Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Name, Two Dishes - Paçoca

It's natural that in a country as large as Brazil there would be regional variations in traditional dishes. One region might add tomatoes to a dish and another leave them out. One region might use cream to thicken and enrich a sauce while somewhere else they might use coconut milk for the same purpose.

But regional variations in Brazilian gastronomy go farther than swapping ingredients in a recipe. It's not uncommon to find that in distantly-separated regions one name can be applied to dishes that have absolutely nothing to do with each other - no common ingredients, no common technique, no common heritage.

Knowing a bit of Brazilian history helps to explain why this might be so. In colonial times in Brazil each of the various regions that were settled by Europeans, primarily Portuguese, were separate colonies and had very little contact with each other. Often inter-colony contact was only through Lisbon, the capital of the Portuguese empire. Each region had its own separate administration, an entirely separate economy and a unique culture not shared with other colonies. It was only at the time of independence that the various colonies united to create Brazil, and even then it was not without significant bloodshed.

A good example of this process is paçoca (pronouned pah-SO-ka). The word itself is indigenous in origin, coming from the Tupi word posok meaning smashed or shattered, but in Portuguese it has come to mean one of two very different dishes depending on where one is located.
paçoca nordestina (with carne de sol)

In the northeastern states of Brazil, particularly in Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte, paçoca is a dish made of shredded carne de sol (sun-dried beef), farinha (manioc flour) and chopped red onion, traditionally all pulverized together with a mortar and pestle (that's the smashing or shattering part by which the dish got its name). In southeast Brazil,  paçoca has nothing to do with beef, manioc or onions - it's a candy very much like peanut brittle. Peanuts are crushed (smashed or shattered) then mixed with sugar and formed into bars. It was a traditional home-made candy in earlier times in Brazil, but now it's usually commercially made and sold in corner markets, candy shops and by streetside vendors.

paçoca with peanuts
In the next posts on Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish recipes for both versions of  - readers can try them both out and find out which they prefer. And if you should find your self in Brazil one day, remember what region you're in when you ask for paçoca. You could be in for a unwanted surprise if your in the wrong part of the country.

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