Saturday, February 04, 2006

Brazilian Cuisine

Brazilian Cuisine is not what I expected. Not that I did a lot of research before arriving here in the world's fifth-largest country (I prefer to preserve the suspense and also couldn't be arsed). But even if I had done my homework I wouldn't have been prepared.

Generally, countries which don't have a particularly strong indigenous cuisine are taken care of by the Chinese, the Italians and (perhaps to a lesser extent) the Indians. The better the local fare, the fewer imports and vice versa. Being somewhat renowned for its bland national dishes, England benefits from the best the rest of the world has to offer, anglicised to taste. On the other hand, Greece has wonderful food, so Peking Duck and Chicken Tikkas are thinner on the ground, but a Pizza Quatro Staggioni is never too far away.

Thailand, and particularly Chiang Mai, struck us as the exception which proves this rule. There, not only are the local dishes varied, fresh, delicious, plentiful and cheap, but you can get pizza, pasta, chinese, Mexican and anything else your tastebuds crave, often all from the same restaurant, and invariably perfectly cooked. They are culinary geniuses in Chiang Mai, where it is seemingly impossible to get a less-than-excellent meal.

Brazil, on the other hand, does not appear to have much in the way of local cuisine. Sticking big chunks of meat on a barbeque is a Brazilian tradition, but not a particularly unique one (although the meat is generally excellent). Other than that, the only specially Brazillian food I can think of is Manioc sauce, which Sonia and I refer to as maniac sauce by reference to the level of mental disfunction required to order it more than once.

Having established that their home-grown recipes are rubbish, you would expect the normal tides of immigration to sort things out for Brazil. Not so. Whilst Italian restaurants are plentiful, the Brazilians insist on attempting to cook Italian dishes themselves, rather than leaving it to actual Italians like the rest of the world does. They are so bad at it that Pizza Hut is considered a gourmet restaurant here, and Jamie Oliver is probably already working on an exposé documentary in the interests of world health.

Despite having lived in England all my life, the worst meal I've ever had in a restaurant was a Brazilian pasta at the Lord Manaus Hotel in Manaus. It consisted of just dry spaghetti sprinkled with the charred remains of what was advertised as garlic. The pungent aroma of burnt garlic made me cough involuntarily and almost gag. Meanwhile Sonia was eating the worst meal she's ever had in her life, which was just spaghetti with putrid-smelling prawns mashed into a rancid tomato sauce. As she was upwind of my foul-smelling dish, Sonia foolishly assumed that it couldn't possibly be worse than hers and suggested a swap. Hoping for some relief from my bottle of Brazilian beer, I was disappointed to discover that it was frozen solid.

Bizarrely, apart from steaks which are always cooked very well, the only decent food we've had in Brazil has been Sushi. I would never have even guessed that Sushi would be available here, but it seems very popular. The explanation seems to be that any meal with two or less ingredients is generally fine, but any more than that is risky. A barbequed steak only has one ingredient, so it's fine. Similarly Sashimi. Sushi only has fish and rice, so is no problem. But once you get something as complicated as a pizza, which requires at least a base, cheese and tomato, things go downhill. I had one pizza which had a base and cheese but no tomato, and even saw a man eating a 'pizza' from a metal plate which had cheese and tomato but lacked a base!

The other confusing thing about Brazilian food is that the portions feed between one and six people, with traditionally no clues given as to which it will be. We took to ordering one item between us, and ordering another once it arrived if we got a one-man portion. The only problem with this is that it takes so long for the Brazilians to cook their food that when time is limited, for example on a tortuous 12 hour flight with the truly appalling (and bankrupt) Varig airline, you have to make do with a series of spam sandwiches.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's wrong with the delightfull sandwiches of Varig;-)?
PS They upgraded us to businessclass on our way back, so no complaints out of my mouth..

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read plenty of your blogs, and i am convinced that you rarely have something positive to say... You have to understand that some opinions are ridiculous to give! Like the one of the food. So what if someone like dry pasta? I personally dont, but dont condemm people that do. In order to absorb the cultures you interact with, you need to learn to respect them and NOT COMPARE THEM. No1 will ever make pasta like the Italians or creme brulee like the French. GET OVER IT and learn to respect other countries, as well as embrace their differences- Besides- WHAT MORON ORDER ITALIAN IN MANAUS ANYWAY?

9:18 PM  
Blogger Harsh said...

It's called Humour. Thanks for having something positive to say!

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really don't know anything about Brazilian cuisine and as far as I can tell wasn't able to find local Brazilian dishes which are totally wonderful. If you visited the northeast and tasted some of the local dishes mainly seafood dishes I'm sure your comments would be totatlly different. ANd as far as pizza goes, Brazilians do not like Pizza Hut or any of the American pizza places and the pizzas are great as long as you know where to eat. Maybe some homework would've been good that way you'd know what to look for and I'm sure your opinion would've been different. Did you at least try Bobo de Camarao, Bacalhao, Peixada, Feijoada???

9:13 PM  
Blogger Harsh said...

Sounds like you ought to post your email so I can call next time we're in Brazil for a recommendation. People might get the same impression ordering from random restaurants in the UK without doing their homework, and frequently do - England has an awful reputation for food. That's undeserved in comparison with Brazil from my personal experience, which is all I have to go on, but I have an open mind and am always willing (and hoping) to be proved wrong when I've had a bad experience.
Stay passionate,

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that you've lost the best restaurants in Sao Paulo and Rio. It seems also that you didn´t prove any typical Brazilian dishes. Someone mentioned fishes and shrimps done in the Northeast coast restaurants? You need to do more research before saying Pizza Hut is preferred over traditional pizzarias. By the way when Italians come to Sao Paulo they´re unanimous to say it's one of the best. Every single Brazilian State has their own dishes. Have you tried feijoada, pirao, carne seca, cozinha mineira, picanha, galinhada, Brazilian lasagna or risotos? If not, you're not able to write about cousine but about restaurants. Different things, see?

4:39 AM  
Blogger Harsh said...

Fair point - I didn't sample extensively from the different regions. It's just that for the month we were in Brazil, almost everything we ate compared very unfavourably with everything else I've eaten in the last 31 years.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Fabio said...

Not surprised after reading some of your posts, even coming from and English totally convinced about the crap British cuisine. Looking for chips in Salvador, having pasta in Manaus, for me you seem the typical English native tourist, unable to communicate in any other language and expecting to find exactly the same behavior all around the world...may be you should buy travel packages to summer resorts instead of trying to explore places that are over your capacity of handling. Next time - and not only in Brazil - try to find locals to share some real experiences.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks harsh

I really had a good laugh (still laughing) at your food critique.

Seems you've pee'd a few natives off, but I really enjoyied the humour. I could really feel your astoundment and bewilderment.

Great narrative.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow so I'm pretty sure you are a sad little man that expects to find the same stuff everywhere but I mean the world isn't for everyone.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:22 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home