelas, poor and crime-ridden as they were, have always been hotbeds of popular culture, whether in music, literature, cinema or art. Smart enterpreneurs in Rio's most well-known and accessible favelas, such as Rocinha and Vidigal have begun to take advantage of the new atmostphere to create new business opportunities.

In today's edition of the F. de São Paulo newspaper there's an article detailing the dining options in Rio's favelas. Such an article would have been unthinkable even a year or two ago. The article points out how favelas, and their bars and restaurants, are slowly but surely becoming part of Rio's tourist circuit.

The article does note that there are still significant obstacles and hurdles for potential restaurateurs in favelas. Because of irregularities or deficencies in the water and sewage systems in many favelas, it's difficult to get health permits to operate a restaurant. And restaurants who have become used to using only free pirated electricity and gas, and not paying employment taxes and benefits, find that it's impossible to keep the same cheap prices as before now that they must pay such costs. Also, public safety, or the public perception of the lack of such, still keeps numerous potential clients away.

For those who do want to try favela cuisine, which the article points out can be very good, often a mixture of northeastern and carioca styles, the paper offers a few pointers. First, it's best to arrive and depart by taxi, mini-bus or bus. Driving private cars on the steep streets of favelas is not recommended, nor is arriving by foot. Also, one should be prepared to pay cash for the meal, as most favela restaurants don't accept any form of plastic currency - debit or credit.
Carne de sol at Barraca do Tino

For adventurous readers of Flavors of Brazil, here is the paper's list of recommended restaurants in Rio's favelas:

ladeira Ary Barroso, 66, Chapéu Mangueira tel. 21/8156-3145

rua Alm. Alexandrino, 3.780, casa 7, morro dos Prazeres tel. /21/2225-5780

rua do Mengão, 14, Dona Marta; tel. /21/8229-9968

avenida Presidente João Goulart, 759, Vidigal, tel. 21/3324-1767

rua Hortaliça, 12, morro do Pavão-Pavãozinho, tel. 21/2513-2288

rua Armando de Almeida Lima, casa 6, Vidigal tel. 21/3322-0323

rua Euclides da Rocha, 13, Ladeira dos Tabajaras, tel. /21/3208-0017

avenida Presidente João Goulard, 625, Vidigal

travessa Kátia, 31, Rocinha tel. 21/3324-3040

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Seal for Locavores

According to the Random House Dictionary (2012 edition) the word locavore was coined in 2005, on the model of carnivore, herbivore and omnivore. The dictionary defines locavore as:

(noun) a person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised or produced locally, usually within 100 miles of home

As in many places around the globe, Brazilians consciousness as to the origins of the food they ingest has been raised in recent years, and Brazilians, just like Americans, Australians or Germans, are concerned about all the issues involved in the eating of food produced or processed far from home and transported for long distances en route to the consumer.

Fortunately for those Brazilians who care about such issues, those who might call themselves "locavoros", a large percentage of the food eaten in Brazil is produced in the same region as it is sold and eaten, and most food comes from family farms, or small producers, and not from multinational agri-business giants. In the state of Ceará, where Flavors of Brazil is based, the ministry of agricultural development estimates that 70% of the food consumed in the state is grown or produced there on family farms.

Recognizing that consumers want more information about the origin of their food, and wanting to support and encourage local production of food, the ministry recently launched a new program involving a seal of origin for local products called "Selo Agricultura 100% Familiar" or, in English "The 100% Family Agriculture Seal." The seal is awarded to farmers and small food producers who can show that their products are local, produced or raised on family farms, and can prove that the products are environmentally sustainable, meet certain sanitary standards, that animals are treated humanely and that no child labor was used. Once these conditions are met, a farmer or food producer can apply to the ministry for a seal that he or she is entitled to use on labels, in advertising, and in signs.

To date, the ministry has issued 30 seals, to enterprises as diverse as beekeeping and honey production, rice and guava farming, fishing cooperatives and yogurt and cheese producers. There are an additional 120 enterprises whose applications are currently being investigated, and 320 producers have begun the certification process.

The seal, whose design was chosen by the public from among a number of contest entries, has been registered and copyrighted, and should begin to be seen on products in the first quarter of 2012.

In recent posts of Flavors of Brazil, we've highlighted similar seals certifying sustainable crab fisheries and shrimp aquaculture in Ceará. Such certification seems to be a growing trend here, and one that Flavors of Brazil endorses and applauds.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

RECIPE - Crystalized Papaya (Mamão Cristalizado)

In previous posts on Flavors of Brazil, we've discussed how Brazilian servants, cooks and housewives dealt with the problem of overabundance of fruit in the days before electric refrigeration. In colonial Brazil electric refrigeration didn't exist and indeed up to the middle of the 20th century most Brazilian households didn't have a fridge or a freezer. So when one fruit or another was in season and there was a Biblical-scale abundance of fruit on the vine, in the tree or on the bush, the cook's problem was how to preserve the fruit so it could be enjoyed later in the year.

The most common ways to preserve fruits were either to boil and can them in a sugar syrup or to process them into jams and jellies. There was a third alternative, however. As with conserves and jams, this technique relied on the preservative properties of sugar to prevent the fruit from spoiling and allow it to be stored at room temperature. But in this case, in the process known as crystalization, the fruit was cooked in a sugar syrup, but then it was drained, partially dried and rolled in granulated sugar before it stored.

The crystalization process is not unique to Brazil. It's a traditional preserving technique that is used in many cultures, and was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. The most common example of the technique in northern hemisphere cultures might be the production of crystalized ginger (sometimes called candied ginger).

In Brazil, the technique is applied to many varieties of fruits, such as pineapple, mango, fig and especially papaya. This recipe for crystalized papaya comes from the central state of Goiás, but similar recipes can be found in traditional kitchens almost everywhere in Brazil.
RECIPE - Crystalized Papaya (Mamão Cristalizado)

2 lbs (1 kb) not-overly-ripe papaya, seeded, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
3 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups water
3 cups granulated white sugar
In a large saucepan combine the pieces of papaya with water to cover and add the baking soda. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When at a rolling boil, turn off the heat, remove the pan from the stove and let the papaya cool in the water for 24 hours. The next day, drain off the water, add fresh water to cover and bring to the boil again. Remove the papaya pieces to a sieve with a slotted spoon and let drain thoroughly. Reserve.

To make the syrup heat the 2 cups water and the 3 cups sugar in another saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is simmering. Add the reserved papaya and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, leaving the papaya in the syrup, for 24 hours. The next day, bring the papaya and syrup gently to a slow boil and cook until the syrup has thickened considerable. Remove the papaya into a sieve and let drain thoroughly.

While the papaya is draining, spread 3 cups sugar in a shallow serving platter. When the papaya is drained but still warm and moist, roll it in the sugar, making sure that each piece is completely covered with sugar. Let the papaya cool in the sugar, mixing gently from time to time, for 24 hours.

Remove the papaya from the sugar and store in airtight containers until ready to eat.

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

Friday, January 6, 2012


Almost every time we visit Fortaleza's central public market, known as Mercado São Sebastião, we spot someone selling a fruit that we've never seen before. And being in the business of blogging Brazilian food, we are forced, naturally, to ask the vendor what's in his display case, or what's in her cardboard box on the floor.

This week, we came across one of the regular vendors (those who have a designated stand and who are there year-round) selling a small roundish yellow fruit that looked like-an-apricot-but-not-an-apricot. It was about the same size and color, but the skin was a bit glossier and the shape wasn't identical. It didn't have the line which splits an apricot into two natural halves. It looked familiar, but we couldn't identify it. We were sure we'd seen it somewhere before but weren't able to recall when or where.

The vendor was happy to tell us that he was selling a fruit called nêspera, but the name meant nothing and wasn't much of a clue. He kindly cut one open which settled once and for all that this wasn't some variety of apricot. Instead of a single stone, there was a cluster of glossy brown seed in the middle of the fruit. We bought some and headed home for a tasting and to find out what we had bought.

Nêspera, according the the dictionary is also known in Brazil as ameixa-amarela, which means yellow plum. However, the fruit is no more related to the plum than it is to the apricot. Finding the scientific name, Eriobotrya japonica, gave us a clue as to the geographical origins of the plant and a key to finding the English name. We know it as loquat (if we know it at all).

Discovering the English name, we remembered where we'd seen it. In Asian markets, in Vancouver. We'd seen it in fruit and vegetable stores in Chinatown and Japantown, and it seemed to be quite popular with members of Vancouver's various Asian communities.

It turns out that the fruit did originate in Asia, probably in southwest China although it has been cultivated in Japan since early times. In Asia the fruit is eaten fresh, poached in a light syrup or processed into confectionary and jellies. Its syrup is also used medicinally in Asia, particularly to soothe sore throats. If loquats are eaten in quantity, they have a noticeable sedative effect which can last up to 24 hours.

Loquats came to Brazil along with the thousands of Japanese immigrants who arrived in the early 20th century. (The persimmon arrived in the same manner). The first loquat plantations were in Brazil's southeast, where Japanese settlers worked on coffee plantations, but now loquats are grown in many regions of Brazil.

Today Brazil is the world's third largest producer of this fruit, trailing only Japan and Israel. As in Asia, most of the annual nêspera crop is eaten fresh, though we understand that some jellies and jams are commercially produced.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tummy Bugs

Normally, Flavors of Brazil sticks to a six-day-a-week posting schedule, taking a day off on either Saturday or Sunday. But those of you who have a head for dates will note that the post previous to this one was dated Tuesday, Jan 03 and here it is already Thursday, Jan 05. What gives? Belated New Year's Eve hangover? Lack of Internet access?

None of the above, actually. In fact, we here at Flavors of Brazil have been dealing with a rather nasty 24-hour "tummy bug" brought on by eating something that in retrospective was definitely off. Fortunately, these illnesses tend to be short-lived, but when they're going full tilt, they are no fun at all. There's no option but to stay at home and plan on doing absolutely nothing, including writing blog posts. All your energy, or what little of that you have, will go into fighting the bug, and neither your body nor your mind have much left over for creative endeavors.

Being stuck at home, within easy range of the bathroom, does leave one with lots of time to think though. Even to think about blog posts. Hence, the publishing of this one, now that the bug has been well and truly conquered due to modern medicine and the body's ability to rid itself of nasty invaders by any means possible.

When we first began visiting Brazil in the late 1970s food sanitation was rudimentary in many parts of the country, and travelers to Brazil were warned in no uncertain terms in guidebooks and by physicians that they had to be very careful about what they ate. I'm sure anyone who has traveled outside the so-called First World knows what sorts of precautions were advised - no unpeeled fruit, no ice, no uncooked vegetables (including salads), no fresh juices, no cooked dishes that haven't been brought to the boiling point just before serving. And at that time, such advise was well informed and worthy of being followed carefully. Even the the big cities of Brazil it was possible to pick up a nasty stomach bug if one wasn't careful, and in more remote areas of the country, including the entire northern and northeastern half of the country, even with extreme caution anyone who spent much time in the region was likely to get a case of the "turistas" somewhere along the route.

Things have changed dramatically in the thirty-or-so years since then, and the situation of food sanitation and security is vastly better than it was just that short time ago. Obviously, in very remote regions of the rain forest or in the swamps of the Pantanal, one must still exercise extreme caution, but for most foreigners visiting the major tourist destinations in Brazil, and for most newly-arrived expats, a simple bit of common sense and prudence is sufficient to keep one from getting into digestive trouble. For example, these days the overwhelming preponderance of cubed ice served in bars and restaurants comes from industrial ice producers whose production techniques and water sources are monitored and controlled for sanitation. In Brazil, it's very rare to see ice cubes that aren't cylindrically shaped and obviously industrially produced. Tourists no longer need to order their caipirinhas or their Coca-colas "sem gelo" (without ice). In a tropical country like Brazil, being able to drink iced drinks is a great blessing and one that tourists no longer need to forego.

Likewise salads. They're no longer off the menu, as they once were. Salads are an important part of the Brazilian diet, but in the past, tourists could only look upon those juicy tomatoes, crispy peppers and onions, and brilliant green lettuce as forbidden treasures. They were "on the list" and never to be indulged in. Today, with better education of kitchen staff, and with almost universal use of disinfectant washes of vegetables, tourists can enjoy a Brazilian salad just as they would at home.

There are some obvious instances where tourists and Brazilian native alike must exercise caution when deciding what to eat. All along Brazilian beaches, numerous ambulant vendors pass by offering shrimp, crabs and lobster from a basket they carry with them - sometimes with a small amount of ice at the bottom of the basket, often with no refrigeration at all. In the 30C (85F) heat and strong sun at the beach, eating this seafood is definitely AYOR (at your own risk), and most, although not all, people avoid it. Similarly, most cautious travelers don't eat the raw oysters proferred by beach vendors - even in cold climates and places with rigorous sanitary laws oysters can be problematic. Here, they're a digestive disaster waiting to happen.

But aside from these obvious danger points, one can, whether tourist or native, go about one's business and enjoy the wide variety of food and drink in Brazil without undue worry or stress. This week's bout of distress was only the second one we've suffered in almost four years of living and eating in Brazil. Do be sensible when you visit Brazil, but remember that food and drink are an important part of Brazilian culture and you shouldn't deprive yourself of all that bounty needlessly. An excess of caution can be as damaging to your experience of Brazil as a dearth of the same.