Tasting Brazil…in Boston

     Tasting Brazil…in Boston

    Brazilian
    immigration has grown at such a pace in Massachusetts
    that it has helped Portuguese vie with Spanish as the second most
    widely spoken language in the state. Restaurants have sprouted
    up all over. This is a boon to the rest of us, who get to savor the
    flavors of Brazil without needing to travel further then a few miles.
    by: Jenny
    E. Martinez Nocito

    If you are a Bostonian already familiar with your neighborhood taquería,
    or tiny corner Latino eatery, you will be ready for the ambiance of most local
    Brazilian cafés—a few posters on the wall from South America depicting
    tall, lush green mountains or impossibly long tropical beaches, dim lighting,
    and tables reminiscent of yesterday’s coffee shops—plain chipping linoleum,
    maybe covered with a plastic tablecloth.

    But what these little
    cafés lack in atmosphere they make up for in flavor. Brazil’s cuisine
    is becoming some of the trendiest in Boston for good reason: it’s delicious.
    But maybe it’s not that surprising. After all, it’s almost guaranteed that
    any eatery attracting its largest customer base from the culture whose foods
    it prepares has got to be good—and you’ll find Brazilians eating
    at those tables anytime, day or night.

    Of course, we’re talking
    about a country only a smidgen smaller than the United States, where there
    is enough variety from different regions to please any diner. Six years ago,
    most restaurants in Boston only served the cuisine typical in the area that
    the proprietors were from, which back then was primarily the central state
    of Minas Gerais. These immigrants were accustomed to a diet heavy on beans,
    rice and meat.

    Now the menus have broadened
    considerably, to reflect all of the different backgrounds of Brazilian immigrants.
    Brazil is a country as varied as the United States in food traditions, customs,
    and habits. Much of this is dictated by geography—foods are raised and
    consumed locally—and historically poverty as well, as methods of food
    preservation were created without the benefit of refrigeration in a hot climate,
    and preparation was dictated by ingredients that were cheap and available.

    In recent years, Brazilian
    immigration has grown at such a pace that it has helped Portuguese, the national
    language of Brazil, vie with Spanish as the second most widely spoken language
    in Massachusetts. While many people moving here come as families, huge numbers
    are men who come alone, working to send money home to their wives and children.
    Since cooking isn’t traditionally the man’s role, most don’t know how to prepare
    the foods they are used to eating, and so they turn to the restaurants that
    have sprouted up in many area cities and towns.

    Brazilian Meat

    This is not only great
    for them but also a boon to the rest of us, who get to savor the many flavors
    of Brazil without needing to travel further then a few miles. Many people
    native to Brazil will tell you that some of the tastes are not exactly the
    same in this country as they are "at home." Meat is a prime example
    of this phenomenon, primarily because of the differences in raising animals
    and curing meat between the two nations.

    In Brazil, the states
    of Mato Grosso and Goiás are largely open ranches, and meat
    is always sold fresh—excepting a method of sun-curing meat practiced
    in the Northeast (see below). In the US, a much smaller percentage of meat
    is free-range, and it is often frozen before sale. But the preparation of
    Brazilian food in this country remains traditional, and the results are consistently
    delicious.

    Because there have been
    Brazilians emigrating to Boston from all parts of Brazil in the last decade,
    all or most of the varied cuisines from different regions are now available
    in any given restaurant here, in order to best appeal to everyone. On one
    menu one is likely to see cuisine from everywhere in the country.

    For example, in the northern
    Amazon regions people eat rice and beans, some chicken, and plenty of seafood
    from the ocean and rivers. In the Northeast, which is the driest part of the
    country, typical products are dried meat, chicken, and sweets made from sugar
    cane. In the central and southeast states of Brazil dietary staples include
    the ubiquitous beans and rice along with some pork, chicken, and dairy—but
    little beef, since cows are raised for milk, and few vegetables, which don’t
    grow as well there.

    In parts of the south,
    pasta is common. To a Brazilian, being in a Boston Brazilian café is
    the equivalent of an American eating at an American buffet that served Texas
    BBQ, New England Clam chowder, Southern hush puppies, and everything in between—all
    in one place, by people who really know how to cook it.

    What does all this mean
    to Bostonians, then? Well, it means that there is plenty of terrific food
    in your future if you are ready to try something new. Some of the food may
    seem familiar, such as the ever-present beans and rice—which, despite
    their seeming commonality never fail to surprise and delight the tastebuds
    with their layers of rich, salty flavor, giving us a big hint as to one of
    the reasons why they are such a dietary staple (apart from their economical
    price). But there are also plenty of new tastes to bite into. Here is a short
    list of some of the more uniquely Brazilian fare you may want to try.

    The Goods

    Feijoada: Brazil’s
    national dish. It is the customary "Saturday night special" in Brazil,
    and many restaurants have it on their weekend menus in this country. Buteco,
    Boston’s oldest Brazilian restaurant, is known for their delicious and traditional
    preparation of this heavy, meaty dish. As the ingredients—primarily beans,
    meats, and seasonings—are simmered together for hours their flavors meld,
    and they take on a stew-like consistency that is rich and filling: South American
    comfort food.

    Eduardo Modesto, a local
    Brazilian, describes it as "delicious and intensely flavorful; it is
    hard to separate the tastes of the individual ingredients," because they
    are cooked together so long and take on each others’ earthy flavors of salt,
    meat, and black beans. The meats traditionally used are fresh pork and carne
    seca, or "dried meat," though these days many different meats
    can be added. It is usually served in layers with rice on the bottom, covered
    with the bean/meat mixture, topped with pieces of meat and farofa (see
    below). Collard greens (couve) are frequently served alongside.

    The story behind feijoada
    is that it evolved from a dish created by African slaves who were given the
    throwaway, or "undesirable" pig parts like ears, tails, and feet
    to make their meals (though generally speaking these days you can count on
    more commonly eaten cuts of meat being used). Rarely made at home because
    of the amount of time and work it requires, this dish is served in almost
    every restaurant, from casual to fancy.

    Farofa: This side
    dish is eaten in the north, northeast, and southeast regions of the country.
    It’s typically eaten every day, alone or on top of rice, beans, or meat. At
    its essence, farofa is manioc or cassava flour (manioc is a root vegetable,
    similar to a potato) that is fried with butter and salt. In the North it is
    usually served `dry,’ while in the Southeast it is often mixed with olives,
    eggs, prunes, bacon, sausage, carrot, nuts, bananas…the list goes on.
    Most typically in restaurants it is "straight up" and served alongside
    an entrée. It is similar in texture to coarse dry breadcrumbs, and
    depending on the ingredients it is mixed with, it can be either sweet or savory.

    Churrasco: The
    Midwest Grill in Cambridge serves up a fabulous Brazilian BBQ in a style modeled
    after the churrascarias ("BBQ joints") in São Paulo
    and Rio de Janeiro, with meats cooked on a spit, or rodízio. Usually,
    if this is made at home, it’s done only for a crowd, but in a restaurant they
    serve up platters created for one person. Be prepared—it’s usually a
    lot of food.

    It will include meat (the
    more people, the more variety, but the choices are usually steak, chicken,
    pork, and sausage), and sides usually consist of farofa, salad, rice,
    beans, fries and sauces. A great way to sample a lot of kinds of food in a
    single order.

    Maionese: A potato-based
    salad that can include tuna, raisins, carrots, olives, green beans, and mayo.

    Mandioca com Carne
    de Sol: Oasis Restaurant in Medford offers this salty dish, made from
    a type of beef produced in the northeast of Brazil where there is typically
    very little refrigeration (this is the primary exception to fresh meat throughout
    Brazil). To preserve the meat, pieces are cured with heavy salting and left
    out in the sun to dry; hence the name, carne de sol, or "meat
    of the sun." The dish is a combination of this meat and fried cassava
    (mandioca)—salty and delicious. A Brazilian favorite.

    Couve: Kale, but
    as perhaps you have never seen it before. Allston’s Café Brazil prepares
    it in the traditional manner: sliced into thin ribbons and sautéed
    with garlic, oil, and seasonings that can include bacon fat, sometimes topped
    with thin slices of orange. It tastes like a mouthful of garlicky, crunchy
    ribbons—absolutely yummy. A great way to get your greens!

    By the Pound

    "Comida a Quilo":
    "Food by the weight" This is the equivalent of an American buffet,
    and a hugely popular Brazilian phenomenon, both in Brazil and the US. It’s
    a terrific way to get a lot of tastes of different foods instead of just one
    meal, especially if it’s all new to you. Meals are pretty cheap, usually ranging
    from about $3.50-$4.50 per pound of food. Brazilians flock to buffets, both
    at lunchtime and at dinner. Almost every Brazilian restaurant worth its salt
    has one, and the bigger the restaurant, the bigger and more varied the buffet.

    Café Belo, a chain
    of Brazilian restaurants which started in Brighton, offers an excellent variety.
    A sampling of items offered includes white rice, rice with vegetables, brown
    beans (from the Northeast) and black beans (more common in the South), moqueca
    (a fish ragout made with any combination of seafood, stewed with tomatoes,
    cilantro, onions, and sweet peppers, possibly with coconut milk, palm oil,
    or hot flavorings as well), fried fish, meat and chicken each cooked in several
    different ways (fried, grilled, BBQ), vegetables including salads, beets,
    couve, and salpicão (a mixture of shredded carrots, potato,
    green beans, and corn mixed with mayo), and desserts, including pudim
    (a rich pudding made with condensed milk), bolo (cake) and mousse.
    The exact offerings, of course, will depend on the restaurant and may vary
    from day to day.

    Suco: Juice. If
    the café you choose has fresh squeezed juices, be sure to try at least
    one. Tempting and exotic choices can include mango, cashew, passion fruit,
    and guava. Two or more can be blended for a real treat. In Brazil almost all
    juices are fresh—canned or bottled versions are rare.

    Maria Alice Smolka, a
    local Brazilian, notes that in Boston, Brazilian food is "very in fashion
    now; people are recognizing it as something new, reasonably priced, and delicious."
    So for your next Saturday night out why not taste Brazil firsthand—gather
    a group of friends at your local Brazilian restaurant and order a fabulous
    feijoada…and be even cooler then the fresh-squeezed juices.

    Locations of Brazilian
    Restaurants Mentioned in Article:

    Buteco
    130 Jersey Street
    Boston
    617-247-9508

    Café Belo
    181 Brighton Ave
    Boston
    617-783-4858
    (Café Belo
    has expanded to 8 locations throughout the city; this
    is the original)

    Café Brazil
    241 Cambridge Street
    Cambridge
    617-789-5980

    Midwest Grill
    1124 Cambridge Street
    Cambridge
    617-354-7536

    Muqueca
    1093 Cambridge Street
    Cambridge
    617-354-3296

    Oasis
    373 Main Street
    Medford
    781-396-8337


    Jenny Martinez Nocito is a registered dietitian/nutritionist
    & food writer who worked for several years with Brazilians
    in the Boston, MA area. Currently she is living in Italy.
    She can be reached at jmartineznocito@yahoo.com.

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