The name Brazil was derived from ‘Pau-brasil’, a wood that produced red and purple dyes. Pau-brasil was the most exploitable wealth found by Pedro Alvares Cabral, a Portuguese navigator, and his expedition in 1500 when he first landed in Brazil. When Cabral found the land, it was inhabited by Indian tribes- -fierce and warlike. The Portuguese found the moist and fertile seaside land of Brazil very suitable for growing sugarcane. Soon they introduced the technique of its cultivation from Madeira. “But the Portuguese couldn’t get the Indians to work in the sugarcane plantations. They could not make them do anything! The Indians were violent. They were strong. They fed on rice, beans, and root crops, vegetables, grains like wheat and corn and lots of wild fruits. The Indians fought fiercely because the Portuguese came as violent conquerors, taking the land and raping the women. So the Portuguese imported slaves from Africa,” says Sandra.
The modern-day Brazilian cuisine dates back to the time of slavery. Each region of Brazil developed its own dishes. But if there is one dish that typifies Brazilian cooking, it is ‘Feijoada’ (black bean dish prepared with garlic and chili peppers). In Rio de Janeiro, it is especially popular. For lunch and dinner, it is customary to fill a soup plate with white rice and spoon Feijoada on top. Over this is added Farina (cassava flour), a starch that thickens the sauce. The whole dish is garnished with collard greens and slices of oranges. Sandra says, “I can tell you the history of how Feijoada was developed. It was originally food for the African slaves. From among the native varieties of beans that the Portuguese colonizers found in Brazil, the ones that they didn’t like most were the black beans! They had this idea that black beans were only for black people! They discriminated even the beans”.
So the Portuguese masters gave the black beans to the black African slaves. And into that black bean stew, the slaves added pig’s tongue, tail, ears, etc. The masters kept and ate the best parts of the pig. And the odds and ends were given to the slaves! “That is how Feijoada came to include all these ‘yucky’ animal parts”, says Sandra. Otherwise, it was traditionally just plain, old, nutritious black beans with garlic, chili peppers, soja and some greens. The masters, it is said, also saved scraps from the table or leftovers from the previous day’s meals to give to the slaves.”
The Indians fought fiercely because the Portuguese came as violent conquerors…