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Vittles 3.7 - Brazilian Supermarkets
The Beige Foods of Brazil, by Tomé Morrissy-Swan
If there’s one thing I know about Brazilian food culture it is this: Brazilians respect the art of the snack. If you had to judge a food culture by its crispy things, its things that ooze cheese and spill out fillings, its small things that you can pop into your mouth by the fistful, perhaps with a frosty beer in the other hand, then you would have say that Brazilian food would somewhere at the top, duking it out with Kerala for the crown.
When I was a pup, straight out of university and too depressed to use my useless degree in mathematics, I worked at a cafe in Richmond for six months as a waiter. The commute involved getting on the tube from Zone 4 North London, and then taking the Overground west in a swooping arc. The journey would take around 90 minutes - a three hour round commute every day. To break it up I would get off at one of the stations along the way and eat; more often than not it would be Barraco, a small boteco on a back street in Kilburn where the snack list was longer than my arm. Not only did I have my first feijoada and moqueca there, but my first pão de queijo, my first rissole, my first coxinha, my first deep fried frogs legs, definitely not my first fried cassava but certainly one of the best. I learned more at Barraco than I did at school. Eventually I got happier, quit my job and stopped going, but it’s still there - now called Kaipiras - and on a sunny day, outside with friends, beers in frozen glasses and endless snacks, it sums up everything joyful about restaurants.
Today’s newsletter by Tomé Morrissy-Swan brought all those memories flooding back, and offers a route to bringing these snacks into your kitchen. The opening of more and more specialist shops has been a boon to London’s diaspora communities, and it feels like the number of shops dedicated to Brazilian produce has exploded in the last 5-10 years or so. Tomé’s guide is specifically on the Brazilian Centre but is applicable to all the Brazilian stores in Stratford, Colliers Wood and Kensal Rise. If you’ve never been to one and you live nearby then now is the time to go; fill your freezers with some of the best snacks known to man, and soon you’ll be ready to graduate to the big leagues of Brazilian fast food - esfihas, calabresa sandwiches and the weird and wonderful world of Brazilian pizza.
In the meantime, make sure to read right to the end of this newsletter and enjoy one of the other great things Brazil has given the world: its music.
The Beige Foods of Brazil, by Tomé Morrissy-Swan
Growing up in a dual-nationality household had its perks. With an English father and Brazilian mother, having both cultures to draw from was incredible. Each football World Cup there were two nations to back – one made me ecstatic, the other left me closer to tears. No prize for guessing which. British rain was tempered by Brazilian sun. A treasure box of Brazilian CDs revealed the frankly ridiculous depth and quality of the country’s music.
But the best thing about being half Brazilian? Watching Ronaldo dance past defenders gives it a run for its money, but the answer has to be the food. For every Thursday shepherd’s pie there was Saturday rice and beans; each Sunday Roast followed by a Monday stroganoff (still hugely and rightfully popular in Brazil). If Fridays are for fish and chips, Sunday evenings are, for many Brazilians, about sharing enormous pizzas topped with calabresa sausage or shredded chicken – and yes, for us, often straight after that roast. As much as the Portuguese spoken, football watched, music danced to and sung, food was crucial in maintaining tradition.
My mother tells me that when I was a child there weren’t any specialist Brazilian shops in London. This was the early 90s and, though a sizeable Brazilian community existed (Bayswater was once horrendously nicknamed Brazilwater) it was nothing like today, where Stockwell and Kensal Rise have large populations. Thankfully, Portuguese delis, like the legendary Lisboa Patisserie near Portobello Road, stocked some Brazilian produce. When Rodizio Rico, an all you can eat churrascaria, opened in Notting Hill, we’d make pilgrimages from our home in north London. Practically every birthday in my teens was spent at the second Islington branch, until I became uneasy eating a month’s worth of meat in one sitting. Today my favourite Brazilian joint is Kaipiras in Kilburn – the closest thing to a proper Brazilian boteco (a small bar that serves food) in London. Its feijoada (bean and pork stew) is perfectly creamy, its moqueca (a fish/seafood based curry-like stew) the best in town.
Specialist Brazilian shops are thankfully more common now. I go to the Brazilian Centre on Mare Street most frequently, a butcher-cum-grocery store that, for such a small spot, is surprisingly well stocked. Along with sister stores in Stamford Hill, Stockwell, and Hove, it’s still open and offering delivery nationwide, too. Here’s what you should look out for if you visit.
Snack culture in Brazil is huge. Practically every cornershop, cafe, bar, even newspaper stand, sells an array of delicious, salty, moreish beige food. Deep-fried brown things are Brazil’s specialty. These reflect a wide range of immigrant influences (like the USA, Brazilian culture, and by extension cuisine, is a product of European, Asian and Middle Eastern immigration and, above all, the slave trade; I used to get told I didn’t look Brazilian but it isn’t really possible to not look Brazilian).
Pão de queijo (cassava flour mini cheese rolls). A god tier snack; gooey parmesan interior, slightly crisp on the outside. They can vary from golf to cricket ball in size, and should be eaten as quickly out of the oven as possible. The bigger ones can be sliced in half and fried in butter on an iron griddle for the ultimate sat-fat breakfast. You can buy pão de queijo mix from the shop to bake at home.
Kibe will be familiar to those fond of Middle Eastern food. These deep-fried meat and bulgur quenelles, brought by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, are ubiquitous. Coxinhas (little thighs) are made by stuffing mashed potato with shredded chicken with onion, tomato and sometimes spices, and coating in manioc (cassava) flour or breadcrumbs, before the inevitable introduction to a deep fryer. A few drops of chilli sauce is a must.
Bolinhos de bacalhau. Potato, salt cod, egg, parsley and onion, rolled into balls and deep fried. What’s not to like?
Suitcases returning from Brazil were – still are – always stuffed with ambient goods. It was much harder back then to get hold of certain products – and cheap cachaça. Here’s what a typical suitcase may have included:
Pão de queijo mix. An essential. These make about 20 cheese balls – in my teens I’d eat them all at once.
Batata palha. Mini ‘straw’ potatoes provide a salty crunch to a stroganoff. I’m allowed to say that they also go well with moqueca, but if Jamie Oliver said it he’d cause a diplomatic crisis
Farinha de rosca. Translates as bread crumbs, but they’re much finer than what you’d get here, and make the best crust for chicken or beef milanesa (like a schnitzel or escalope).
Farinha de mandioca. A thick, granular cassava flour used to make farofa, a condiment integral to thickening feijoada and other stews. We toast it and fry with onion, bacon, sometimes boiled egg, parsley, even banana. Brits often, perhaps fairly, liken it to sand, but trust me, it’s good.
Molho de pimenta. Chilli sauce. There are millions of types. They can be Tabasco-style blends or red, yellow and orange chillies languishing in vinegar or oil. Eaten primarily with feijoada or fried food. In England, you’re likely to find a brand called Pirata, which also makes a brilliant garlic sauce (molho de alho).
Drinks and sweets
I’m not a huge fan of Brazilian puddings, they tend to be a little too sweet and eggy. But brigadeiros (chocolate truffles; literally, brigadiers) were a childhood classic, and most of my friends’ first exposure to Brazilian haute cuisine. They’re made of condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter and chocolate, and coated in chocolate sprinkles. They’re dangerous.
Guaraná. The sickly sweet drink made from an Amazonian berry was my childhood soft drink of choice. You may have heard rumours that it’s an energy drink, but, as it’s mostly sugar – the comedown will outweigh any short-lived caffeine high. Antarctica is the best brand, by far.
Bis. Small wafers coated in chocolate, supposedly named because you can never eat just one. I can confirm this phenomenon to be true.
Goiabada - a thick set guava conserve that's sweet and a bit sour, and is delicious with queijo minas (a fresh white cheese). It’s used in a similar way to quince cheese
Brazilians love meat, and need no excuse to barbecue anything from huge cuts to chicken hearts. Look out for picanha (rump cap), which is practically Brazil’s fourth religion (after football, music and actual religion). Linguiça are sausages that come in infinite varieties, often lightly smoked, with garlic, paprika or other seasonings - they can be eaten barbecued or added to feijoada.
Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is a slow-cooked bean stew made with one or more of a choice selection of the least venerable porky bits: ear, tail, snout, feet, plus ribs, bacon and sausage. Most accounts agree that it was created by slaves who only had access to the cheap cuts, which is why it can be found all around Portugal’s former colonies, from Angola to Goa. It is usually eaten at home or in restaurants on Saturday lunchtimes (because it takes about 14 hours to digest) or Wednesdays (presumably because going a full week without a taste is too tough). Any other day – often every other day – lunch might involve a streamlined version, called rice and beans, perhaps with some bacon, and meat or fish on the side.
Trimmings are as infinite and up for debate as a Sunday roast. Our family tends to have couve (spring greens or collard greens), sliced super thin and fried with lots of garlic and olive oil. Farofa. Slices of orange: some British friends find this weird, but it gives a much-needed refreshing relief. A vinaigrette works well too. And, of course, chilli sauce.
Below is a simple lockdown rice and beans recipe, which I don’t call a feijoada because it doesn’t feature enough meat, but you can add whatever bits of pork you like. Most ingredients can be bought in regular supermarkets, except perhaps farofa and Brazilian or Portuguese bacon. Any thick smoked bacon will do (you want big chunks, not British-style slices or Italian pancetta cubes).
Along with the beans, you’ll need white long grain rice, cooked with plenty of garlic and oil – every grain should be separate; I find this hard to achieve. Make your farofa and spring greens just before serving, and thinly slice an orange to garnish.
500g black beans
200g thick smoked bacon (called toucinho), cut into 1-inch cubes. I sometimes use a Polish one from my local corner shop.
1 onion, finally copped.
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped.
2 bay leaves
Salt and black pepper
Cover the beans with water and leave to soak overnight.
Discard the water, rinse, and put in a heavy pan. Cover with water and bring to a simmer. Leave for a couple of hours, or until tender, skimming any scum.
In a frying pan, heat a little oil and fry the bacon until browned, before adding the onion and garlic. If you’re using any other meat (chorizo works) fry this off, too.
Here, I like to add a couple of ladlefuls of beans to the frying pan and mashing with a potato masher – this makes for a thicker, creamier stew. Add everything along with the bay leaves to the beans, and simmer for a couple of hours. Taste and season – the amount of salt needed depends on the saltiness of the meat.
Eat with the trimmings above. The beans are always better the next day, so make in advance if you can.
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The illustration for this piece was done by Lucie Knights, a designer & illustrator based in London - more of her work can be seen at @luciemknights or www.lucieknights.com. She was paid for her work.
Tomé has also put together a list of Brazilian music to cook and eat by, which you can find in this Spotify playlist.
Caetano Veloso; Transa. Recorded while Caetano, known on first-name terms in Brazil, was in exile from military dictatorship in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Impressive English lyrics – but mostly it’s in Portuguese – for someone so recently moved to the UK, it takes inspiration from the rock and reggae scenes of London as well as Brazilian pop and folk.
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil; Tropicália 2. Celebrating 25 years of the Tropicália movement, when Brazilian artists and musicians melded popular, psychedelic and avant-garde art forms with Brazilian and African traditions. The album is bloody amazing, with a seminal cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Wait Until Tomorrow.
Novos Baianos; Acabou Chorare. A band of football-mad Brazilian hippies who, like the artists above, mixed traditional influences with American and British rock. Rolling Stone named it the best Brazilian album of all time, and it’s hard to argue.
Stan Getz and João Gilberto; Getz/Gilberto. Does jazz get smoother than this? No, no it doesn’t. A collaboration between Getz, an American saxophonist, and Brazilian guitarist Gilberto, this 1964 classic catapulted bossa nova to mainstream appeal. The version of The Girl From Ipanema is renowned, but the whole album is superb.
Tim Maia; Racional (Vol. 1). A wacky funk genius to rival George Clinton, Maia was, at varying times, a socialist politician, cult leader and New York resident, who often missed gigs due to ‘triathlons’ – in his case, whisky, cocaine and weed. Unsurprisingly, he died too young. The final track on this album, Rational Culture (the name of his cult; repeats the refrain ‘we’re gonna rule the world’ a lot), is a 12-minute funk classic.
Gilberto Gil; Kaya N’Gan Daya. Gil, who also spent a time exiled in London, is possibly my favourite Brazilian musician; his back catalogue is immense. So it’s perhaps odd to choose a 2002 album of Bob Marley covers. But they are beautiful, infusing Brazilian music and translations with Marley’s legendary reggae. Plus, the album tour was the first memorable gig for a little long-haired blond kid in London, who danced like a lunatic, among hundreds of screaming Brazilians, in the front row of the Barbican.
Criolo; Nó Na Orelha. Though there’s plenty of good stuff happening right now, this is my only modern pick. São Paulo rapper Criolo fuses hip hop, samba, Afrobeat, reggae and more on this politicised masterpiece reflecting his upbringing in the city’s favelas.