People tend to create stereotypes about countries. For Brazil, the stereotypes revolve around its gorgeous beaches, wondrous cities, soccer, nightlife and music.
People assume that the center of Brazilian culture lies in its carnival celebrations or in the deep jungles of the Amazon. And true, all these contribute to the lure of Brazil, but after one month here, I find that the true heart and soul of this marvelous country is found at the dinner table. Brazilians have a particular pride when it comes to cooking and, as I was told, I try everything.
My host parents own a restaurant in Itajaí’s Pubic Fish Market, so I eat my fair share of seafood. I’ve had oysters, crab, shrimp, octopus, squid, salmon, filet and more, I’m sure. I’ve had fried calamari and shrimp, grilled salmon and fillet and octopus tentacles dipped in salsa and served in soup. I’ve even eaten whole squid stuffed with shrimp and baked with a cheesy sauce; personally I found the squid to be a little too chewy for my liking, but interesting nonetheless. Of all the seafood concoctions I’ve had, my favorite would have to be a salty and savory tomato and rice soup with crab legs in it. The crab legs still had their shells on them so I had to crack them with my teeth to get to the soft meat inside. Seafood is particularly important to my city because it is on the coast, but something that all of South America is famous for is its meat.
Oh, the meat! I have eaten so many kinds of meat here: including mutton, lamb, chicken, beef, sausages, pork and more. If I have learned anything about the meat here, it is to ask what I’m eating AFTER I eat it. One day, my host-mom served me a special type of beef. I ate it gladly, trying to ignore the odd tube-like structures embedded in it. Later when I asked what the meat was called, she pointed to her tongue and said, clearly, “Tongue of the Bull.” On another occasion I ate what I thought was sausage, but found out later that it was chicken hearts. Chicken hearts are a delicacy here in Brazil. They are grilled on skewers by the dozens, and are delicious!
Aside from meat, Brazil has a plethora of exotic fruits and vegetables from which to make juice. Juice in Brazil is prepared on demand with naturally grown fruit. My first experience with juice in Brazil was the day I arrived. My host parents made me fresh orange juice. Bits of the pulp were floating in the frothy, citrus mixture. With no extra sweeteners, the orange juice was tangy and sharp. I caught a little piece of the pulp between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and crushed it. To put it simply, the juice was incredible. Brazil has natural juices made from all kinds of fruits such as grape, apple, peach, mango, pineapple, my favorite, maracujá, and even avocado. I have had them all.
If anything has caught me by surprise here, it is how quickly the savory flavors of Brazilian cooking have seduced my taste buds. The food here is my heaven and hell. It is just too wondrous for me to restrain myself. So when people ask me what I think of Brazilian cuisine, the answer is simple: I love it. The food has captured not only every one of my five senses, but my heart as well. I’ve found the heart of Brazil.
Grace Livermore is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student.