the appetizer:

Brazil's culinary influences include not only Amerindian and Portuguese foods, but the cooking styles of immigrants from many other parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Each of the country's five geographic regions offer cuisines that are distinctly different yet recognizably Brazilian.

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Perhaps Brazil's greatest treasure is her bounty of fruits. Many varieties of tropical fruit are not cultivated but grow freely in the wetland areas or in the uplands. Some are palm fruits. Even today, some of these exotic fruits are only known in the region in which they grow. To the tourist, the sheer variety of new and unusual types can be an overwhelming experience. A beverage made from the fruit called guarana is the nation's favorite.

An assortment of amazing fish tempt the palate. Menus in the north feature the mammoth pirarucu, whose delicious flesh is quite meaty, almost like chicken; and the tasty tambaqui, a fruit and seed-eating fish equipped with powerful, molar-like teeth adapted for crushing its food. Other notable fish are the salmon-like dourado in the center-west and the tucunare, the beautifully-colored peacock bass.

Meat reigns in the south. One must experience the popular churrasco, a showy orgy featuring grilled meats of all kinds. In certain restaurants, it is served rodizio style, on skewers from which select pieces are chosen in an all-you-can-eat setting. In the southeast, the Cariocas (inhabitants of the city of Rio de Janeiro) have adopted it as a specialty of their own. For pork, the southeast features delicious roast suckling pig and cracklings of fried pork skin.

Vegetables and edible tubers abound, but leafy green vegetables lag in popularity. Menus feature yams, sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, beans and peanuts, to name a few. A hot, red pepper named malagueta is one of three characteristic ingredients of Bahian cookery in the northeast. The other two are coconut milk and a palm oil called dende. Manioc (cassava), however, is the main staple, both as a vegetable and as a condiment.

In the breads and rolls category, an outstanding entry is pao de queijo, cheese rolls made with tapioca starch and grated cheese. They are especially popular in the center-west, southeast and south.

A rich Portuguese heritage is evident in desserts characterized by lavish use of eggs and sugar. The slaves in the colonial sugar plantation mansions often modified them by adding indigenous ingredients. A representative confection is the irresistible egg and grated coconut upside-down dessert knows as quindim.

There is an infinite variety of fruit juices. Try them all, and if you like, mix in some Brazilian brandy, or cachaca, made from sugar cane to make a batida. If you mix some crushed lemon, they're small, green and tart like our limes, you have the caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail.


From Eat Smart In Brazil. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Ginkgo Press.


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This page modified January 2007