If you were to travel and arrive in Brazil today, not knowing much about the food culture, chances are you would pick the city of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a city set on a world famous beach, surrounded by voluptuous mountains, a place where the sunsets are so breathtaking that people on the street are known to stop what they are doing just to look up and admire the beautiful sunset. But Brazil is so much more than Rio, especially when it comes to food. The regional cuisines of the north, northeast, central west, south, and southeast of this massive country are just as worthy of exploration, as each region has a personality of its own.
But despite the wild melting pot of cultures that fed the development of Brazilian cuisine, certain staple ingredients, dishes and techniques are common to the food in almost every region. Most significantly, the universal role that manioc or yucca plays in the food of Brazil is comparable to that of Rice in Japan, or even corn in the United States.
There are so many delicious dishes that we can explore in Brazil, but we will be focusing on the northern region. But Brazilian cuisine is so interesting that I encourage you to try out and explore other dishes that I won’t be covering.
The foods found in the northern region is greatly influenced by the native Indians who inhabited the land long before the Portuguese arrived in the 1600’s.
Rio de Janeiro is famous for Feijoada, one of the national dishes of Brazil. This dish emerged from the creativity of slaves who had to make due with little scraps of meat they were given. If you have no idea what Feijoada is, it is basically a black bean stew, similar to the French Cassoulet.
Perhaps the best known food product from this region is the açaí berry. I am sure you have heard of this cherry sized, violet colored fruit. If you go to a local juice bar in Rio, you will find it served in a sorbet like fashion after being blended with guaraná (a berry containing high levels of caffeine), and topped off with sliced bananas and granola.
The Brazilians sure know how to eat meat. Smoked, dried, and fresh sausage, leathery charque (sun dried jerky), pork, chicken, churrasco, Brazilian barbecue are served as large portions on skewers, but because of the vast water resources of the Amazon, it offers much more than that. Fish reigns supreme on the seashore and along the endless bends of the Amazon According to Brazilian food historian Pedro Cavalcanti in his 2007 book A Pátria nas Panelas: História e Receitas da Vozinha Brasilia, if you ever decided you wanted to taste a different Amazon caught fish every day, it would take you more than three years to accomplish this task. There are more than 1,200 species of fish. The locals even indulge in Piranha, whose head is considered an Aphrodisiac. So, if you are like me, and fish is your favorite, then the Amazon is the place to be.
The Brazilian dish I am sharing today is Moqueca de Camarao (Brazilian Shrimp Stew). Moqueca is a traditional Brazilian fish stew that is usually flavored with coconut milk, coriander, tomatoes, onion and garlic. It is usually red in color. This red color comes from Red Palm Oil or Dende which can be hard to find. Red Palm Oil is healthy and is loaded with Vitamin A. If you can find it, then you should definitely seek it out. I used olive oil in my version because I could not find any Red Palm Oil. If you want to try it with the traditional red palm oil you can easily find it on Amazon for around $10.
This Brazilian Shrimp Stew is so delicious, and so far is my favorite dish of Brazil that I have tried so far. There was only one problem with this dish. I accidentally allowed the coconut milk sauce to get too thick and didn’t look anything like it was supposed to. But it was still very good. So my advice for you is to watch your sauce and don’t allow it to get too thick.