by C.J. Brown
A humorous description of learning about Brazilian culture in the USA.
|We have all seen the media attention given to the illegal immigration situation in both the United States and more specifically, my hometown Danbury, CT. My intent today is not to take sides on this issue, but to shed light on the cultural diversity from which we have benefited in the Danbury area. In Danbury we have a large Brazilian population. They have brought with them new types of fried foods, and heavily salted meat slabs.
I decided to take it upon myself to learn more about Brazilian culture since we have the opportunity to do so in this town. This journey of discovery began with, you guessed it… food! Now, you can get authentic, old world style Italian, Mexican, and Southwestern foods at places like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Arby’s. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any Brazilian equivalent. For this reason, I ventured into a “Churrascaria” (pronounced choo-hass-ka-DEE-a) for an evening of culinary delights. The first thing I found out about Brazilian cuisine is that they really like meat. I’m not just talking about normal levels of affection here. I firmly believe that if a Brazilian man was in the unfortunate position of holding his child in one hand while a large slab of seared beef was in the other and both were dangling over the edge of a cliff and he had to choose just one to save, well of course he would save his child but he’d cry about the horrible decision he’d had to make for months afterward.
The recipe for cooking Brazilian meats is actually quite simple. First impale the carcass on a spear, and then add an equal weight of rock salt to the meat as it cooks over a rotisserie. Now a huge slab of juicy, salted animal flesh is appealing enough to any red-blooded man, but the testosterone triggers don’t stop there. No, they actually bring the meat to you on the spear! You get a big knife with which to carve off slices of the meat from the actual implement of death. As I eyed this sword sticking out of a box on my table, I suddenly had the urge to hunt down a wild rhinoceros. I’m sure once I had skewered the beast, two men would show up, cake him in a three inch thick layer of salt, and immediately throw him on the rotisserie for the next patrons.
Now, any Brazilian meal would be incomplete without imbibing a concoction called “Caiperinha.” This is a mixture of sugar, limes, and a gasoline substitute known as “Cachasa.” Cachasa is fermented from sugar cane juice, and I believe is flammable if exposed to light for more than three seconds. The sugar and the limes thankfully take all the edge off the alcohol bite so you quickly forget that you are drinking hard liquor, until your straw makes that “empty cup” sound at the bottom of your fifth one. That’s when everything around you slows to a crawl and you feel the urge to tell your buddy across the table how awesome he is.
The interesting thing about this entire meal is that a chemical reaction takes place while you sleep that is akin to the beginnings of life on earth. The salt, sugar, cachasa, animal fat, and lime juice actually bond together in your system and create a new life form. They resemble tiny gremlins that reside in the frontal lobe of your brain. They also carry crowbars with them, which are used to methodically whack the backs of your eyeballs from 7:00 am until 12:42 pm the next day. At precisely 12:43 they spontaneously liquefy themselves and have a race through your body to see who can exit your colon first. It’s usually a tie.
In order to fully recuperate, you will need to partake in some savory pastries that are uniquely Brazilian, and darned tasty. I love raviolis, but these folks have improved upon them in two crucial ways. Pastels (pronounced pas-TAY-oos) are also pockets filled with meat or cheese, but they are 1) much bigger, and 2) deep fried. When talking about food, the terms “big” and “deep fried” are my two favorite words. To find something that embodies both is true heaven. In addition to pastels, I recommend coxinhas (ko-SHEEN-yas), which combine, get this; barbecued shredded chicken, cream cheese, and fried dough. Each one is the size of a pear, and shaped similarly, but weighs about the same as a regulation bowling ball. To top it off, I watched several patrons squirt a generous dollop of mayonnaise on the darned thing before they took a bite. Since my Portuguese is a bit rusty, I’m sure their friends were making comments like “I dare you to try and make that hung-over American guy throw up.” Without the mayonnaise though, these things are great for a quick fill up.
In the end, I’ve come to realize that there is simply no way to experience a new culture better than to put on ten pounds in an evening with five of them being in your eyelids. So get on out there and learn more about the new folks in your own back yard. You may be pleasantly surprised. Just make sure to stock up on Alka-Seltzer and Aspirin first.