Feijoada: Brazil’s National Dish

Feijoada: Brazil’s National Dish 

Upon arriving in Brazil I was bombarded with several Brazilian facts, urban legends and local traditions. Every person I met had something different to share, but the one story they all had in common was the story of how feijoada became Brazil’s national dish.

feijoada

Feijoada is a delightfully tasty meat and bean stew that is normally served on the weekends and at big parties or family get-togethers. While each version of the story may slightly differ, the resounding commonality is that it was once a dish of the slaves.

Slaves_resting_by_Rugendas_01For those of you don’t know, the importation of African slaves in Brazil began in the 16th century when the “indigenous labor force” was no longer enough for the growing Portuguese settlements. Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Brazil, as well as the coffee plantations and mining districts. It is estimated that more than 2 million Africans were sold into slavery in Brazil up until the “official” end of slavery in 1888–making Brazil the last nation in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Most of these slaves were first taken to and “broken” in Salvador, Bahia (my state!) before being sent to work elsewhere in the country. Today, Bahia is known as the “African Capital of Brazil,” thanks in part to its mainly black population, while Brazil in general contains the largest African population outside of Africa.

Like in the United States, the slaves became the backbone of the country and contributed to the local culture and lifestyle. This is evident in my state.  Everywhere you go in Bahia you witness the beautiful afro-brazilian culture. So back to the feijoada….. 

Per the many Brazilians I have spoken with, feijoada was the “poor slave’s dish”. In that time the African slaves were given only rice and beans to fend off hunger. Since this was usually not enough the slaves would scavenge for, beg for or be rewarded with unwanted cuts of meat (usually pork–skin, snout, ears, feet and intestine). While this may seem disgusting to us, these cuts of meat added vital protein to their diet and flavored the  mundane rice and bean meal.

As the story goes, it wasn’t until the 19th century when feijoada became popular and “urbanized”. Instead of being the dish of the slaves, it was now the dish of the elite (with better cuts of meat of course). How ironic, right? Chefs in Rio de Janeiro began perfecting the dish and thus it became the unofficial dish of Brazil.

Quite the romantic story, no? Well some skeptics out there don’t believe it. They claim that  feijoada is actually cassoulet, a popular meat and bean stew from Portugal. The only main difference is that the beans used in feijoada are black beans (black beans did not exist in Europe at that time). But who am I to doubt so many Brazilians who are so passionate about the story of how feijoada came to be? If they believe it, I believe it. I think in a way it represents the story of Brazil and there is nothing more beautiful than being proud of that story.

Cassoulet for Portugal

Cassoulet for Portugal

Anyways, two weeks ago a few friends and I decided to have a dinner party. Felipe, an amazing LEA student promised he would teach us how to make feijoada. I LOVE this dish, and couldn’t wait to learn how to make it. I had heard that it was pretty difficult to make and I was too scared to attempt this colossal recipe on my own. I was amazed by how well it turned out (probably the best one I have ever eaten) and wanted to share it with you!

Let’s Get Cooking! 

The Ingredients

The Meat

The Meat

1 bag of black beans

3 large linguiça (Brazilian sausage)

1 large cut of juicy bacon (skin probably still attached)

3 salted pig feet

1/4 kilo of paio (a type of smoke sausage)

4 OnionsOnion and Garlic

5 cloves of garlic

4-5 Bay leaves

Salt, pepper and cumin

Step 1- Pour out your bag of black beans on a towel. Go through and pick out any stones, branches or ugly/discolored beans you see. As Felipe put it, “it’s a bean beauty contest”.

Sarah picking out the ugly beans

Sarah picking out the ugly beans

Step 2- Let the beans soak in water (follow instructions on the bag) while you begin preparing the other ingredients.

Step 3– Cut your onions and mince the garlic. Saute them until translucent.

Step 4– Cut linguiça and add to pot. As Felipe pointed out, it is important to cut it on a diagonal so that the meat itself has more contact with the broth, giving the stew a stronger flavor. Continue to cook and stir the onions, garlic and linguiça on medium heat until the meat beings to brown.

Garlic, onions and linguiça

Garlic, onions and linguiça

Step 5– While you are waiting for step 2 to finish cooking, you can start boiling the pig feet in water. Usually the pig feet come extremely salted and need to be boiled twice. So, boil the feet and dump the water. Boil the feet a second time in new water and also discard that water. Your feet are ready!

Boiling pig feet!

Boiling pig feet!

Step 6– Chop the bacon and paio and add to pot. At this time you can also add the bay leaves, black pepper and cumin.

Add bacon, paio and spices

Add bacon, paio and spices

Step 7– Add the pig feet and continue to stir. Make sure that all meats are getting even cooking time and exposure to the spices you just added.

Step 8– Add the soaked beans (beans and water).

Add beans and water

Add beans and water

Step 9– Because we were starving and couldn’t wait to eat the feijoada, we cooked it in a pressure cooker! This way we only had to let it cook on high for about 45 minutes. If you use a regular pot, it takes from 2-3 hours…..So really this step is just waiting while you are taunted by the delicious smell. You can use this time to prepare the rice and vinaigrette.

Step 10– Drink some cachaça and have fun with friends while you wait!

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Step 11- Once the stew is done cooking in the pressure cooker we cooked it a little longer in large pot while we stirred it. I think it was to thicken it up.

Str

Stir

Step 12– Eat the amazingness that is feijoada! Don’t forget the farofa!

Mestre Felipe in all his glory

Mestre Felipe in all his glory

The finished product

The finished product

The finished product

The finished product

Cockroach, and Beetles and Monkeys! Oh My!

I have been in Brazil now for almost three months. During my time here I have encountered some interesting creatures (and no I’m not talking about Brazilian men). I’m writing this blog post for my little cousin Connor, who I miss very much! I know he would have a blast seeing all these strange animals and insects I find in my house. I also know that he would probably shoot all of them with his nerf gun! I love you Connor and Alexis!

The Lizard

In Mexico there were lizards everywhere, so when I saw a chubby little gecko scurry its way up my wall I wasn’t surprised. I was however shocked when I realized that one of them was living under my bed! Family, meet Bart.

Bart

My other lizard friend is Samuel, but unfortunately he is no longer with us. I found him mangled on the bottom of my washing machine the other day 😦 He must have been hiding in my dirty clothes pile.

Samuel

The Cockroaches

Most people know that I am terrified of cockroaches. Not just scared—terrified! Brazilian cockroaches are giant and seem to be on the prowl for small children.

cockroach

One night I woke up to a tickle on my thigh, the tickle of a ginormous cockroach’s hairy legs making its way up my leg! I have never left my window open since then.

Cockroach-attack-by-flying

Word of advice to people who are going to visit Brazil, be careful walking with flip flops at night. They seem to have a craving for toes!

Monkeys

At UNL we have a group called Nebraskans for the Upgraded Treatment of Squirrels. Every time I see a monkey running around town or on campus I chuckle and reminisce about all those times I got attacked by those crazy squirrels at UNL.

Instead of squirrels, we have monkeys in Bahia. The monkeys play on the telephone wires, dart out in the middle of the road and their tiny agile bodies allow them to joyfully play in the treetops just like squirrels.

Monkey!

I secretly want one as a pet.

The Slug

After a late night of class planning, I woke up to this on my wall right outside my bedroom door. In my normal disoriented state of just waking up, my first thoughts were, “why is there poop on my wall”. After close inspection I realized that it was in fact not poop, but rather a slug.

Slug

When I came home from work he had made it halfway down the hallway wall. Where he came from, who knows? Where he went, not sure.

The Beetle

While teaching I noticed this little guy sitting inside the window. 5 feet away from me…creepy!

beetleThis  Rhinoceros Beetle was bigger than my hand! Can you imagine having to teach with this thing waiting to fly in your face!

Hope you enjoyed this Connor.

Salvador: The First 3 Days

Day 1 

While this post does not represent my overall feelings for Salvador, these are a few words that represent my first day in the city.

Overwhelmed. Scared. Lost. Shit show. Ugly. Dirty. Rainy. Really Scared. Wet. Frustrated. WTF. Did I mention scared?

I love traveling but unfortunately I get extremely “car sick” on all types of transportation.

The city the boat leaves from.

Bom Despacho: The city the boat leaves from.

My trip to Salvador included a 6 hour bus ride to Bom Despacho through a handful of small, Bahian coastal towns protected by an excessive amount of speed bumps, an hour long boat ride across the Bahia de todos os Santos and then another city bus ride to the ‘house’ we thought we were staying at. In an attempt to avoid getting sick on the bus, I loaded up on ginger pills, ginger and honey candy, and ginger mints. I’m not sure if it is possible to overdose on ginger, but if it is, I did! I was also armed with saltine crackers and diet Sprite. While I defeated all feelings of nausea, I was overwhelmed by the daunting migraines,  feelings of exhaustion and the urge to punch anything that came within three feet of me. Needless to say, I was ready to get there and relax. Hah….like that would happen.

Follow my Havaianas to Salvador!

Follow my Havaianas to Salvador!

Salvador

Before leaving for Salvador a student of mine told me that her son lived on Salvador and that he would be more than willing to host us during our stay. Free housing? Ummmm yes! I spoke to Danillo (my student’s extremely handsome son) before arriving and assumed that our set meeting time was exactly that…set. How American of me.

Nightfall was quickly approaching as Sarah and I wondered around Salvador reeking of public transportation and fear. After an hour or so and about five failed attempts of contacting Danillo, we found the “house”. I say “house” because that’s what I was expecting and that is exactly what we did not get. Danillo lives in the co-ed university house of UFBA. It is a gigantic plantation style house that sits on Corredor da Victoria (a main street in Salvador) and the ocean. Because Danillo was not there, we were forced to wait in the commons area until he returned. When Brazilians say that they will be back in an hour or two you should expect them in 3-5 hours.

The Room

After a while, the security guards and other students began to take pity on us and invited us to stay in their room. It was already 11PM and Sarah and I were exhausted and out of ideas. They were friends of the son of one of my students…..close enough connection, right?

We got to their room and that’s when I knew our trip had just gotten a lot more interesting. The overwhelming scent of marijuana and boy stench flooded my nostrils. The walls were filled with drawings, proverbs, Polaroids and messages from previous students and travelers. We plopped our stuff down on our new bunk bed and hashed out our plan for the next day. Even though I was beyond terrified to be staying in a room with two men, in a city that hadn’t been that welcoming with someone who was just as lost as I was, I still managed to fall asleep. Hopefully  the next day wouldn’t be as bad.

The Room

The Room

Day 2 

After a tediously long day of Portuguese courses, a samba dance class and a what seemed to be never ending trek through a terencial downpour, Sarah and I finally made it back to the Residencia Universitaria da UFBA–our home for the week. Tired, soaking wet, and yearning to sleep in my own bed, I was slightly anxious about going to bed in our shared room. I had already survived one night, but what if that was their plan? What if they loured us in with kindness and then planned to rape and kidnap us. Yes, this is where my mind goes when I am left alone to think about things. But surprisingly, what started out as unknown, terrifying territory was in that moment my sanctuary. As I was lying in bed translating Portuguese verbs in the subjunctive one of the boys serenaded us on the guitar while another friend, Oscar, sang and occasionally read poetry to the light batucada Samba beat.

My private show came to an end as my thoughts and worries floated away on the soothing lyrics of Novos Baiano’s Misterio do Planeta. Today was slightly better.

Day 3 

Like I mentioned before, Sarah and I took a class at a Portuguese language school called Idioma. At first I wasn’t sure if a week of classes was worth so much money, but during our second day of class I started feeling confident in Portuguese for the first time. We attended class from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM with quite the diverse group. Our cohert consisted of a German that never showed up, a Colombian girl, a Polish who speaks 6 languages, a Dutch girl and a Kiwi.

On this day I was determined to get out and see the city, but it of course rained again. Did I mention there was a McDonald’s down the street from our house? Sarah and I, satisfying that American beast the resides in all of us, shared a few meals there during our time in Salvador. It’s strange how much you start missing things just because they’re American when you’re abroad. During my last year in the United States I maybe ate at McDonald’s and/or Burger King three times. Here in Brazil, I have eaten McDonald’s every chance I get. Maybe that explains the three noticeable kilos I have gained these last two months.

All day Brazilians had been telling us about the famous concert they have every Tuesday night in Pelourinho. So Sarah and I set out on our own despite the less than pleasant weather and the fact that we had no idea where we were going. On the bus I asked a semi-safe looking man where we should get off. He happened to live in Pelourinho and was heading to the same concert. He walked us through Pelourinho all the while telling us that we were crazy for coming here on our own…..that seems to be the common reaction from Brazilians.

Suvaco da Cobra

Suvaco da Cobra

The concert was cancelled because of the weather (stupid rain), but little did we know that our night was about to get a whole lot better! We ended up at a local, underground samba club called Suvaco da Cobra. The Cobra’s Armpit. It was fantastic! I love samba! I love listening to it, dancing to it and doing everything else that can be done that perfect samba beat. A blog post on samba’s history and the joy it brings to my life coming soon.

I danced all night and even ran into a friend from Ilheus. Fausto! What seemed like a ruined day turned out to be a fantastic experience of what Brazil and Salvador really have to offer–Unexpected friendships, intense cultural experiences basked in Brazilian history and opportunities for personal growth.

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Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog! The last half of my Salvador story coming soon!

Samba at Suvaco da Cobra ❤