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South American Cuisines: BRAZIL

In the final part of our series, Penelope Walsh succumbs to Brazilian seduction

Written by . Published on December 27th 2011.

South American Cuisines: BRAZIL

ACCORDING to David Ponte, the Portuguese word saudade, is “almost impossible to translate”. Although usually defined in dictionaries as ‘a longing’, it is, he explains, something much more, and describes the “deep felt” yearning Brazilians feel for their own culture and country.

Meeting David Ponte (the Brazilian-born but British bred owner of Cabana, the recently launched Brazilian barbecue chain), it becomes clear that this sentiment affects anyone lucky enough to explore Brazilian culture. Brazil is evidently a country that gets under people’s skin. It is a place that evokes enthusiasm, if not passion, amongst nationals and visitors a like.

Recalling how he fell so far in love with Brazil, David gives the example of the common Brazilian greeting tudo bem, literally meaning ‘everything good’. Even those in the poorest and most adverse conditions, he argues, appear to take real meaning from this phrase. “There is a real optimism in Brazil,” he adds “that life is good, the sun is shining, and that I always love.”

Cabana RestaurantCabana Restaurant

It was partly a longing for Brazil and its food that encouraged Leticia Moreinos Schwartz (a Brazilian chef based in New York, and author of Cook Brazilian) to begin focussing her skills on her own cuisine. Proving David’s point, when asked what Leticia misses most about Brazilian culinary culture, she tells me: “everything.”

“I actually brought many of my Brazilian habits to my life in the US,” she explains. “My kids are growing up on rice and beans, just like I did; I drink a fresh juice every morning, and I eat Pão de Queijo (cheese breads) everyday, but… for almost five months of the year, I practice those habits looking at snow in my backyard.”

David and Leticia’s lists are surprisingly similar. Both miss fresh juices from street bars, offering an abundance and variety of unfamiliar fruits, and the savoury snacks served with coffee throughout the day. Most significantly, however, both miss the social energy of Brazilian food culture as much as the ingredients.

For David, it is the café culture of Brazil’s boutequins, bars on every street corner, where customers sit for hours socialising over small glasses of beer and salty bar snacks. For Leticia, it is the big family gatherings over feijoada (the Brazilian national dish, a thick stew made from black beans, rice and various cuts of meat) and barbecue. In Brazil, David agrees, any excuse brings family and friends together, to spend all day cooking and eating. 

Food is often the first route for quelling feelings of cultural longing. London’s Brazilian restaurant scene has consequently been characterised by small places, serving simple, home cooking for the Brazilian ex-pat community. When Brazilian food blogger Rosana McPhee first arrived in London in the early 1990s, she remembers only two Brazilian restaurants, and almost no awareness of Brazilian food at all. Now, London is changing. “There is a long way to go,” she concedes, but has noticed “several restaurants trying to tap into the Brazilian food market.”

Cabana_SkewersCabana skewers

To satisfy our own second-degree saudade for Brazilian culture, Brazilian barbecue chains are popping up all over London, and caipirinhas, that most quintessentially Brazilian drink now appears on many bar menus. Are we falling in love with Brazilian food? Not yet, argues David. “I think it is quite a leap of faith that people are becoming more aware of Brazilian food,” he argues “they have started by becoming aware of Brazil.”

Brazil was once a dark mystery, undiscovered and intimidating. Previously notorious for drugs, gangs and poverty, now, living conditions are improving, the favelas are being cleaned up, and Brazil is becoming safer and more accessible. Rio is now the most visited city in the Southern hemisphere.

The changing attitude to Brazil is evident in the decision to grant it both the Olympics games and the Football World Cup. Brazil, David suggest, is finally being recognised for positive reasons, and gaining global interest. “My father always said that one day, Brazil, this wonderful, huge country would come of age. It has taken longer than anyone thought,” David adds, “but it’s definitely happening. It’s the beginning.”

Despite our growing interested in Brazil, Leticia agrees that awareness of its food is limited. “The only representation of Brazilian cuisine the world knows is churrasco (Brazilian barbecue)” she argues. “I love churrasco and churrascarias, and every great city should have one, but that is only one small slice of Brazilian cuisine.”   

In fact, Brazilian gastronomy is becoming increasingly complex. Just as Peru has created a culinary reawakening, chefs in Brazil (such as Alex Atala and Laurent Sadeau) are also beginning to reclaim indigenous ingredients and revaluate traditional dishes to create a new and innovative Brazilian cuisine.

“Brazilian food tends to be vibrant and colourful like the people” Rosana says. So why do we latch on to churrasco and caipirinhas? Precisely because, these elements of Brazilian cuisine offer the best approximation of the vibrancy and energy we have become fascinated by.

For David, it is not elevated gastronomy that best defines Brazilian food, but the social element. It is the experience of eating (perhaps grazing, even) together, with friends and family, at boutequins, markets and churrascarias that best reflects the spirit of Brazil that is so intoxicating. This, David suggests, “has all the energy of Brazil”.


More Information


David Ponte, and partner Jamie Barber opened their latest restaurant venture, Cabana, in November. The two branches, in Westfield Stratford and Central St. Giles, offer an accessible Brazilian barbecue experience. Inspired by the typical rodizio and churrascaria concepts, Cabana brings the flavours and spirit of Brazilian dinning to London. www.cabana-brasil.com


Cook Brazilian by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz (Kyle Cathie, £19.99) Photography: Ben Fink
Now working as a chef in New York, this girl from Ipanema, was inspired by her own longing for Brazilian food to begin focussing on her own country’s cuisine. This introductory cookbook includes traditional recipes, modernised to make them lighter and healthier, and creative recipes, such as avocado crème brûleé.

London-based Brazilian blogger Rosana McPhee brings together some Brazilian recipes, with London food news and reviews on www.hotandchilli.com.





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Marc SchmitzJanuary 9th 2012.

Rodizio Preto is the only "Churrascaria" that recreates the true "Spirit of Brazil" in London. The skewers need to circulate around the tables and not picked out "Yo Sushi Style" by colors! It must be said that Jamie and David have a great marketing team behind them. Rodizio Preto should get up to speed as far as marketing effort is concerened. I suggest people try it for themselves and then tell me if I'm right or wrong.

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