One of the best things about traveling or taking part in an ex-pat experience is that you get to try the real thing when it comes to the foods of the place you are visiting. This can be as close by as Memphis barbecue or as far away as pasta in Italy. While foods are imitated everywhere and a select few are exactly like the real thing, many aren’t.
I have yet to have a German sausage that was anything like those that I’ve had in Germany and Austria. There is nothing to compare to the freshness of a pint of Guinness in Ireland. No jerk chicken tastes quite like that which can you get made the traditional way in Jamaica.
I’ve mentioned before that since being in Brazil everyone always asks about feijoada, the national dish made of black beans and pork and accompanied by rice. I think this dish serves as a great example of one of those foods made elsewhere, but is never quite captured completely. This is mostly because with foods such as this we tend to take out those parts that don’t fit well with our culture.
I’ve been in Brazil two years and until Saturday I had never had feijoada. There are two reasons for this. One is because I really didn’t have any doubts that I would like it; I mean its rice and beans with meat. It really isn't incredibly different. The second is because this is how a conversation typically goes regarding feijoada with almost every person we’ve discussed it with in Brazil.
Them: “Have you had feijoada?”
Me: “Not yet.”
Them: “Oh you have to try it. It is soooooo good.”
Me: “I’m sure it is. I’m just not too interested in the random pig parts that show up in there.”
Them: “Oh, I wouldn’t have feijoada out. I only eat the feijoada my (grandmother, mother, etc.) makes.”
Basically people tell us to go eat it, but that they wouldn’t. That really didn’t provide much motivation for me. However, my husband did want to try the real thing and I felt compelled to try it since we are living here and I wanted to be able to say that, yes, I had eaten feijoada.
So we headed out Saturday to a local feijoada buffet. The good thing about these buffets is that they separate out all the parts. Each of these crocks is filled with a different version of feijoada with different meats, including one that was simply black beans.
I ate only the variety that had calabresa (a sausage) and a little bit of carne seca (dried meat). However, if one were so inclined you could have pé (pig’s foot), orelha (pig’s ear), or rabo (tail).
The truth is I may be willing to try a bite of these mystery meats, and I did some digging around with the spoon to see what they looked like. However, as I pulled up the spoon to see a big piece of flabby pig ear, I knew I couldn’t do it. A bite is one thing, but having a huge piece of it staring back at me from my plate is something I just can’t stomach.
Below is a picture of my plate with calabresa and my husband’s with calabresa and carne seca. The best part of the meal for me is usually the addition of farofa (that toasted manioc flour) and the vegetable vinaigrette.
This meal is also served with orange slices to “help with digestion”. I’m not sure how technical this recommendation goes beyond that statement. However, I suspect it has something to do with the fact that vitamin C helps the absorption of non-heme iron like that found in dried beans.
I must cover the desserts as well. You know me.
There was a small buffet of cocada (coconut in sweetened condensed milk) and pudim which is a flan. There were some candied fruits such as abobora (pumpkin) which is one of my favorites. It is candied in a ton of sugar along with some spices, namely clove. Finally at the end of the table was a huge bowl of doce de leite.
As we were eating our dessert, a thought occurred to me. Back home we tend to put those decadent things like caramel or doce de leite in the center of the cake or in the frosting all the while wishing we could dig into a big bowl of just that. Well, here they go straight to the punch and do just that! Doce de leite is eaten as a dessert all on its own.