Finding Feijoada — Discovering Brazil’s National Dish
Ask a Brazilian cook or chef who makes the best feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, and they’ll say “I do!”
Nothing is more of a source of pride than making a delicious version of this pork and bean stew. Well, perhaps apart from making a mean caiparinha with their own supply of artisanal Cachaça!
A ritual that’s as essential to the Carioca way of life as a daily vitamina at a sucos bar or a weekend agua de coca at Ipanema, feijoada is traditionally served on Saturdays for lunch – we’re guessing that’s so they can have a good lie down afterwards as there’s no such thing as a light feijoada! This is one very hearty meal.
Usually made in a big batch and made for sharing, feijoada is a must-do dish for visitors to Brazil. One problem for many tourists, however, is that the dish traditionally features cuts of pork that most visitors would not want to know the names of. This doesn’t really bother us – we believe that if you’re going to slaughter an animal use as much of it as you possibly can.
When restaurants remove (or designate as ‘optional’) a feijoada‘s essential pork bits, i.e. the hoof, ear, tail, and tongue, it really takes away from the authentic experience. As does serving feijoada every day of the week. It’s like the English having a Sunday roast on a Monday and serving it without gravy. Having feijoada in a restaurant full of tourists, as we did when we first arrived in Rio at a highly fancied and much written about eatery that’s in all the guide books, was uninspiring.
We wanted to try feijoada again before we left Brazil but were so disheartened by our first experience (the ‘highly regarded’ restaurant was full of tour groups) that we almost gave up. A trip to the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa on our last Saturday in Rio restored our faith in feijoada.
When we arrived at Bar do Mineiro (Rua Pascoal Carlos Magno 99) after not really liking the look of the more publicized restaurants in this charming quarter, there were already a few groups of people waiting for a table. The room was packed with a predominantly local crowd all enjoying ‘feijoada completa’ served in the traditional clay pot. Jackpot!
We ordered a couple of Antarctica beers while we waited and salivated as pot after pot was served to hungry diners. By the time our name was called we were starving. We’d been watching plates of tasty-looking mixed savoury pastéis go past, so we couldn’t resist ordering some. They were absolutely fantastic – perfect with an icy cold beer. Our waiter asked if we enjoyed them with a twinkle in his eye – he knows they’re great. By the time our feijoada arrived it was like a carnival outside with dozens of waiting diners spilling out onto the tram path.
Our feijoada was what we had hoped it might taste like the first time we tried it. The colour (this coming from someone who has looked at a million dishes through the lens of a camera) was not attractive – a mix of dark brown hues from the meat and tinges of purple from the black beans – but the flavour was amazing.
The ribs and other pork bits, the sausage, the smoked meats, the sauce, and even the humble beans, had combined to form a complex mix of flavours that’s undoubtedly hearty but still very moreish. Every time Lara and I said to eachother “that’s it, I’ve had enough” the pot remained there, tempting us to poke around for more meat and beckoning us to order another bottle of beer to have with a few more mouthfuls. And then another mouthful or two of the palate-freshening greens, the tasty rice, and the tangy orange slices that are traditionally served as accompaniments to the dish.
Back out in the sunlight after we’d left to give our table to one of the hungry groups who’d patiently been waiting outside, I turned to Lara and said, “Okay, now I get it!” And at half the price of the one we’d tried the first day, with twice the flavour, and triple the atmosphere.