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Porto Alegre, Brazil: Chimarrão (The Mystery Behind the Wooden Goblet)
C. De Melo (Absorbing the Local Culture at Redencão Park)
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What is Chimarrão???
Before leaving Florence in order to spend a few months in Brazil, I showed my friend Toni some photos of Porto Alegre (the capital of Rio Grande do Sul in the south of Brazil). The first thing she asked me was, 'Why are all these people carrying around wooden goblets?' I burst out laughing. Since my husband is a native-born Gaucho, he had already explained the mystery of this beverage to me. Toni, however, had no idea. I gave her a brief explanation. Surprised, she asked, 'People really lug around heavy thermoses, too?'
Oh, yes they do! This hub is dedicated to Toni- I hope that I can succeed in revealing all the mysteries for you! LOL!
Let's start at the beginning: The Pampas is the region between Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. A Gaucho is a cowboy from the Pampas. The Brazilian Gauchos traditionally drink Chimarrão (shee-mahrr-ow), which is pulverized Yerba Mate bark. This is consumed very hot (thus the hot water thermos) in a Cuia (koo-yah) made of either wood or Porongo, which is a type of hollowed-out gourd. You must sip it through a Bomba(bohm-bah), which is a metal straw with a tiny strainer at the end in order to filter the liquid. The pulverized tree bark, commonly known as Erva Mate(ehrvah mat-eh) comes in different grades and varieties.
My husband never really got into chimarrão and he doesn't carry around a thermos or a cuia (aka: 'wooden goblet'), but his friends do- and I got to taste it firsthand, made by a local, to boot! Since it was very hot, and there was no sugar added, it tasted like herbal tea. Some people add sugar and in São Paulo, my friends drink it cold (I don't think that is common here in the south).
I did some research and discovered that chimarrão supposedly has some very interesting attributes. For instance, it has cancer-fighting properties, and it counteracts damage caused by free radicals. Add to this list vitamins B, C, D, Calcium, Magnesium (to mention a few) AND some consider it to be an aphrodisiac. It also aids in digestion (perfect to drink during the holidays when we all tend to overeat). Other research claims the exact opposite- that chimarrão is carcinogenic. Why? Because it is consumed so hot that it may lead to esophageal cancer (the same is true for coffee and tea), but this is a temperature issue, not an ingredient issue.
I guess that I will have to consume it semi-hot and only in the cold weather months (yes, it does get quite cold here in the south). While I am not opposed to drinking chimarrão for the health benefits, I don't think I will be lugging around a hot thermos since I like to travel light. Maybe we'll enjoy it once in a while...at home.
On the weekends people gather around at the many public parks of the city to enjoy their chimarrão. We happen to staying near the biggest one of all- the Redenção (it even has a small zoo and a lake). Last Sunday, we met up with some friends who played guitar and sang (very well, might I add). The atmosphere is totally chill and relaxing. My husband told me that people go to these parks to socialize and people-watch, just like the Italians that hang out in the piazzas. I was reminded of Florence, except there, glass goblets full of Chianti would be the beverage of choice.
If any of you Gauchos (or Gauchas) OR chimarrão drinkers out there want to add some more information, I would love that! I'm always open to learning and experiencing new things. Please leave a comment and thank you for reading!
C. De Melo
Author & Artist