Cuisine Spotlight – Feijoada

Feijoada: The National dish of Brazil. It is delicious, fulfilling, savory, and tasty. There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe this scrumptious plate of goodness. While also prepared in other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world such as Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, Brazilian Feijoada is more than just beans and pork. It has a little bit of everything to make it a unique dish that has protein, carbs, and even sugar to satisfy one’s taste buds. The Brazilian Feijoada was born in Recife and developed in Rio de Janeiro but has now spread across the entire country reflecting its status as a beloved national dish.

From Salvador to Sao Paulo and from Recife to Rio, every Thursday and/or Saturday, the hearty Feijoada dish is prepared for families and friends to enjoy together. While there is some variation in terms of what is to be offered on your plate, you can definitely expect to find a big clay pot bubbling with black beans, different pork and beef parts including oxtail and tripe, as well as tongue perhaps. In the Northeast of the country, the clay pot can also include different vegetables such as kale, potatoes, okra, carrots, etc.

The side dishes can vary across the country, but it is quite common to serve couve, a kind of collard greens dish that is chopped up and stir fried adding to its overall flavor. You also can have chicken steak with fried yucca (mandioca) as well as fried plantains (bananas) as a kind of dessert or sweet tooth necessity if you still have room. To mix with the black beans and the couve, you also have cooked white rice, which is nicely mixed together with the meats as well to create a beautiful plate of both Brazilian history and culture.

To clean your palate afterwards, some fresh orange slices can also be added to the plates offered in order to help with digestion. Beforehand, usually, you will be offered a cup of savory black bean broth, kind of like the soup, to slurp down ahead of the feijoada, which can also be added to the dish if you so choose to. Of course, you have baked pieces of bread as well that can soak up the juices and the broth to add on to an already gigantic plate of heavenly food.

What you need to keep in mind about Feijoada before diving in is that you need to eat it on an empty stomach and to clear your schedule for the day because chances are good that you will need a nap and a glass of water after diving in. For those of you who get the ‘meat sweats’, it’s good to take your time and eat slowly. The Feijoada dish is very heavy so it’s good to relax, have a beer or caipirinha, talk with your friends, and make sure you pace yourself since you will be likely not to do anything else for the rest of the day.

This is not a national dish for vegetarians and Brazil is not the easiest country to be a vegetarian in. You can have Feijoada without the pork parts and the beef stew, but it is really not the same in my opinion. Vegetarians can join in on this delicious dish, but they are definitely not getting the same experience as meat lovers sadly enough. I do love that Feijoada is only offered once or twice per week showing that it’s kind of a national pastime to have it specifically on a Saturday and then you can take the rest of the weekend off as you will probably need to after gaining a few pounds or kilograms.

You can have Feijoada for lunch or for dinner, but it usually is only eaten one day a week. The only thing you should really plan to do after eating Feijoada is perhaps watching the big football match of the weekend and perhaps relaxing with a few glasses of water. You can compare it to the Colombian dish of Bandeja Paisa in a way, but the amount of different foods represented in Feijoada is definitely impossible to beat. You could compare it to the ‘soul food’ cuisine of the Southern United States but there’s still no dish from the American South that quite compares to Feijoada. Similar to the traditions of ‘soul food’, there is a complicated and rough history behind the beginnings of Feijoada which just goes to show how resilient people in very difficult situations regarding food can make a beautiful, tasty dish out of almost nothing or the scraps made available to them on purpose. In order to really know Feijoada, it’s important to dive into the history of the dish as well and what exactly makes it unique to Brazil.

From what I have learned, the origins of Feijoada are up for date but since this kind of stew with pork and beans was quite popular among European settlers, it can be inferred that it was brought over by the Portuguese during the colonization period. However, it seems that the dish was expanded upon by the slaves in Brazil who would add other ingredients such as the couve, the arroz (rice), and the mandioca as these were other foods available to them. Gathering all of these foods together and putting them as a mixture on a big plate would be a hearty yet simple meal to have when it came time to preparing it before or after a long day of work in the fields or farms. While slaves were restricted to rice and beans, special occasions such as holidays allowed them to get different pork parts or beef parts considered less desirable by their masters and to throw them together in a stew to help them feed themselves and get more protein as they worked in the kitchens. From the kitchens to the fields to the cities, Feijoada has earned its status as the national dish of Brazil.

Feijoada is very much a creative and improvisational dish where you have to do the best you can with what you have and put it all together when you don’t have much time to prepare a flashier meal. What Feijoada lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for it in the sheer number of flavors and food groups the dish makes up. Between the rice and beans, the meats, the greens, and the after-meal delight of an orange slice or a shot or two of cachaça and you will definitely be satisfied with one of the greatest meals you could ever have in Brazil.

Santo Antonia de Lisboa

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Santo Antonio de Lisboa; Florianopolis, Brazil 

Pinacoteca Museum

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; São Paulo, Brazil

Independence Park at Ipiranga

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Independence Park; Ipiranga, São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

Cultural Spotlight – Acai

Acai is my favorite thing about Brazil. It is difficult to choose a favorite thing here, but it is the first item on the list that comes to mind. Something so tasty and so nutritious is definitely worthy of my #1 spot. Difficult to find outside of the country and definitely not of the same flavor, taste or variety, Acai is a unique treat that Brazil is rightly known for. Whether it’s made into ice cream, a shake, a juice, or even yogurt, Acai is healthy for you and full of antioxidants. In addition, it really is a kind of superfood that boost your energy levels once you taste it and finish your fill.

If you are having an off day which happens sometimes, you may want to drop the coffee and put down the red bull and make a nice acai juice instead. You are likely to be glad you did. That extra energy boost can give you hours of extra productivity and even added focus allowing you to do your work better and faster. Be careful not to each too much acai as it is full of calories but if you want to substitute a meal like breakfast or lunch, having acai instead may not be the worst option to consider.

The acai berries come from the acai palm tree. The berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. The acai palm tree is mainly found in the Amazonian region of both Brazil and Peru and has been a staple food in those areas since the 18th century. I would say that the fruit has gained popularity not only in urban cities within Brazil recently but even internationally as demand for the delicious superfood has skyrocketed due to the variety of health benefits.

The acai palm is usually harvested twice a year between January and June and then August and December making it more readily available than other Amazonian fruits. Acai has been part of the Amazon River for centuries and wasn’t only just used for food. Its other uses include a type of cooking oil or for salad dressing as well as being used for certain cosmetics or for grain alcohol or dietary supplements. The palm tree that acai comes from has been also used for hats, baskets, brooms, roof thatch for homes from the leaves of the tree and the wood trunk.

While its health benefits are not clearly known, it has a higher level of antioxidants than other fruits such as oranges, apples or cranberries. One bowl of acai with granola or a fruit like a banana is more than just a snack but rather a full meal that can pack up to 550 calories. What is definitely known about acai is that it has a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium content. Part of the reason why Acai can give you a boost of energy is that it is full of nutrients that we need to have each and every day.

Acai may not have the best taste even if it does contain sugar, but it tastes like something that really is of the Earth and can be drank or consumed naturally without any harmful additives. You can tell from the first time you taste it how unique a flavor it has and to feel the energy it gives you just a few minutes after you have the first bite or the first sip. I would not have acai every day but compared to coffee, tea, or other energy boosting products, this one may be the healthiest for you.

Acai does not have a lot of sugar when it is eaten naturally and is high in fats which is good for the body especially after you’ve been hitting the gym or playing a sport for an hour or two. If you need to replenish your calorie intake and to do so in a healthy way, acai may be one of the best options out there. If you can mash up acai fruit into a pulp, you may be able to get the most antioxidants out of consumption compared to a watered-down juice. The antioxidant content of acai can help someone by neutralizing the negative effects of ‘free radicals’, which to those who don’t know are uneven or unstable atoms that damage cells and cause illnesses and/or premature aging.

Having acai and other superfoods in terms of daily or weekly intake may help in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments. Acai can also lower a person’s blood cholesterol level although more research is needed from what I have been reading. The plant compounds that are active in Acai can also assist in improving memory and boosting brain function partially because the antioxidant content can counter inflammation of these parts of the body and provide further clean-up of toxic cells that no longer function well.

While not a perfect snack, the high level of fats, proteins, and vitamins as well as active antioxidants can make acai a good choice especially when you are in Brazil for a visit or a longer stay. I would just be aware of the sugar content and to be aware if there are any other ingredients which could diminish the nutritious content. Acai berries do not last very long so many people have to eat acai after it’s been watered-down or sugared-up as opposed to its natural form. If you can have an acai puree or pulp instead of a smoothie or an ice cream bowl, that may be the best option if you can’t get it directly from the Amazon.

Acai is a flexible kind of food so you can always add more nuts and berries to it or even other ice cream, but you have to watch carefully to make sure you are making the food more nutritious and not full of sugar. Due to its healthy content of fats, fiber, protein, and vitamins, you would not go wrong if you find yourself in Brazil and want to try one of its greatest natural resources, the acai berry. You will be glad you gave it a try and may want your friends to try it too.

Downtown São Paulo

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Downtown São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Tulum

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico