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Brazilian Cuisine: Contrasting Flavours


Brazilian cuisine is a peculiar mix of cultures and cooking habits which are a result of the unique history of the country as a melting pot of people with diverse origins. Known for intense flavours, it varies from region to region, though pork, seafood, and poultry remain the main ingredients. Indian and Brazilian cuisines share certain similarities, yet each has its own character.

The cuisine is known for its intense and contrasting flavours. Although its main ingredients are meat, pork, seafood, and poultry, vegetarian people do not face any difficulty in finding dishes of their choice. A typical Brazilian meal has meat-made traditional dishes along with pizzas, pastas, salads, and the occasional Baiano specialty. Popular appetizers include sopas (soups) and savory pastries which are commonly served at lanchonetes (snack bars). Steel fork and knife are used for eating open sandwiches, chicken, beef, etc. Feijoada, the country’s national dish, makes for a heavy meal since it includes beans, pork, ham hocks, pepperoni, beef ribs, bacon, onions, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper. It is usually served with rice.

Brazil is divided into many regions – from the Amazon in the north to the plantations lying at its centre and the fertile grasslands of the south – with each having its own style of cuisine. The cuisine of the coastal states is influenced by the culture introduced by the African slaves. Northern Brazil – inhabited by American Indians and people of the Portuguese descent – has its own style of cooking. The cuisine of Southern Brazil, on the other hand, is influenced by Italian and German cultures as a large chunk of population in the area traces its origins to these countries. The people of the south really know how to make wines and grow leafy vegetables, which comprise the main ingredients of their dishes. Many famous dishes of Brazil are heavily influenced by the cuisines of American-Indians, Africans, and the Portuguese.

The Brazilian food revolves around three things: white rice, black beans, and flour. These are generally eaten with red meat, chicken, or fish. Other common ingredients include pork, steak, coconut milk, palm oil, cassava, toasted cassava crumbs, cheese, okra, squash, tomatoes, pine nuts, yams, acai, hog plum, peanuts, tapioca, and chourico (a spicy sausage).

In Southern Brazil, meat is used in most of the preparations. Barreado – a slow cooked meat stew – is commonly eaten. South-eastern Brazil is the home to some of the most popular Brazilian dishes such as the feijoada. The gastronomy of this region is characterised by using maize, rice, fish, beans, eggs, and tomatoes, among other ingredients.

People in Northern Brazil commonly use manioc (cassava), fish, and tropical fruits in cooking, while in the north-eastern areas, rice, tropical fruits, beans, and onions are the main ingredients. Beef, pork, rice, manioc, fish, and beans are popular in areas of Central Brazil.

Brazilian chefs have been doing fusion cooking for centuries. Local ingredients and Native American cooking methods are mixed with African techniques and traditional Portuguese recipes. The most common cooking style is churrasco, which was developed in South Brazil. In this, pieces of beef, chicken, pork, and fish are seasoned and barbecued on skewers over open fire pits. Once perfectly cooked, these are then carved by the knife-wielding passadors (waiters) at the customer’s table. Meats and seafood are complimented with grilled seasonal vegetables along with the chef’s selection of condiments.

Braising, stewing, frying, baking, and grilling are also common in Brazil. Snacks are commonly fried. Seafood is usually grilled or baked with potatoes. Grilled meats are served with fried bananas and pork ends, ham, peas and matchstick potatoes, Greek rice mixed with vegetables, raisins, and ham, sausage, fried eggs, kale, and cheesy rice.

Globalisation and economic development are propelling the growth of foreign cuisines in India. International food chains are ready to extend their culinary business in the country. Due to a considerable increase in their world travels, Indians are now subjected to different international cuisines. No wonder then that Brazilian dishes are the favourite with corporate executives, expats, well-travelled Indians, diplomats, in-house guests and the movers and shakers of the Indian society.

Sourcing of fresh vegetables, herbs, and leaves is not a problem in India since these are abundantly available. Meats are generally imported – lamb from New Zealand, duck from France, and pork products from Holland. However, there are challenges in terms of availability of all ingredients required for Brazilian dishes, such as the cassava flour. Importing these items is very tedious.

Training Indian chefs for Brazilian cuisine is another challenge. It is vital to have a specialist master chef who keeps a stringent control on the quality of raw materials and makes any dish tasty and flavourful. Regular on-the-job training about various aspects of the food production cycle needs to be given to chefs to ensure consistency. Standard recipes have to be prepared and broken down into little tasks to make them user-friendly.

The success of any Brazilian restaurant in India depends on innovation, integration, and marketing. Those who want to establish these in the country should offer an artistically served meal having a mix of aroma, texture, and flavour, rather than focussing on taste alone. There are Brazilian-food eating joints doing well in malls, hotels and stand-alone properties. The USP of any restaurant makes it successful, be it food, style, service, or price point. Targeting the right set of consumers is the biggest factor in making a restaurant popular. It is important to have customers who not only spend on food but also talk about it.