Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sinking In

Sinking into the local culture and experiencing as much as possible is always my main goal, though this bearded gringo doesn't exactly fit in when walking through the street. Brasil has such a rich cultural diversity that I have been a bit overwhelmed with the variety of flavors, fun times, and filling foods.

Lunch is the main meal of the day here. Most days my friend's family comes home from work to eat a big lunch together. One lunch might have 5 or 6 different dishes to pile on a plate. A few examples of foods that I have had include:

Feijão com arroz - Beans with chunks of meat poured on top of rice
Pão de queijo - cheese bread
Polenta - similar to grits but not as gritty...
Farofa - mixed with...almost anything really
Stroganoff - somehow Russian influence made it into to a delicious, creamy Brazilian dish. I ate it with frango (chicken)

These, of course, are just examples, but the point is that each day is a feast of new flavors. I told my friend and his family that I would be 350 pounds if I lived here.

One of my favorite dishes is camarão na moranga, or shrimp in a pumpkin. I got to help make it when I was in Florianópolis and stumbled across it again in a buffet here in Piracicaba (buffets where you pay by weight are very common here in Brazil). Creating this concoction was just like carving a Halloween pumpkin until they skipped carving the face and starting filling the pumpkin with requijão (a creamy cheese) and shrimp. You bake it in the oven for a couple of hours and then mix the inside of the pumpkin with the shrimp and cheese. Thick, rich, creamy, tasty goodness in a convenient biodegradable bowl. Brilliant.

I didn't take this fact, I don't know who did,
but it more or less looks like the one that I ate.

My latest experience in Brazilian cuisine was at a rodízio (hoe-DEE-zee-oh), which is where you pay a set price and waiters bring offerings of different foods to the table until you signal that you have had enough. This is rather dangerous in my case, because I don't stop until I've tried everything. More specifically, we went to a churrascaria that serves various kinds of meat delivered on giant skewers. The waiters then slice off pieces for you at the table as you pluck them off the skewer with little tongs. They had at least six different cuts of beef, four or five different types of sausage (unfortunately no blood sausage, I miss Argentinian morcilla), a thick white fish that I can't remember the name of, white and dark meat chicken, and even chicken hearts. I wasn't very fond of the latter - too tough and chewy, but my friend who took me to the rodízio loved them.

The name of the restaurant:
Salt and Hot Coal

The menu explained the seven main cuts of beef that they serve.
My favorites were picanha and cupim.

Picture on the front of the menu is none other than picanha.

On a final note, my Portuguese is coming along (I don't know if I would say quickly), but I'm still having trouble with some of the sounds, in particular the ão sound. It is a deep nasal sound that doesn't occur in English, that I can think of, but is frequently used in Portuguese. I'll use another reference to Fernando Pessoa's poetry to illustrate how common this sound is used and therefore how often people look at me funny when I try to pronounce it:
Os campos, afinal, não são tão verdes para os que são amados
Como para os que o não são.

Sentir é estar distraído.
The fields, after all, are not as green for those that are loved
As for those that are not.
To feel is to be distracted.
Pretty deep, huh? Deep like the nasal sound you have to make to say the ão sound. While my attempts to speak Portuguese may well be struggling to stay afloat, I am planning my next attempt to sink further into the culture and force myself to learn the language - a month on a farm. It is about as far away from the tourist track as you can get, so I'm going. Faló!

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