Simple, fresh and light, but with an interesting depth of flavour—which it owes to indigenous ingredients and the influence of Portuguese and West African culinary traditions—is what marks Brazil’s food. Manish Mehrotra, executive chef, Indian Accent, calls it a country that loves its meats, as proven by the numerous churrascarias (barbecue houses) that dot the country. “Large cuts barbecued on sword-like skewers, it’s a meat lover’s paradise,” he says, recalling many a meal at various local addresses on his last visit to Rio. For others, the tropical flavours stand out. “A side of Brazilian cooking that I enjoy is their inclusion of fruits and fruit juice, even in the meats. They also use coconut milk and coconut water, which is reminiscent of our coastal cooking, minus the heavy spices,” says Aditya Bal, celebrity chef and host of NDTV Good Times’ food show, Chakh Le India. While we may not be too familiar with the cuisine in India, keeping the Summer Olympics in mind, we thought we’d ask a few chefs about their favourites.
“I went to Brazil four years ago and I love the concept of the Brazilian churrascaria. They roast full joints and the barbecued meats (beef, pork, lamb, ham and more) are brought to the table and carved in front of you. They are so fresh and succulent. There is also a buffet with accompaniments like salads, beans and stews. I would love to bring that concept down here, but do it in a more Indian way,” says the Delhi-based chef, who is known for his modern Indian cuisine. “I also use the Brazilian pink peppercorns (quite sweet in taste) extensively at my restaurants. In fact, our pink peppercorn raita is quite popular.”
Must try: The picanha (rump cap), seasoned with no more than some coarse salt, and barbecued over charcoal.
The celebrity chef might not have visited Rio or cooked as much Brazilian food as he would like to, but he hopes to change that soon. “I use a lot of their tropical peppers, like malagueta, and I have tried to do a churrasco-style while I worked in Goa. But to do an authentic barbecue like that you need beef and that’s a problem in India,” says the chef, who is currently working on opening a restaurant in Delhi. Stressing how he enjoys the Brazilian way of adding fruits to a dish, he says, “I do something similar by using fruit juices like passion fruit, orange or mango to flavour my dishes, instead of wine or stock. They bring a lovely, fresh acidity to the dish. I want to experiment with cachaça, jaggery and exotic fruits like açaí, carambola and cupuaçu.”
Must try: The caipirinha. The national drink, it packs a punch with cachaça, sugar and lime.
“It’s been a while since I’ve visited Rio (went there last in 2010), but the flavours are still fresh in my mind. Though it is the land of the barbecue, the other foods are delicious and quite exotic. I love the acarajé—patties made of black-eyed peas purée, which are deep-fried and then stuffed with dried shrimp. Cachaça or fermented sugarcane juice (an integral element in the cocktail, caipirinha) is also a favourite,” says the chef, who has recently come out with his first cookbook, Come into my Kitchen. Having worked in the US too, he says he’s tried to incorporate a few ingredients into his cooking. Like Brazilian beef jerky. “I make wafers out of it, rehydrate it and make a mousse, or even chop it and add it to sausages. I use açaí nuts as a garnish on my baked yogurts and parfaits. And I love their salted cod. I make a chutney with it and serve it with a moong dal risotto and pan-seared scallops.”
Must try: The Moqueca or the fish stew. The way it’s served, coming to the table piping hot in a clay pot, is memorable. The flavours are very Mediterranean.