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Brazilian Cuisine - Breaking Down the Stereotypes

It's not just about rice and beans

By Erin Wild
Published on LatinoLA: June 1, 2007

Brazilian Cuisine - Breaking Down the Stereotypes

Brazil - a country full of beauty, from the beaches to the mountains, from the cities to the towns and villages. It makes one wonder how such a stunningly gorgeous country could be passed up by many journey-bound travelers, especially a country so rich in history in not only its cities and people, but also in its eclectic cuisines. The food is unique because it is a mixture of the different cultures and nationalities brought over by immigrants from such countries as Italy and Spain. However, it was the Portuguese, Africans and native Indians who had the biggest influence on traditional Brazilian cuisine.

The first and foremost cuisine influence comes from the Portuguese, who adapted a variety of North African cooking traditions. These include coffee, dried fruits and pastries. The Portuguese brought their newfound cuisine influences with them when they colonized Brazil during the 16th century, however, because of differences in local ingredients, Portuguese cuisine was adapted to fit in with whatever was on hand. The largest single influence came with the African slaves, who were brought to Brazil to work in the sugar cane fields: dende (palm oil), peppers, coconut milk, staples of the African diet, became established on the Brazilian palate and plate.

Aside from the staple-foods, one may discover different flavours and foods depending upon where their travels may take them. In the Northern region, a traveler may taste a dish called Caruru do Par: a one-pot meal made of dried shrimp, okra, onion, tomato, cilantro, and dende oil. This region is heavily influenced by the native Indians where the Amazon River flows wildly.

In the Northeast, shellfish, seafood and tropical fruits are widely found on the tables of restaurants and Brazilian kitchens. More inland, a traveler may find dried meats, rice, beans, goat, manioc and corn meal. In the Central-West region, fish, beef and pork are readily available as this is the region where the famous Pantanal is located. Take a trip to the Southwestern region, and there you will find a simmered meat and bean dish found around Rio and San Paulo. This dish, known as feijoada completa (pictured), can be found on the restaurant menus any day of the week.

In Sao Paolo you will find cuisine influenced by the North European immigrants, especially the Italians, Spanish and Portuguese. In the Southern region, the cowboy-influenced cuisines include sun or salt dried meats, and churrasco, a meal of wood-fire grilled fresh meats. Immigrants to this region include Germans and middle Europeans, whose influences include wine, leafy vegetables and dairy products.

What is most common across the country is the warm, laid-back attitude the hungry traveler will find. Whether your travels take you to a far-off section of the rain forest or into the busy streets of a major city, you will find beautiful people local to the region willing to share with you their passion for food, laughter, and life.

About Erin Wild:
Erin is a freelance writer and poet. Erin is the developer and maintainer of She also enjoys traveling, gardening, cooking, and listening to live local music. She currently lives in the SF Bay Area.

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