Saturday, October 31, 2009

Brazil - History and Culture

If you want to overload your senses go to Brazil. The stunning beaches and the lively cities will rock your body in motion and your taste buds will kick to the beat as you sink your teeth into the sweet and tropical flavors of this eclectic cuisine. When I think of Brazil I want to dance. That’s what I imagine I’d be doing if I were there, a Salsa band playing on every street corner.

Brazilian cuisine speaks of its history and culture, a melting pot of people and foods that contrast but come together. The country has distinct regional cuisines, but its base and cooking heritage is most heavily influenced by three particular groups: the Brazilian natives, the conquering Portuguese and the African slaves who worked in the sugar cane fields.

Our Brazilian meal was a mixture of all three.

I found a Brazilian restaurant in Toronto called Caju. It was located on Queen Street West, the city’s trendy and cool hot spot. It’s a treat just to drive down this hip neighborhood that has been compared to New York’s Soho. As Julia stared out the window and commented on all the spray painted walls, she informed us she knows how to spell the F word. “It’s in the ‘uck’ family,” she said.

Kevin and I recalled what Americans said about Toronto when we found out we were moving here. We heard over and over again, “Toronto is very similar to New York, only cleaner.” I don’t think they would have thought that if they had been here last summer during the city garbage pickup strike. To me, Toronto is more similar to Chicago with how it sits on Lake Michigan. Then again, Toronto has its own unique and vibrant character, and though I don’t think it’s any cleaner than other cities I’ve been to it is one of the most ethnically diverse and therefore incredibly interesting.

We parked our car on a narrow side street with dilapidated townhouses on one side and a small city park on the other. We got out of the car and we hadn’t walked three feet when we saw a man in front of us urinating on the sidewalk. I grabbed Julia, who was walking a few steps ahead, and we quickly crossed the street.

The restaurant was intimate with modern d├ęcor. There were only a couple of other customers and it took awhile for the waitress to get to our drinks and our order. We were famished. This was not a good start.

When the food arrived we were not disappointed. Everything was delicious. We were first served little round egg breads. I learned later that this kind of bread it served at almost every meal in Brazil and it came from the Portuguese. While Kevin and John ordered pork and steak, Julia ordered the national dish called Feijoada. The menu described it like this: pork tenderloin, beef and chorizo sausage, braised in a black bean stew, served with rice, greens, cassava chips, farofa and vinaigrette. This dish came from the African slaves who used every part of the pig for this stew, including the pig’s snout, tail, and feet. The cassava, a root vegetable, came from the native Brazilians.

I ordered Moquica, fish cooked in a tomato and coconut broth with sweet peppers, onions and ginger and served with Basmati rice. Moquica is a staple dish from the Northeast region and its origins are from the Portuguese.

After we finished our meal there was not a crumb in sight. Our waitress was very impressed. We had ordered four large dishes as well as two appetizers and bread. My kids are not only good at trying different types of food they have big appetites. On those rare occasions when we go to all-you-can-eat places, I feel guilty paying child’s prices for them. I know full well they’re going to eat as much as I do.

At the Caju it wasn’t hard to finish our plates, even when eating the heavy Brazilian food. The waitress asked us if we wanted some desert. We skipped that and went back home to the suburbs and ate chocolate ice cream.

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