The 2016 Rio Olympics is at our doorstep, and is expected to draw in thousands of tourists and locals. Though the biggest sporting event of the year is rife with issues like Zika, doping scandals, sewage problems, theft and muggings, people across the globe are waiting for a spectacular show, the opening ceremony of which will be held on August 5 at the Maracanã Stadium.
As the whole of Rio de Janeiro prepares for the Olympics, the officials, with the help of Marcello Cordeiro, Rio's director of food and beverages, are hard at work, ensuring that the food for the games is not going to be left out of the race. According to reports, there will be five cuisines for the athletes to feast on, like Brazilian, Asian, International, Pasta and Pizza, Halal and Kosher, even Kimchee, shipped straight from Korea.
They say when in Rio, the best way is to eat like a 'carioca' (term for a Rio de Janeiro native). Influenced by African, Amazonian, European and Amerindian cultures and traditions, the cuisine of this city is very diverse and extravagant, much like its exuberant carnivals. If you are headed to watch the Olympics, or planning a vacation in this seaside city any time soon, here's what you should not miss—the local delicacies! Bom apetite!
1. TRY THE ICONIC FEIJOADA
You do not want to come all the way to Rio, and not sample Feijoada, a Brazilian national dish, the equivalent of the Sunday roast. Feijoada is a black bean stew in meat (beef or pork) gravy, with salted or dry meat, and smoked sausage thrown in for good measure. Just like a lot of traditional dishes, this one too has a history of having originated back in the day, by African slaves. Back then, cheaper cuts of pork (like tails, nose, ear, tongue, and feet) would be added in the stew. A fejioada takes up to 24 hours to make, and is served with bowls of rice, slices of oranges, farofa (toast manioc flour), and pork bits on the side.
2. THE ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT-CHURRASCO
Go to the Churrascaria to witness the carioca's love for barbeque. Churrasco means barbequing different cuts of meat—from chicken heart to pork and beef to lamb and wild boar—on the 'Churrasqueira', a barbeque grill—mostly had in 'all-you-can-eat' barbeque steakhouses called the Churrascaria. In what is a style termed 'rodízio', waiters in these steakhouses walk around with espeto (skewers) of meat, slicing them on to plates, sizzling hot.
3. A TASTE OF ACARAJÉ
Falafel lovers will come to appreciate the Acarajé (also a popular street food), fritters made out of a batter of mashed black-eyed fradinho beans deep-fried in boiling dendê (palm oil). The dumpling is then split in half, and filled with vatapá (a creamy paste of shrimp, bread, coconut milk, finely ground peanuts and palm oil), diced tomatoes, and a brutally hot malagueta pepper sauce (let's just say 40 times hotter than Jalapeño, for your reference!)
4. SATIATE YOUR SWEET TOOTH WITH THE QUINDIM
With origins in Portugal, the Quindim (a name curiously coming from Bantu language, explains the contribution of African slaves to this dish) is heavily inspired by the Portuguese love of egg yolks. This smooth and glossy delicacy made with eggs, sugar, and coconut, is baked in moulds into a very firm custard-y dessert. A staple in bakeries, grocery stores and supermarket shelves, Quindim is best eaten chilled.
5. GET CHEESY WITH PÃO DE QUEIJO
Baked cheese rolls are popular snack items, and even eaten as breakfast food in Brazil. Pão de queijo, meaning cheese bread, originated in the 16th century, when African slaves originally made it using remnants of the cassava root, without cheese. Once milk became available, cheese was added, and is now made of tapioca flour, eggs, and grated cheese. Pão de queijo is crispy on the outside and a pain to pronounce, but is very milky soft and chewy at the heart of it.
6. DO NOT FORGET TO BITE INTO THE COXINHA
More or less, a Coxinha is fried dough filled with chopped or shredded chicken. Shaped in the form of a chicken leg (or more precisely a pear, one would think), Coxinha literally means 'little thigh', and are sometimes filled with soft cream cheese and salad-thin shreds of chicken. These croquettes can also have other variants of fillings like crab meat, and is a very popular snack item in Brazil.
7. THE STEAMY MOQUECA
Like the Bouillabaisse to the French, and the Macher Dhol to the Bengalis, should be what Moqueca is to the Brazilians. This dense fish stew in coconut milk, with tomatoes, onions, coriander and garlic is heavily based on the very nutty dendê (palm oil). Salt water fishes are preferred to make this, especially shark and swordfish, and is eaten with rice, pirão (a paste of the yuca root flour), and farofa, which helps you mop up the juices of the stew.
8. PACK IN THE PAÇOCA
Paçoca (the term originates from 'Posok', meaning 'to crumble') is peanut candy made of ground peanuts, cassava flour (made from the root of the manioc plant), sugar and salt. Dry and crumbly in texture, the savoury version uses sun-dried meat and seasonings instead of sugar.
9. BRING IN THE BRIGADEIROS
Also known as the Brazilian truffle, the Brigadeiro is an ubiquitous dessert at any celebration or party, which makes it Brazil's national candy. Condensed milk is cooked down with cocoa powder and butter, rolled into balls, and are coated with chocolate sprinkles. Soft and chewy, this delicacy is also quite a treat when had right out of the pot and tastes like a chocolatey dulce de leche (a caramel spread confection). Story goes that the Brigadeiro was created in 1940, when it was made for a brigadier general in the army.
10. GET TIPSY WITH SOME CAIPIRINHA
Caipirinha, the quintessential cocktail and the national drink, is made by adding Cachaça (a hefty local spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice), into a mix of muddled lime and sugar. Fruit juices of all kinds go into the modern-day Caipirinha—passion fruit, different kinds of berries and cashew are added in instead of lime. Watch out for wicked hangovers though; the Caipirinha has a mean kick to it, all thanks to the Cachaça.