Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kitchen culture clash

There’s nothing better in my book than a rich seafood moqueca in the Bahian style.  Brazilian cooking with its use of coconut milk, fried bananas, salty meats, and desserts from every conceivable tropical fruit is amazing.  Luiz won me over on our first date eleven years ago with a rolito of spiced hamburger stuffed with ham and cheese served with augratten (ish) potatoes and collard greens like I had never experienced (couve).  Later, when he made a bacalhoada in a clay pot – forgedaboutit – I was sold.

I love Brazilian food. But I also love the light, so-called California Cuisine that I enjoyed for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  That type of food is best described as: what you see is what you get.  Carrots taste like carrots. You can tell which particular mushroom went into the mushroom sauce.  Vegetables have texture.  Flavors combine harmoniously without getting lost in the overall dish.  Meat is featured, but is a limited portion on your plate.  In general salt and fat are not used to boost flavors.

Herein we have the rub. My husband and mother in law would like nothing better than to please me with delicious regional Brazilian cooking.  Every day.  I, on the other hand, would like to eat a cruciferous vegetable once in a while.

We have had to strike a balance.  Luiz or his mother cooks a delicious meal that invariably congeals in the refrigerator into a layer of beef fat and otherwise edible ingredients (which I may beg off from) and I cook a meal of stir fried crispy vegetables and chicken bits served in a light sauce over brown rice (which they may beg off from).  We agree to disagree.

Crunchy vegetables do not translate.  If you were to take a cru de ta platter (even with a kick-ass dip) to a Brazilian party, the host would bag it all up at the end of the evening and send it home with you.
It has been my experience that Brazilians like what they like.  And it relates to what their grandmother used to cook.  Thai food? Mongolian BBQ? Ethiopian platters of incredible flavors? Burmese delicacies? Simple Mexican guacamole?  --  Sorry  -- it has not been my experience that my friends here are open to these new and delicious options.

But hey – I live here.  The food in the grocery store reinforces the particular narrow band of Brazilian flavors.  Exotic ingredients are not to be found.

My joy has been to investigate the local flavors: fruits, root vegetables, cooking with coconut milk, grilling with rock salt, and finding all things delicious for sale at street food vendors – anywhere, anytime.

The culture clash continues, but I am enjoying the back and forth.


GingerV said...

can I come to your house (when you're cooking) to eat. this sounds wonderful. and the great thing here is that vegetables taste wonderful raw or otherwise cooked. no havested when green (hummm that doesn't sound right)and shipped like in the US.

Nina said...

I here you. Man, I love to eat just about any type of food......

Ricardo and I were talking today of food we miss from the U.S.. Funny but expected we didn't even agree on one. I mean he said Mc Donalds, for me that's like slap in the face. I hate chains.

I just made a yellow curry peanut thai dish, I picked up all the ingredients at the grocery store and japanese grocery store. I kinda feel bad when I make these amazing dishes to share and no one is interested.

However, my English students usually want me to make American dishes for parties. Ricardo is working in Rio-- so it's chinese, thai, Indian, mexican and japanese nights-- all the food I am missing.

Rock Salt said...

It's amazig how many people use rock salts nowadays on cooking.
Your article it's again a great reference. If you don't mind we'll add a reference to it in our website about rock salt

Lindsey said...

Oh my, so true! IT's like Brazilians are allergic to raw vegetables or something!

Anytime my MIL cooks vegetables, she has to cook them down to nothing. It's like eating baby food.

For Thanksgiving I put out some really delicious raw peppers, cucumbers and carrots and some great dips and nobody ate them except me and my husband!

Like you said, just agree to disagree! It can't be too appetizing for big big meat eaters to suddenly go veg. :)

Chris said...

This past Christmas, the family encouraged me to contribute some of my favorite sides to the dinner. So, I went back to my Southern roots and cooked up some fresh green beans with bacon and onions. Then, I made some deviled eggs and sprinkled paprika on top. Hell, I even used a pastry bag so the filling would come out nice and decorative. I brought with me from the States a couple of cans of cranberry sauce/jelly and opened that and put on a plate. Well, when we got to grandmother's house, she made a face at the beans and said, "Who eats vegetables at Christmas dinner?". The deviled eggs were a mystery to everyone. I was questioned over why they're called "Deviled" and since I didn't have a good answer, I changed it to "Festive Eggs". About half the people liked those. The cranberry was mostly consumed by me. I think next year I'll just show up with my appetite instead...


Jim said...

Linds - years ago my MIL so wanted to make me happy because she knew the food was strange to me. She said I should buy the vegetable I wanted and she would cook it for me. I bought a cauliflower.

Goddess bless her - she then proceeded to boil the f**k out of it, bread it, and fry it into little soggy patties.

Naturally I ate it and thanked her for her efforts on my behalf -- but uuurrggghhhh!

Jim said...

Chris -- sorry guy - get used to it. Our friends have warmed to deviled eggs. The cranberries must have been like food from Mars!

Better to bring a boutique cachaça than food, at least until you get a lay of the land for what people will try.

I'm making a Thai green curry with chicken for a friend tomorrow. She has never eaten Thai food, but she is curious. It is possible to find fellow foodies.

Chris said...

That Thai green curry and chicken sounds awesome right about now! Off topic, looks like I'm headed to Rio for Carnival. If you and Luiz are around, maybe we can meet up?

Jim said...

Chris - would love to meet up - but Carnaval is infamous for plans set and plans broken - it's ALWAYS that way. But we can try. Would love it.

Luiz and I have 4 extra tickets for Carnaval on Sunday night if you need a hook up.