Thursday, February 14, 2013

Surviving Carnaval

It can be done. Surviving the four-day onslaught of music, dancing, drinking and eating that is Brazil's Carnaval is possible. In fact, Flavors of Brazil has just done so, successfully, for the seventh time - twice in Salvador (home to Brazil's largest Carnaval), twice in Rio de Janeiro (famous for it's epically spectacular samba parades), and now three times in Recife/Olinda (known as the country's most traditional celebration). It's all a matter of judiciously expending the body's caloric and energetic resources. Go all out by all means, but don't go all out all the time - it just can't be done. Carnaval goes on non-stop for at least 96 hours, and no one, no matter how much Red Bull they drink, can do the same.

For a very short look at what Carnaval looks like at street level and at full intensity, watch this video that we made last Sunday in Olinda. The video shows one of the city's many blocos (Carnaval bands) passing by, with a singer atop a make-do sound truck pulled through the streets by the band's strongest members, and with the group's multitude of fan following along behind, singing and dancing in time to the Carnaval music.
We'll return to our normal, more culinarily  focused, posts starting on Monday, Feb. 18.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Carnaval Battery is Almost Charged

Today's the day before the official start of Brazil's four-day orgy of drinking, dancing and, well, just plain orgy-ing, called Carnaval. Always held on the four days before the beginning of Lent, Carnaval 2013 begins on Saturday this week and will culminate next Tuesday, February 12. The Monday and Tuesday of Carnaval are national holidays in Brazil (as is the morning of Ash Wednesday, the day of Brazil's massive national hangover), but many Brazilians begin celebrating as early as a week before Carnaval and some activities continue for the first few days after the official end of the celebration.

Probably every place in Brazil, large and small, has at least some sort of Carnaval celebration, but the huge city-wide parties that go on for days which has made Brazilian Carnaval known around the world, really only happens in three large cities - Rio de Janeiro, with its all-night samba parades showcasing competing schools of samba, Salvador, whose Carnaval is known as the world's largest street celebration and where millions of people throng the streets to see Brazil's most famous singers and musicians whip the crowd into a frenzy, and Recife, where Carnaval takes place in two locations - the city center and in the nearby historic small town of Olinda.

What fuels all that Brazilian Carnaval energy? How to Carnaval-goers sustain themselves for four days and nights of music, dancing and celebrating? What do Brazilians eat and drink during Carnaval? The answer to the drinking question is easy - beer. Brazilians overwhelmingly keep themselves hydrated with beer, though sodas, waters, juices and other alcoholic drinks are always available. But it's beer for most Brazilians, and it's not by chance the the giant beer breweries are major Carnaval sponsors. In the four days of Carnaval Brazilians consume about 400 million liters (or quarts) of beer - about a million a day. That's nearly 5% of the yearly total consumption for the country.
Recife's Galo da Madrugada (Rooster of Dawn), the symbol of the city's Carnaval

Food occupies a second place to drink in Carnaval culture. People have to eat, obviously, and have to eat more when dancing all day and all night on streets and sidewalks. But food isn't the focus during this time of year. People who are are out celebrating are more likely to buy a hot dog or popcorn from a street vendor just to keep going than they are to search out a good meal. In the big Carnaval cities, most restaurants, particularly upmarket ones, are closed. People eat what's cheap, filling and nearby.

This year, Flavors of Brazil will be celebrating Carnaval in Recife, our favorite Carnaval city. When the dust settles next week, on Ash Wednesday or shortly thereafter, we'll report back here at the blog.

Happy Carnaval, everyone! (Bom Carnaval, todo mundo!)