Fortaleza, Brazil – March 2001

Food Glorious Food
A very very belated happy new year to all my readers. The last three or so months have been the most hectic for some time and have largely kept me on the road on a whistle stop tour of South America and Europe.

I certainly saw some interesting things whilst on the road but nothing topped the article that I read in super cool Brazilian travel mag Viagam the other day. The article in question concerned a Brazilian tourist who had gone to England and eaten only tinned cat food for a week because he couldn’t read the label on the food in the supermarket.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, in the magazine’s consumer advice section one guy (from Rio) was trying to take legal action against a tourist agency over his trip to America. He had been forced to have cold showers all week as he hadn’t been able to work out how to use the mixer taps properly.

I ask you, should these people be allowed to travel? I think not.

And whilst on the subject of strange travels, there was the time that I was waiting for an air taxi in the back of beyond and a woman checked in a fridge as hand luggage. I kid you not – even the check-in staff were stunned. Of course, this being Brazil I ended up crammed next to the bloody thing for a three hour flight. Again, people who do things like this really shouldn’t be allowed to travel.

After nearly 10 weeks away from Brazil the first thing I wanted to do after crossing the border (and I knew I was heading back into Brazil from Uruguay as suddenly there was no road and no street lights) was have some decent cooking. Argentina is nice with its killer size steaks and stupidly expensive beer, Uruguay has some of the finest places to eat on the continent and the seafood is divine in Chile, but you just can’t beat decent Brazilian scoff.

Brazilian food scores highly due to its relative cheapness and the fact that most restaurants offer a “por kilo” self service which allows you to pig out on the basic staples of Brazilian fayre of rice, beans and meat for about US$3 (connoisseurs of self service restaurants will want to know that the Federal University of Ceara’s Physics department canteen has one of the best self services on the planet). When I first came to Brazil I was put off eating in restaurants a little as most of the servings are for two people. The self service neatly steps round this issue and allows even the sad, solitary single diner to chow down in splendour.

Perhaps one of the most interesting dishes is Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. It is traditionally served on a Saturday and it is a festive meal to share with family and friends – however, most restaurants serve it every day but save the best for the weekend. Originally created from pork odds and ends by Bahia’s African slaves, this delicious rice-and-bean combination has been elevated to Brazil’s national dish. To make a perfect feijoada you will require:

  • 4 pounds of dried black beans
  • 3 pounds of dried salted meat – which I often suspect is cat in my local canteen
  • 2 pounds of greasy sausage (you know, the type that look like something out of a porno film)
  • 2 pounds of spare animal parts – like cow’s foot, pig’s nose etc. (These are the magic ingredients according to some well-fed friends of mine).
  • Some garlic, herbs, salt and anything else you might have laying around and want to get rid of – bacon, ham, small children.
  • 17 bottles of the local firewater, cachaça.

    Step 1: Drink a bottle of cachaça.

    Step 2: Soak the beans and meat overnight in water, retire to a bar and drink a bottle of cachaça whilst belittling the government.

    Step 3: Drain the beans, and bring them to boil in a pan of water. Drink a bottle of cachaça.

    Step 4: Cut the meat into reasonable sized cubes.

    Step 5: Drink a bottle of cachaça.

    Step6: Throw everything into the pot to simmer for a couple of hours – toddle off to the beach to drink a bottle of cachaça.

    Step 7: Fry the garlic, onions herbs and bits like that then mash with some of the cooked beans which you have cunningly removed from the pot – toss this all back into the pot, tune the TV to the football and drink a bottle of cachaça.

    Step 8: Simmer for an hour, cook some rice and of course, have a drink.

    Step 9: Invite half the neighbourhood round, serve the feijoada on a bed of rice and finish the remainder of the cachaça.

    Volia! What could be simpler?

    Well, that was the good news – now the bad.

    This will be the penultimate article I write on Fortaleza for BootsnAll as I am moving back to good old Blighty. In the next update I will try to make sense of the last 16 or so months here in Brazil, pick out the high lights and low lights of this strange country. I will then jump on a plane, set up shop in Cambridge and begin writing from there.

    I will still be travelling to Brasil regularly and will still be answering emails and trying to put travellers onto the right road. My email, as ever, is

    Happy travels wherever you are in the world this month.