Feijoada: National Dish of Brazil?
Should nations have an official national dish, like they have an official flag, a national anthem and a coat of arms? Unofficially, many countries already have just such a dish – who would deny national dish status to haggis? Some have even suggested bestowing national dish status on England’s chicken tikka masala, though that one definitely sticks in the craw of culinary traditionalists and conservatives. They’d be happier crowning roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Brazil’s national dish is unofficial, though if you ask Brazilians what their country’s national dish is the response is almost always something called feijoada. The Portuguese word feijão means bean, so one could translate feijoada as “bean dish”, but that’s to sell it very short. Feijoada is a tableful of dishes, in fact an entire meal.
The centrepiece of feijoada is a big pot of black beans, cooked with sausages, pork and smoked pork – with a strong emphasis on the “nasty bits” of the porker. Essential components are smoked pig’s feet, ears and tail, and often a snout is thrown in. These offal ingredients provide the flavour and fattiness that a proper feijoada demands. Feijoada purists turn their noses up at any feijoada that attempts to civilize the dish for more sensitive eaters, or to lighten its caloric content.
On a table laid out for feijoada – almost always a buffet – one will find a number of obligatory accompanying dishes along with the black beans. White rice, sautéed kale, toasted manioc flour and slices of fresh orange are all part of feijoada. When assembled on a plate, these dishes combine to make a deeply satisfying and visually stunning meal – glossy black beans, white rice, bright emerald kale, honey-beige manioc flour and sparkling oranges.
It is often said in Brazil that feijoada is part of the culinary heritage of slavery in Brazil. Supposedly, slaves working on the enormous sugar cane plantations made a meal out of the very cheap beans and rice they were given and made it more nutritious with the unwanted left-over bits from the slaughter of the plantation’s pigs. The owners got the tenderloins and the slaves, the ears and snout. However, it’s been established by Brazilian gastronomic historians that, in fact, feijoada is part of the Portuguese contribution to Brazilian cuisine, and is related to the bean and meat stews common in southern Europe. Think of France’s cassoulet or Spain’s olla podrida.
Because making a feijoada is a complex process, requiring a couple of days including preliminary soaking for the salted meats and the beans, most Brazilian families rarely make it at home – maybe only on a holiday weekend. At other times, they’ll satisfy their feijoada craving at one of the thousands of Brazilian restaurants that specialize in this dish. Saturday and Sunday are feijoada days in Brazil, and it’s served no later than mid-afternoon. It’s just too rich to eat during the week or in the evening. For millions of Brazilians an afternoon spent with family and friends, drinking plenty of caipirinhas (the obligatory cocktail for feijoada), laughing, gossiping and singing, and making repeated trips to the feijoada buffet table is their idea of culinary paradise.
by James Pearce, who runs the fantastic Flavors of Brazil blog – a great place to learn more about the foods of Brazil.
Here’s a recipe for making feijoada, courtesy of Nando Cuca of Cucabrazuca: