Sunday, February 5, 2012

Panelada - A Polarizing Dish

Some foods, and some prepared dishes, evoke strongly opposing reactions among those who try or sample them. Call them the "love 'em or hate 'em" items of the food world. In a recent article in Huffington Post, ten foods were listed as being among the most polarizing - no one seems to be neutral about them. The ten were, in no special order, cilantro, blue cheese, Vegamite/Marmite, celery, coconut, liver, mayonnaise, marzipan, green pepper and licorice.

Just like those foods, there are some prepared dishes that get some folks' mouths watering and others trying to stifle a gag reaction. Scottish haggis, Norwegian lutefisk, Dutch raw herring, Chinese Dim Sum chicken feet, even sushi. Those who love these dishes don't just love them, they adore them. And those who don't - well, they can't abide them.

In Brazil, even though it contains such potential troublesome pig parts such as salted ears, salted tail and salted belly fat, almost everybody loves the dish often considered Brazil's national dish - feijoada. Or at least no one will admit they don't like it. But another widely loved traditional stew, called panelada, evokes a strong pro or con reaction even among Brazilians. For some Brazilians, panelada is the ultimate comfort food - something to eat on a cold rainy day, or the best cure for a wicked hangover. For others, even the smell of panelada cooking is enough to send them flying out of the kitchen with their hand over their mouths.

Panelada is just one of the many Brazilian variants of a stew - meat and vegetables cooked in a thick broth, all served together. Writer Roberto Da Matta, in his book "O Que Faz o Brasil, Brasil?" (What makes Brazil Brazil?), talks about the general Brazilian preference for stew-type dishes, from feijoada to peixada, to dobradinha, and of course, to panelada, "It appears we (Brazilians) have a prediliction for food that is neither liquid nor solid but halfway between the two."

So it's not the fact that it's a stew that makes panelada a "problematic" dish. It's what that stew contains. A proper panelada contains a wide variety of those parts of an animal collectively known as offal. One recipe, for example, calls for 2 lbs (1 kg) each of tripe, intestines, nerves and feet. another calls for hoof instead of foot. Most recipes will call for, at minimum, tripe, intestines and foot. It's these ingredients that make panelada, to coin a phrase, one man's meat and another man's poison.

Although panelada is made, and loved or hated, all around Brazil, it is particularly associated in most Brazilians' minds with the northeastern region of the country. Tomorrow we'll publish a recipe for a northeastern panelada, one from the state of Ceará.


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