Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Flavours of the Flesh Festival

Ladies and gents, I would like to present... my very first published food article! This was published in Issue 2 of Grok magazine, Curtin University's student magazine. Thanks to Angela for linking me up with the editor! Keep your eyes peeled for Issue 3 of Grok, featuring yours truly. 

Figure 1: Double spread, baby!

It's Saturday afternoon of Carnaval week in Paraty, Brazil. Me and my travel companions put on the oldest, tattiest clothes we can find, then take the leisurely walk barefoot down to Jabaquara Beach. We then proceed, with thousands of other people, to duck-dive (or are violently tackled) into mud the consistency of chocolate YoGo. Everyone is drunk. There a huge crowd of mud-zombies raving and snogging each other in front of a stage blasting Brazilian music on the beach. 

Figure 2: A casual mid-mud-festival beer

After two hours of rolling in gloppy filth and generally creating a scene, we all congregate behind an enormous truck blasting thumping caveman rhythms, and march towards town chanting "OOGA - OOGA - AH - AH", body printing cars and hugging poor, defenceless clean people on the way. Children of tourists hang over the side of their beachfront hotel balconies, wide-eyed and fascinated (some of them burst into tears) wondering, mummy why are there a thousand orcs marching down the street. At the end of our procession, firemen standing on top of their trucks pulverise the entire drunken, dirty crowd with industrial strength hoses.

Figure 3: Being hosed down by the bombeiros

It is, without a doubt, the weirdest thing I have ever done in my life. 

What I experienced was called the Bloco da Lama, which is one of the more unusual ways to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil. The most famous Carnaval celebrations are in Rio de janeiro, which the Guinness Book of Records recognised as the biggest party on the planet in 2010. The Sambadrome becomes the epicenter of the Carnaval spirit, showcasing spectacular floats, samba dancers and samba schools blasting their respective songs. 80,000 spectators and 30,000 performers party from 9pm at night until 8am the next morning. And this is every day for a week we are talking here. 

Figure 4: The Sambodrome during Carnavale

Figure 5: Carnavale in Rome circa 1650

The word ‘Carnaval’ comes from the Latin word carne vale, or ‘farewell to the flesh’. Back in the day, Romans would let themselves run amok one last time before Lent, when they’d have to abstain, contemplate on God and fast for 40 days. This morphed into a crazy week-long celebration where they would indulge themselves in music, food, alcohol, sex and other naughty things. Probably not what the Church had in mind.

Needless to say, to get through all of this partying, Carnaval-ers need some serious fuel which comes in the form of ridiculously delicious street food. Here's a few of my favourites:

Figure 6: Good ol' 51!

1. Caipirinhas 

The national cocktail of Brazil, these potent cocktails are literally on sale everywhere you look, and they are deadly as heck. Caipirinhas are essentialy 3 ingredients: lime, sugar and cachaça (Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane), so it ́s basically pure alcohol you ́re drinking. If lime doesn't quite tickle your fancy, you can ask for a Caipifruta made with your tropical fruit of choice – all of the caipirinha stands are decorated luridly with fresh tropical fruit: watermelon, pineapples, guavas, coconuts, papayas, strawberries. I ́m partial towards watermelon, but after about 2 caipirinhas, my body always seems to go blissfully numb and everything starts to taste the same.

Figure 7: Cholesterol for all!

2. Espetinhos 

The Brazilian equivalent of a hotdog, espetinhos are a sinfully salty, juicy type of Brazilian barbecued sausage on a stick, coated in manioc flour and served with hot sauce, fresh tomato salsa or both. On first glance, espetinhos look sketchy to say the least - usually they're cooked through first, and then heated up on hot coals upon request. But if you can try to push past paranoia of life threatening food poisoning, you'll be able to enjoy one of the most popular items of Carnaval street food on offer.

Figure 8: The art of cheese-grilling

3. Queijo coalho 
There's no getting around the fact: it's cheese on a stick. But we all know that less is more. The cheese commonly used has this incredible consistency: it's mozzarella-ishly stringy and smooth, yet somehow isn't oily, and when cooked, an addictive crust forms on the outside that is usually coated dried oregano. These are on sale everywhere, even on the beach – look for the man carrying around a black metal box and a plastic crate on his head, yell out to him and he will trot over to you and set up camp right in front of you to cook you a freshly grilled queijo coalho. And all for about AU$1.20 a pop.

Did I mention I love Brazil?

4. Cerveja

Yes, it is true that beer becomes cheaper than water in Brazil during Carnaval. An agua fria will probably set you back 2 or 3 reis per bottle. Whereas for beer, it is not uncommon to see a vendor with a large "SKOL: 3 FOR R$5" sign propped up in the air. The rule of thumb with Brazilian beer is that you have to drink it icy, icy cold. Warm Skol, Brahma or Itaipava quite frankly, tastes like ass, but when chilled to perfection, drinking it in the hot Brazilian sunshine is so refreshing it makes you gasp with delight.

5. Yakisoba

Japazilian (no, I did not make up that word) food is huge in Brazil (Fun fact: Sao Paulo, the economic capital of Brazil has the biggest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan). The fusion of these two cultures brings interesting results, one of them being a Brazilianified Yakisoba cooked by street vendors to fill the bellies of hungry party- goers. Notable differences between this stuff and the authentic Japanese version is a disproportionate amount of onion, cabbage and chicken to noodles – but take my word for it, it ́s delicious. Oh, and if you ́re ever in Brazil, check out the nearest Japazilian menu – you ́ll find deep fried sushi rolls, and cream cheese in just about everything.

Figure 9: Paradise. 

6. Agua do coco

There is nothing that beats walking up to  bare-chested, strong looking Brazilian man holding a machete and asking him to crack open a sweet, cold coconut for you. Not only do they taste glorious when you ́re parched and sweaty and disgusting from partying so much, but they ́re also packed with electrolytes for rehydration. Once you ́re done, go back to your bare-chested, strong looking Brazilian man with your empty coconut and he ́ll crack it completely open for you and whittle a spoon-shaped bit of coconut skin for you so that you can scoop out the sweet flesh.

Figure 10: There's nothing warmer than a Brazilian smile!

But all the food aside, the best thing about Carnaval? It is all-inclusive. There are no social barriers, no boundaries. Straight or gay, rich or poor, young or old (I ́m talking 50 year olds getting drunk side to side with 16 year old Brazilian girls), balding or bootylicious, Gringo or Carioca - Carnaval is a party for all. It is very much come one, come all to eat, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink and be merry.