Brazil

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Olá from Brazil, the largest country in South America and the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world. Brazil is now gearing up to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but the country was already making headlines as a sports destination last year when it hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup during our globetrot to Argentina, which fielded the second-place team. We had already encountered some Brazilian cuisine while exploring another former Portuguese colony, Angola, but we were both excited to taste some more.

We got the futebol rolling on Saturday morning with a modest Brazilian breakfast of pan-toasted French bread (called pão na chapa), slices of fresh mozzarella, a navel orange, and—last but not least—the requisite cup of coffee. While breakfast is not a big occassion in most Brazilian homes, the name of this meal is actually café de monhã, or “morning coffee.” And although ours was harvested in South Africa, not South America, the navel orange was first discovered growing in a monastery in Brazil almost two hundred years ago!

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Later in the morning, we watched an hour-long tourism video that showcased delightful cities and scenic landscapes from all over Brazil:

After stopping to pick up a Brazilian film at the Cambridge Public Library, we headed north for a lavish lunch at the Oasis Steakhouse. It’s located on Main Street in Medford, Mass., next door to a related Brazilian establishment, the Oasis Café & Bakery. While many of the customers in the steakhouse were enjoying the restaurant’s weekend buffet, we ordered a couple of dishes from the menu:

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At the top of the photo, you can see Jess’s vegetarian platter of sautéed collard greens, fried yucca, fried plantains, a bowl of black beans, and rice. At the bottom, you can see my Brazukhina platter, which included a cut of beef, two cuts of chicken, rice, fries, roasted cassava flour (under the fries), tropical beans with pork (also under the fries), and a side dish of potato salad. I was full after eating the beef, half of the chicken, and the tropical beans, so we brought everything else home in a doggy bag.

Walking back to our apartment, we noticed several other local Brazilian establishments, including this grocery store and buffet restaurant near Union Square in Somerville:

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Massachusetts has the second-largest Brazilian population in the United States, after Florida, and we were glad to find so many tasty restaurants to choose from. That night, for dinner, however, I attempted to make a Brazilian favorite at home, in the kitchen.

The dish was moqueca, the savory Portuguese fish stew that we’d first encountered during our globetrotting weekend in Angola. But instead of sea bass, I threw in some marinated slices of tofu:

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Despite my vegetarian substitution, it tasted quite good and we both had seconds.

After dinner, we watched the rather lackluster film Bye Bye Brazil (1979), which we had picked up earlier in the day from the public library. As you can see in the trailer, the story follows the members of a shabby carnival troupe as they drift through the shabby corners of twentieth-century Brazil. (We had already ordered the more acclaimed film City of God (2002) through the inter-library loan network, but it hadn’t arrived in time.)

The next morning, we made some more café de monhã, with a few changes from the day before. Instead of a navel orange, we cut into the ripe and juicy papaya that you can see at the top of this post. There’s a second papaya sitting on the left in the photo, which wouldn’t ripen for several more days. We also added a generous amount of coconut milk (left over from the moqueca stew) to our coffee.

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After breakfast, we watched The Real Rio de Janeiro, a BBC travel documentary that introduced us to three charming and knowledgable inhabitants of Brazil’s most famous city. They each showed us some of their favorite spots around Rio.

For lunch, Jess cooked up a vegan version of the Brazilian national dish, a black-bean-and-meat stew called feijoada. Instead of using meat, however, this recipe called for smoked tempeh. We served it with some white rice.

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Our final dinner in Brazil consisted primarily of restaurant leftovers from Oasis, but I managed to cook up one final dish: traditional Brazilian collard greens, steamed with garlic and olive oil. Here they are, along with my plate of leftovers:

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If there is one thing we learned this weekend, it’s that Brazil is big. From the Amazon rainforest to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, there’s a lot in this tropical country that we probably didn’t encounter at all during our brief adventures. What we did encounter, however, showed us that Brazil is a land of wonderful culture, food, and people. Tchau, Brasil!

–Derek

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