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.

1 comment:

  1. GREAT post James. I *really* think everyone should read this before coming to Brazil. I guess I just find it sad/frustrating that so many people miss out on so much of the culinary goodness of Brazil, simply because they're worried about a tummy bug. Sure they're not pleasant, but often the logic of avoidance is flawed anyway. People go to what they think is a nice, safe pizza place (half deserted, selling 24 hour old pizza) and avoid the street-stall which has a long queue of customers and as such is selling super-fresh (and delicious) food.

    Common sense is the word. As you say, prawns on the beach should scream danger - I've always wondered who actually buys them!

    Sorry to hear about your temporary affliction - glad to hear you're feeling better.