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.
When the Portuguese arrived in the early 1500s, the main staple of the natives was manioc, a carbohydrate-rich food that is easy to propagate but difficult to process, at least for the bitter variety, which is poisonous when raw.
It is astonishing that the Indians determined these tubers were edible at all. To be detoxified, tubers had to be peeled and grated and the pulp put into long, supple cylinders, called tipitis, made of woven plant fibers. Each tube was then hung with a heavy weight at the bottom, which compressed the pulp and expressed the poisonous juice.
The pulp could then be removed, washed and roasted, rendering it safe to eat. The product was a coarse meal or flour known as farinha de mandioca (manioc meal), which is as basic to the diet of Brazilians today as it was to the early Indians. It is a ubiquitous tabletop condiment.
Starch settling out from the extracted juice was heated on a flat surface, causing individual starch grains to pop open and clump together into small, round granules called tapioca. The extracted juice, boiled down to remove the poison, was used as the basis of the sauce known as tucupi.
The non-poisonous tubers of sweet manioc, which are somewhat fibrous but considerably easier to prepare; are pared, boiled for several hours to soften them and eaten like potatoes. Strips of manioc are also deep-fried and eaten like French fries.
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This page modified January 2007
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