Before I dive more deeply into cooking Brazilian food and learning about the different ways to cook the traditional dishes of Brazil, I want to tell you a little bit about where the Brazilian cuisine comes from. Brazil is a large country, approximately 8,515,767 km² and has a population of approximately 200 million people. Brazil is the largest country in South America, and remember, they speak portuguese, not spanish. Brazil is a country that is built up of immigrants, every Brazilian has a mixed heritage. The diverse population of Brazil with many different cultural influences, Italians, Germans, Japanese, and Africans alike have all had a distinct impact on the cuisine of Brazil.
Brazil can be divided into four main regions, each with a distinct cultural heritage and cuisine. The north of Brazil, which consists primarily of the Amazon, has a population made-up of indigenous tribes and people of mixed Indian and Portuguese ancestry. The main foods that can be found in the north of Brazil are fish, manioc, yams, peanuts, and a mix of tropical fruits. The northeastern region of Brazil, best known for the cuisine of Bahia has its influential roots in African and Portuguese cuisine. Central ingredients to Bahian cuisine are coconut milk, palm oil, and malagueta chili peppers. In the south of Brazil a larger mix of cultures is visible, immigrants from Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain boast a rich variety of foods. Finally, the southeastern region of Brazil has a large influence from the gaucho, the cowboys of the pampas. In the south they like meat and are famous for their churrasco; barbecue.
Many different foods abound throughout Brazil, but staple foods can be found throughout the country: beans, coconuts, dende oil (red palm oil), dried and salted codfish, dried shrimp, rice, and manioc. Rice and beans are a staple food that is found in every home and is served at almost every meal. (If you don’t like beans, no need to worry, you will not be forced to eat them. It took me many years to enjoy eating beans and I am still not the most avid bean eater!)
Brazilian cuisine revolves heavily around meat. It is easy to say that Brazilians LOVE their meat. It is difficult to have a meal that does not consist of some type of meat while in Brazil. When having a celebratory meal, such as for Christmas, you can expect to be greeted with ham, turkey, and fish; there is never just one type of meat on the table. You will never leave someones house hungry in Brazil.
Besides a heavy diet of meat and starches, Brazil has an amazing abundance of fruits and vegetables. Walking into a grocery store or visiting the local street market you will soon learn that there is no such thing as one variety of fruit. Bananas come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, oranges are small, large, sweet, or watery, there are normal looking fruit and odd looking fruit. In Brazil, I am always learning about a new and different fruit that I have never seen or even heard of. Surviving off of fruit and vegetables is easy here!
Food shopping is an enjoyable chore in Brazil. The choices of where to go and what to shop for is endless. Everyday there is a street market, with time you learn where the street markets are, and which are the good ones. The local market where I do shopping and my mother-in-law and friends go to has an abundance of different foods. To read more about the Brazilian shopping experience read a recent post from a fellow blogger in Rio.