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Moving to Brazil! Cookbook suggestions?

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In about three weeks I'll be moving to Rio de Janeiro for about a year. After living in the Bay Area most of my life, I'll be leaving our mediterranean climate for the tropics, and I need to learn how to cook with a whole new set of ingredients and pantry staples.

I'm an experienced home cook, but my cooking really relies on the amazing fresh produce and meat that's available here in the Bay Area; also, my pantry is typically stocked with high-quality imported olive oil, anchovies, wine vinegars, whole spices, plus a lot of asian cooking staples like oyster sauce, fish sauce, curry pastes, tamarind pulp, palm sugar, etc. I imagine that I could find most of this stuff in Rio if I really searched, but it would probably be pretty pricey.

I'd love to learn to cook great, interesting food using the local bounty in Rio. Where do I start? Can anyone recommend a good Brazilian cookbook or website that will help kick-start my inspiration for cooking with the palette of flavors available in Brazil?

By the way, I speak portuguese, so a portuguese-language cookbook would be okay, although I'd probably have to learn a lot of cooking jargon.


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  1. I can't really answer your question, but my BF was married to a Brazilian and one thing he used to bring down for her family which they had never had was maple syrup. You might want to stock up on that commodity if you are fond of Sunday pancakes or waffles.

    1. I lived in Brazil a loooong time ago, but would really like to hear what you come up with. I have a book by Dolores Botafogo, and another in the Time-Life series, but neither excited me much. Eu ainda falo portugues, so my request for your findings is not an idle one.

      You probably are familiar with the bean stew called feijoada (means 'beaned', funny eh?). I could eat black beans and rice every day for the rest of my life. By the way, learn to cook rice the Brazilian way, which, it turns out, is essentially a pilaf/pullau. You precook the dry rice in oil (and maybe some onion) till it turns translucent, then add 2C boiling water for every C of rice, add salt, bring to a simmer, turn it down, cover and cook for 20 minutes. I hope that the Brazilian meats have not suffered the same fate as ours. I remember grilled pork loins, basted with a branch of rosemary dipped in salt water, juicy and tender and full of flavor.

      Back in the day, we made coffee with a flannel sock: mix the finely ground coffee with hot water in a pan, then pour it through the tripod-supported sock. I suppose those things are curiosities now. I hope they still have the daily markets, or feiras. They were amazing, but I have a feeling they can't have survived.

      Another treasure I enjoyed was a cannonball of provalone, salty and stringy so you could pull it apart, like mozzarella, but drier.

      Finally, get into the fruit. Papaya with lime, mango off the tree in the back yard, jaboticaba picked fresh, sweet yellow loquats (we used to call them ameixas amarelas: yellow plums), oranges. Don't look back at what you'll have to do without, relish what you have. I didn't experience any of the african-derived dishes of the northeast, but that would really interest me now.

      I think if I were going back now, I'd try to find someone's grandmother to teach me. Just a thought.

      Have fun, and report back.

      1. There's an expat group in Rio called the American Society. They publish their own cookbook that, while the recipes are no great shakes, are a combination of American favourites and Brazilian staples. The book also contains a two-way listing of ingredients, cuts of meat, etc. The recipes are in both Portuguese and English. A key idea for this book is that it can help expats communicate with their kitchen staff to get food they like. It's called something like "What's Cooking in Rio".

        The expat group welcomes all nationalities - even Brazilians. Don't be put off by the "American" in the name - they are a very friendly lot.


        In English, there's a cookbook called Brazil: A Cook's Tour that covers some of the local recipes, although as I recall it had quite an emphasis on Bahian food.

        Once you are up to speed in Portuguese, there's a great cookbook you can get from the Dona Lucinha restaurant in Belo Horizonte that covers the gamut of Minas Gerais food.


        1. Que legal, Oaktown! My impression is that Rio is a pretty global city so you won't have the same dining shock as you would if you moved to Belem, say, or even Salvador to some extent. In my experience, there's a big Portuguese/ European influence in carioca food (Whereas in Bahia it's more African and in the northeast more Indian). Others may disagree. These are subtle differences but I think they hold true.
          Look into some Portuguese cookbooks, maybe. Lots of cod and fish stews--stuff like that.
          Also, the food in Rio seems healthier than the food I usually eat in the Northeast. (And the people are skinnier-ha!) In Maceio, where my family is, there is SO MUCH fried food! Beware those salgadingos--they are everywhere.
          Here is the book we use
          Bon viagem! Boa sorte! Manda noticias.

          1. I lived in Argentina as a young girl and suspect that what you will do will be a combination of experimenting with local finds and comforting yourself with missed foods from home. Can't help you with the Brazilian part, but the plain old Joy of Cooking will help you with the comfort part. You may find yourself having to manufacture ordinary things you long for but have never thought of making at home. One problem abroad is identifying unfamiliar items and connecting them with a name and a use. Try googling "tropical fruits" for a picture index, but there will also be vegetables, fish, spices, etc that you don't have a clue about. Take your laptop---there will always be somebody to respond and say, "Oh yes, that thing you have in Rio, we had in Cambodia, and here's what you do with it."

            1. You won't have any trouble finding interesting ingredients in Brazil -- even in a city as large as Rio, you can actually buy fish directly from the fishermen. Find your local feira, check out the big supermarket chains. Learn the meat cuts and shop around local butchers for meat prices as they vary. Buy bread locally (a lot of bakeries put out a new batch of "pao de sal" -basic french rolls, every 15 minutes or so day and night). It is a bit harder to find nice olive oil, coffee in beans (green coffee, though, is quite easy). Milk is usually the UHT variety, despite lots of local dairy. Cookware is lighter and stoves a bit under-powered (priced by the number of burners), hoods not so common, oven marks are usually numbers and not degrees. Grills often come with houses and are easy to buy from local stores, fridges have a space underneath the freezer for the tall beer bottles. Asian staples are certainly very available in Sao Paulo, but never looked much in Rio. It might help to go to the feira a few times with a native to help you understand the prices and bargaining. Also make sure you go to Feira Nordestina, check out some of the dishes and goods.

              As far as the cookbooks, I would suggest going to FNAC in the Barra Shopping and looking around. Last time I was there they even had a huge display for the latest version of Brazilian Cooking in English by Margarette de Andrade. To use Brazilian language cookbooks you need to get used to the various measurements "caseiros" -- xicara de cha, colher de cafe, etc. The language used for cooking directions was never very hard for me, but the advantage of browsing the books is to find one with a comfortable level of detail -- like many foreign cookbooks, Brazilian books can be sparse on details especially compared with over-detailed American instructions. I had some difficulty getting the Dona Lucinha book, but have a brazilian regional cooking book, several from minas gerais which are comprehensive but not detailed, a northeastern (which has an english section, but I never used it), and an old version of the de Andrade.

              BTW, a lot of Brazilians learn recipes from "Ana Maria Braga," so watching the globo program Mais Voce is a way to pick up new recipes, although not all of them are traditional Brazilian. Globo also has a weekly program on Minas Gerais and they post the recipes on their web site (its interesting enough that I am hoping someday to have the time to try out the recipes and post the results on a blog). Maria-Brazil.org has a decent set of starter recipes that are pretty easy to follow. In Portuguese the site Tudogostoso is pretty good, but all the portals have recipes too.