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The Top Flavors Of Brazil

Updated on January 1, 2010

Brazilian cooking is a culinary melting pot, created from many cultures and enriched by abundant natural ingredients. Brazil is a huge country with enormous regional variations. At different parts in the same nation you can be lost within the trackless Amazon jungle, sit seaside on a tropical sandy beach, be high on a windswept mountainside, or enjoy the metropolitan charms of enormous cities teeming with millions of people... and all of them wild, rabid, uncontrollable soccer fans and party animals! That's one of the main reasons why Brazil may just be the most fun-loving and devil-may-care country on Earth!

Slow cooking and liberal use of salt, garlic, onions and butter give Brazil's traditional dishes their distinctive flavor. Brazil nuts, cashews, tropical fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and seafood, enhance staples like dried beans and rice. Meat and poultry play a smaller role than in other South American countries.

Feijoada is the national dish. A feast of beans, dried beef, salt-cured pork, bacon, smoked sausage, dried sausage, beef tongue, and pig's ears, tails and trotters are simmered in black iron pots then served with white rice, orange slices, fried manioc (a tuber and key ingredient in Brazilian cooking) and thinly sliced fried kale. Often enjoyed with a caipirinha, a potent drink made from limes, sugar and cachaca, a rum distilled from sugarcane.

At restaurants called churrascarias, servers walk from table to table, carving churrasco: as many as 20 cuts of marinated beef, pork and chicken off long skewers and onto diners' plates. Hot and cold salads, fried and baked cheese, and farofa (manioc flour cooked with butter and eggs) accompany the meal, which is washed down with beer or mineral water.

The foods of Bahia in northeastern Brazil blend Portuguese, native Indian and African traditions. Vatapa, a hot and spicy stew made from fish or meat, dried or fresh, cooked with dende (palm nut) oil and coconut milk, and moqueca de Camarao, Brazilian prawns stewed in coconut milk, are specialties.

All Brazilians love beans, but none more than the residents of Minas Gerais, in the country's central region. Tutu (beans mashed with manioc flour) is a regional favorite as an accompaniment to meats. Tutu a mineira pairs the mash with pork chops and kale.

Immigrants from Japan, Germany and Italy have left their mark on the cooking in Brazil's southern region. Sao Paulo, the major city and Brazil's business capital, offers the widest variety of restaurants in the country. Nevertheless, Paulistas, as the city's residents are called, have their traditional dishes, often made with olive oil rather than the butter used in other regions. Sao Paulo probably is best known for its cuscuz brasileiero, a savory couscous made from cornmeal.

Although the "Girl from Ipanema" probably never touched them, Brazilians love sweets, particularly those made from tropical fruits like papaya, guava and figs. Sometimes, those fruits are turned into a paste and served with slices of cheese. When Brazilians end their evening, often as late as 10 or 11 at night, their syrupy richness is cut by a cup of strong Brazilian coffee.

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