02 January 2012


Most every country has a national dish, its culinary pride and joy. What's Hungary without goulash, Austria without wiener schnitzel, Scotland without haggis? Of course, these dishes aren't prepared in an industrial kitchen from one master recipe. Tunisia has its couscous, which differs from Morocco's couscous and Algeria's couscous, and their ingredients change as you travel from region to region and city to city. Bouillabaisse is the pride of France — southern France, that is — and its ingredients have been and still are the subject of heated debate. The natives of bouillabaisse country scorn the Parisians for adding lobster to the stew; the Marseillais disapprove of the Toulonnais habit of adding mussels and potatoes; and purists are horrified by anyone who dares to add pastis. In neighboring Spain there are as many versions of paella as there are cooks. In the Valencia region, preparing paella is quite simply an act of civic pride.

Feijoada on the table
Feijoada on the plate
Brazil has feijoada, a dish as controversial as all of those above. Originally introduced by the Portuguese, this meat-and-bean-stew is prepared with black beans, various "throwaway" salted pork products such as ears, tail and feet, bacon, smoked pork ribs, pork sausage and tongue. It's generally served buffet style, and includes white rice, chopped kale, farofa (toasted manioc flour) and orange slices. In addition (in a real slap at the idea of healthy food) you can add side dishes of fried pork rinds, fried bananas and fried manioc. It's best washed down with lots of beer, cachaça or caipirinhas. A proper feijoada takes hours to cook and hours to eat, and most Brazilians prefer to eat theirs on a Saturday afternoon so as to have the rest of the weekend to recover.

The very first feijoada I ever ate was in New York City at a wannabe-Brazilian restaurant called the Coffee Shop. In retrospect, the feijoada served at the Coffee Shop had very little in common with the real thing. Instead of a bottomless buffet, we were served delicate individual portions of recognizable "noble" meats, with some rice, beans, kale and prettily-arranged orange slices. I think the next one I ate was in Rio, at a place called Casa da Feijoada. Located in the neighborhood of Ipanema and serving mainly tourists and well-heeled Brazilians, this feijoada also had little in common with the real McCoy. The meats were succulent and edible, a sure sign of unreliability. As I started eating more authentic, homemade versions of this national dish I started learning about the controversies surrounding it. Cooks were very competitive. They kept their recipes close to their chests. And I remember one odd night in Salvador, Bahia when a friend of ours explained at great length why he was not serving us feijoada. Something about how the flavor of his bean broth hadn't yet reached the perfection he sought.
I've now had my share (and I'm very, very sorry to say, my fill as well) of authentic feijoadas. Before Mark and I moved to Brazil, when we were just frequent visitors, we were constantly served feijoadas by Brazilians who wanted us to have a real Brazilian experience. But please forgive me, my Brazilian friends, I know that what I'm about to say is heresy. I don't want feijoada anymore. I don't really like feijoada. I do not feel good after such a heavy meal. And I can do without the pig's ear. Serve it all to Mark instead. He still likes it. But just so you know that there are no hard feelings on my part, here's Chico Buarque singing his famous samba Feijoada Completa:


  1. No need to be so sorry. It really is a heavy meal and I, a Brazilian, seldom eat feijoada. Just can't say I won't have it anymore.

  2. Feijoada. Oh, that's one of those things that bring me so many intense memories. How many times have my family members gathered to have feijoada? How many times a likeable visitor has been honoured with a feijoada? How many relatives I have or heard of that have already passed through, and are remembered for the delicious feijoada he/she could cook? How many times have I travelled within Brazil, found a restaurant that serves feijoada and decided "I will try this feijoada to see if they can do it right"? What a passion an American friend of mine has developed for it. And what a strong reaction I had against a foreign acquaintance that found it a weird dish!

    By the way, I will pretend I have not read your last paragraph, so I can still enjoy your blog.

    Hey, your post starts with "Most every country has a national dish." I learned recently that, in Japan, every city has its own dish. Must not Japan be the greatest place on Earth? Haha!

    I had wonderful goulashes in Czech. Gosh... they are unforgettable.

    Reading this post made me so hungry! I'm crazy for a feijoada. But I'm not close to any place that can prepare a proper one, as you said. And I'm not much into cooking myself. To make things worse, I believe it is not even ethical to eat such a thing!

    Hey, have you tried churrasco as well?

    1. Fala serio! Churrasco is the next thing you eat after feijoada, right? I've had plenty of churrasco, too, both in friends' houses and restaurants! Oh, and Renan, keep reading and you'll eventually come on my post about my change of heart on feijoada! That will make you happy!