Cuisine Spotlight – Pão de Queijo

“Brazilian cheese bread or ‘Pao de queijo’ is a delicious snack that is truly delightful to have whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or even at night.”

Brazilian cheese bread or ‘Pao de queijo’ is a delicious snack that is truly delightful to have whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or even at night. While often served as part of a traditional Brazilian breakfast (café da manha), you can have it as an appetizer, a snack, or even as a side dish with some meals depending on your preference. I do believe it is best served with come coffee or tea to wash down the bread. It really is a traditional Brazilian staple with interesting ingredients as well as a deep and culturally rich history to go with this practical dish. You should be aware though that it is hard to have just one of the cheese bread pieces and it is likely you will eat six or seven in one try.

While there are various forms of cheese bread, the Brazilian ‘pao de queijo’ is perhaps the most famous in the world and for which has the longest history. Originally from the state of Minas Gerais, ‘pao de queijo originates back to the early 18th century when many enslaved African people who worked in the local mines would make the bread as a staple food while migrating from the Northeast of Brazil to the Southeast such as the historical city of Ouro Preto in the modern-day state of Minas Gerais.

The mining cycle and lifestyle caused staple food production to increase such as for rice, beans, cornmeal, pork, but also cheese. In Minas Gerais, farmers and cooks would use starch or cassava as a substitute for wheat to bake as a wheat substitute for form the bread for the cheese. With cheese chips or pieces mixed into the cassava or starch, the cheese bread would be made for the farmers by the slaves or for themselves as miners as they mined for gold in the colonial era.

Wheat never took hold in terms of forming the bread needed especially since the climate was not suitable for Northeast Brazil, which was instead imported from Europe later on for the King and his royal adherents. Instead, cassava tuber was used as a substitute in making ‘pao de queijo’ as a staple food. The cheese would be grated and hardened inside the cassava flour and rise after being baked in the oven to become the popular cheese bread food it is today across Brazil.

Today, there are many different variations on ‘pao de queijo’ making it a fun dish to make depending upon your preference of starch, of cheese, and of temperature to bake it at. You can use both sweet or sour starch or cassava as is traditionally done. You also can choose from different types of cheeses as well from mozzarella to parmesan to cheese which is native to the state of Minas Gerais and has its own unique flavor. Adding egg to the recipe also adds flavor and needed color to the final product as well. Also, as an option, you can smear a bit of fat whether it is butter, margarine, lard, or vegetable oil on the cheese bread to make it more elastic and stretchable to eat pieces of at a time.

Some recipes can add meat inside with the cheese or potato as well although I confess that this kind of ‘pao de queijo’ is not that popular. I think it is important to keep in mind that the cheese can also be pre-boiled to add to its overall flour before baking too although it is not necessary. As for the cheese, it is good to use the traditional ‘Minas’ cheese if you’re in Brazil but if you don’t have it available, mozzarella or parmesan are good substitute options to have.

You cannot have ‘pao de queijo’ without having the texture down, so you need to have the cassava starch as part of the main ingredients. The balls need to be an inch or two (3-5 cm in diameter) and need to be in that form before you bake them. Unlike other cheese breads, you are using unleavened bread for this snack dish so the dough will expand due to small pockets of air that are left to grow during the baking process. Tapioca starch is also used for the ‘pao de queijo’ as well and it is quite common to add dipping sauces or additions like catupiry (Brazilian cream cheese), Guava sauce, dulce de leche (caramel sauce) as well to have as a dessert.

When you come to Brazil, you will find this popular snack almost everywhere including convenience stores, delicatessens, restaurants, snack bars, etc. The locals will encourage to at least have a few of them and sometimes up to eight or ten. It is the perfect snack to have with friends, with family, or over a coffee with a new acquaintance. A simple yet delicious staple food of Brazilian cuisine: You haven’t experienced all of Brazil until you have had a bite of ‘pao de queijo.’

Cuisine Spotlight – Arepa

You can’t come to South America, especially Colombia, Venezuela, and even Panama without trying the local cuisine staple of the Arepa. The Arepa may be the most popular food to try and there is a lot of variety to this food, which makes it quite popular to eat. In countries such as Colombia or Venezuela, Arepas are eaten on a daily basis and are usually served with breakfast but they can also be served with lunch or dinner depending on the consumer’s preferences. Arepas can also be found in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, etc. where they are less popular but still part of the local cuisine.

When compared to other Latin America staple foods, the Arepa is most similar to the Mexican gordita and the Salvadoran pupusa. What would surprise most people to learn about the Arepa is that an indigenous group of people known as the Timoto-Cuica created this food to feed the two separate tribes of the Timoto and the Cuica on a daily basis. This indigenous group was based out of the Andean region of western Venezuela and was made up of thousands of people total who were apart of those two tribes.

There are many different types of Arepas and you can mix and match with different ingredients depending upon your own preferences. Usually though, the Arepa is most often made up of ground maize dough or cooked flour to form the basis of this food. Sometimes, you can also substitute flour for yellow cornmeal that is popular in the Santander region of Colombia in the north of the country. In terms of appearance, an Arepa will be flat, round, and unleavened although sometimes they can be served as leavened especially when they are made in the street stalls late at night.

One of the great things about Arepas is there are many different ways in which you can cook them. An Arepa can be baked, grilled, steamed, fried, or boiled. The color, size, thickness, and appearance of an Arepa can vary from country to country or from one region to another. Perhaps, most importantly, you can add any kind of ingredients to fill out your arepa as a delicious sandwich or a platter.

The options are nearly limitless in that you can put on or within your Arepa such as foods like eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, shrimp, salad, etc. You can also simply eat it without any additional ingredients too if you just want to have a simple arepa for breakfast. However, if it’s late at night and you have had a few adult beverages to drink earlier, you may want to have an arepa sandwich with a lot of toppings to fill you up.

In order to make Arepas yourself, you need to have a good amount of water and salt to mix with your flour along with some additional ingredients like cooking oil, butter, eggs, and milk. Then, you’ll need to form the dough and shape it so it fits into the form of an Arepa and afterwards you can put it on the grill or stove to start cooking. Arepas can only take a couple of minutes to prepare and cook so it’s one of those foods that you can make in great quantities without too much effort or skill. Still though, that is part of what makes the Arepa such a daily staple of the cuisine is that it is simple yet delicious and there is a lot of variety to it if you are able to put in some extra effort.

When it comes to Colombia, it is probably the most popular food in the country and you can find it in practically every region of the country. In addition, there are dozens of variations on the Arepa depending on where in the country you find yourself. Despite the differences between Medellin and Cartagena, Bogota and Bucaramanga, each of these cities prides itself on their Arepas and would like to claim that they have the best Arepas in Colombia. In the past, the Arepa has become a cultural symbol of Colombia and is sometimes served with every meal of the day regardless of the circumstances, which is often the case particularly in the Antioquia region of the country.

You can find Arepas in many different places whether it’s been pre-packaged at the grocery store or if it’s being freshly prepared by hand late at night at the local street stall in your neighborhood. Wherever you visit in Colombia, you’re likely to be only a stone’s throw away from the nearest restaurant or cafeteria that will be able to serve you a delicious Arepa.

The Arepa has become so popular in Colombia that there is an annual festival devoted to this cuisine staple called the ‘Colombian Arepa Festival’, which is celebrated in the major cities of Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellin, Cali, and Bucaramanga. The festival in each of these five cities usually takes place sometime in between the months of August to December. If you haven’t figured it out already, the Arepa has a long-standing region in South America especially in Colombia. If you can’t stop your mouth from watering, you may want to buy a plane ticket and try this food out for yourself. Be careful though because if you eat them everyday, you may end up gaining some extra weight.