They’re Not Grapes, They’re Jabuticaba


One of the curiosities about Brazil is that every region seems to have its own unique fruit that’s hard to find in other regions. São Paulo and the rest of southeast Brazil has jabuticaba. These black-purplish balls grow on trees — literally.


Source: Alda Alves Barbosa

I enjoy them although they’re not always an easy fruit to like raw. They can be sour or sweet, depending on your luck. Fortunately they’re also commonly used in jams and drinks with enough sugar to eliminate any unpleasant sourness.

To use up the last bit of jabuticaba I got at the feira, I decided to make a caipirinha. The recipe at the famed Bar Veloso in Vila Mariana calls for fifteen jabuticaba. Frankly I’m too lazy to count them out so I filled up about two thirds of my glass. Other recipes I’ve seen call for a respectable half a cup, but I like an intense fruity flavor. I put in about two tablespoons of turbinado sugar so as to draw out the jabuticaba flavor and make up for the sour ones. Then with my muddler (an essential here) I started mashing the fruit. jabuticaba drink

Most recipes for this cocktail are pretty simple — fruit, sugar, ice, liquor — but I like my drinks a little more complex. I took about an inch long piece of ginger and cut thin slices. I added to the mix, muddled, muddled, muddled, and then added about six large ice cubes. I had no cachaça at hand, but I did have rum so I mixed it in to make what’s called a a caipiríssima, caipirinha’s rum cousin. jabuticaba caipiríssima

And it turned out well! Delicious and pretty. And you have boozy, spiced fruit to eat afterwards.

One of the cooks explained there were three kinds of peppers used in this food from hell.

My Insanely Spicy Night With the Travel Channel

rota do acarajé

I was invited by the Travel Channel to appear on their show Food Paradise International. The concept is pretty straightforward. Each episode’s theme is a type of food (e.g., hamburgers, Chinese, donuts) and a few restaurants are featured, with commentary by the chefs and the diners. As a diner, my part was simply to eat the food and talk about it. Perfect.

The crew was filming in various restaurants around São Paulo for a variety of episodes. I got to be part of the Spicy Foods episode, filmed at the Bahian restaurant Rota do Acarajé in the neighborhood of Santa Cecilia. The restaurant itself was actually two buildings across the street from each other. It’s one of those places that looks absolutely tiny but has more room than you think. Filled with traditional Bahian artisan crafts, it was a very cozy and charming environment.

rota do acarajé, são paulo

The film crew was very friendly and kind, and one of the producers kept telling my partner and me, “I hope you like spicy food!” As we were waiting for everything to get set up, we overheard one of the producers asking one of the restaurant’s owners (and chef) to make the dish extra, extra spicy. I raised an eyebrow. Soon, I guess they were testing out the final product, because one of the owners (the chef’s husband) was cracking up at how spicy it was. I got a little nervous.

Finally they gave us our dish which was half an acarajé — a deep fried bean cake topped with okra and dried shrimp — and a shrimp and pepper risotto. It was time to film me eating. Let me point out first that I enjoy spicy food, and I have a relatively high tolerance for heat. But this risotto was scorching. I felt it at first on the tip of my tongue, and it was tolerable enough to take a few more bites, but it traveled to the back of my throat and slowly got more and more intense. I was gulping down beer as the director asked, “So how does it taste? Do you feel like you’re in hell? Would you say this is the spiciest thing you’ve ever had? Can you make some devil’s horns for me?” I did the best I could to come up with different variations of This is some spicy shit. The acarajé was a bit of relief, fortunately, and I ate up the salty dried shrimp with gusto.

One of the cooks explained there were three kinds of peppers used in this food from hell.

Whether I took a bite of the shrimp, the rice, or the slices of pepper, it didn’t matter — it was all flaming hot.

I had a fun time filming, but to be honest I was a bit irked with their choice to make it extra spicy. First off, it struck me as rather disingenuous. The purpose of the episode is to feature the spiciest food from around the world, but if they’re asking the chef to alter the dish, then it’s a bit of false advertising. They might as well have chosen a restaurant at random and asked the chef to add on extra peppers to the plate. Secondly, as someone who enjoys spicy food, I enjoy it not because I like to feel my mouth on fire, but because I like the flavor of peppers and how they complement other ingredients. Besides peppers, the risotto also had coconut milk, dendê (red palm oil) and shrimp, but all I could taste was burning heat. The waiter actually had to take the dish away after filming because it was nearly inedible. By making the dish hotter than normal, the whole segment became less about the restaurant’s food and more about these staged extreme reactions.

But I’m not naive. I realize their ultimate goal is to make entertaining TV, and after all, the restaurant did agree to alter the dish. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t get to actually enjoy any spicy food. Maybe I should have opted for the cheese episode they filmed at Bar Astor.

After filming, my partner and I were dying and needed something to calm our mouths besides the copious amounts of beer we were currently downing. The menu actually had quite an extensive selection of dishes, but we settled on a plate of carne de sol, or cured salted beef, with fried yucca. It was simple, delicious and most importantly salty, which was just what we needed. I also ordered an amazing dessert called cocada do forno, which was sort of like a coconut flan with a toasted coconut crust on the bottom, topped with a guava sauce.

Rota do Acarajé had an enormous selection of dishes, but carne de sol did the trick to ease our throats.

Carne de sol, mandioca, and plenty of beer.

Towards the end of the evening, the chef (and co-owner) chatted a bit with us and was very friendly. She wrote down our names and gave us a card, telling us to come back and try the original risotto dish, free of charge. We’ll be back for sure. Despite the peppers from hell, I’m glad I came.



Note: I did not receive any sort of compensation for appearing on the show, but my meal was paid for.

Ana Tijoux Represents Cultura Independente

ana tijoux

This past Friday French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux took the stage at Praça das Artes, and while she repeatedly confessed she spoke “nada, nada, absolutamente nada de portugués,” she had the crowd, including me, enthralled and moving. (It also helped that there were a number of Chileans there.) I only knew a few of her songs beforehand, but her show left me a full-fledged fan. She seemed to have a very focused sort of energy, very calmly spitting out rhymes, but was clearly enjoying herself with her stellar band. Tijoux’s a huge MC in the Latin alternative scene, with her music’s focus perfectly summed up in her newest song “Somos Sur.” Translating to “We Are South,” she explains:

“Somos Sur” is about the importance of resistance, not only in Chile, but around the world. Global resistance movements, whether in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East, are fighting against the same patterns of violence that have repeated themselves throughout history. Which means many of these groups share a similar set of demands. We are asking for a free Palestine just like we’re asking for an independent Wallmapu in Chile, without police control.” (Colorlines)

Tijoux’s free show is one of the many events making up São Paulo’s Mês da Cultura Independente, or Independent Culture Month. Featuring both international and Brazilian artists, there are concerts, theater, films, workshops, exhibitions and much more happening around the city for free or low cost. This weekend there was a screening of classic Brazilian horror movies at Cemitério da Consolação! (It’s a shame Brazil doesn’t really celebrate Halloween.) Find out what else is happening this month at the official site.

ana tijoux