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October 18, 2012

Local voice from around the globe: The heart of Brazil is at the dinner table

People tend to create stereotypes about countries. For Brazil, the stereotypes revolve around its gorgeous beaches, wondrous cities, soccer, nightlife and music.

People assume that the center of Brazilian culture lies in its carnival celebrations or in the deep jungles of the Amazon. And true, all these contribute to the lure of Brazil, but after one month here, I find that the true heart and soul of this marvelous country is found at the dinner table. Brazilians have a particular pride when it comes to cooking and, as I was told, I try everything.

My host parents own a restaurant in Itajaí’s Pubic Fish Market, so I eat my fair share of seafood. I’ve had oysters, crab, shrimp, octopus, squid, salmon, filet and more, I’m sure. I’ve had fried calamari and shrimp, grilled salmon and fillet and octopus tentacles dipped in salsa and served in soup. I’ve even eaten whole squid stuffed with shrimp and baked with a cheesy sauce; personally I found the squid to be a little too chewy for my liking, but interesting nonetheless. Of all the seafood concoctions I’ve had, my favorite would have to be a salty and savory tomato and rice soup with crab legs in it. The crab legs still had their shells on them so I had to crack them with my teeth to get to the soft meat inside. Seafood is particularly important to my city because it is on the coast, but something that all of South America is famous for is its meat.

Oh, the meat! I have eaten so many kinds of meat here: including mutton, lamb, chicken, beef, sausages, pork and more. If I have learned anything about the meat here, it is to ask what I’m eating AFTER I eat it. One day, my host-mom served me a special type of beef. I ate it gladly, trying to ignore the odd tube-like structures embedded in it. Later when I asked what the meat was called, she pointed to her tongue and said, clearly, “Tongue of the Bull.” On another occasion I ate what I thought was sausage, but found out later that it was chicken hearts. Chicken hearts are a delicacy here in Brazil. They are grilled on skewers by the dozens, and are delicious!

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