Brazil, Fried Bananas, & Feijoada.
“Hold your Council before Dinner; the full Belly hates Thinking as well as Acting.”
-Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), from Poor Richard’s Almanac
My main goal after finishing school has always been to travel – travel, work, and learn until I feel confident enough to return to the United States and put my knowledge to use. I was fortunate enough to find a partner with similar goals who happened to be from another culture entirely – which is why I’m sitting in a São Paulo high-rise apartment with Alex and his brother.
Our first meal here was – unintentionally – Brazil’s national dish, Feijoada. Feijoada is a hearty stew made with black beans, smoked and dried beef, sausage, and just about every part of the pig, served on Wednesdays and Saturdays in almost every corner restaurant in the country. The meats are all cooked in the bean water, turning everything a deep purple-black color. The taste is very strong, slightly salty from the dried meats, but not spicy. A popular myth states that the Brazilian feijoada was a “luxury” dish of the African slaves on Brazilian colonial farms, as it was prepared with relatively cheap ingredients and leftovers from salted pork and meat production. Over time, it first became a popular dish among lower classes, and finally the “national dish” of Brazil, offered even by the finest restaurants. However, some historians consider that the feijoada is a Brazilian version of stews from Southern European countries like France (cassoulet), Spain, Italy and, of course, Portugal. Traditional Portuguese bean-and-pork dishes (cozidos) like those from the regions of Estremadura and Trás-os-Montes are the ancestors of Brazilian feijoada.
The massive buffet spread includes dozens of garnishes and accompaniments, including sliced oranges (to help digestion), shredded kale sautéed with bacon, white rice, farofa (coarse-ground manioc flour toasted with butter and mixed with infinite garnishes such as bacon and diced hard-boiled egg; Brazilians put farofa on almost everything to give it an extra bit of crunch), rice or bean croquettes, fried manioc (also called yucca , tapioca root, or cassava), heart of palm salad, chili-lime salsa, and… fried bananas.
When I took the fried banana, I was expecting a flavor similar to tostones, the savory double-fried plantains popular in many Caribbean cuisines. My taste buds nearly had a heart attack when I had the first bite – soft, deliciously creamy, semi-sweet banana encased in a thin, crispy crust – it was the perfect contrast to the heavy, salty stew. This particular banana has golden yellow flesh that is vertically streaked with darker yellow stripes while the center has a slight pinkish hue. The bananas usually used for this preparation are called Banana da Terra, an extra-large, sweeter version of a plantain that originated in Africa, rich in vitamins, with proven stress-reducing capabilities (which would explain why I fell into a deep, contented sleep immediately after lunch!).
Preparing Bananas Fritas is extremely easy – provided you have access to the right kind of bananas. American Chiquita bananas simply will not do for this – after sampling the dozens of bananas here, I realize that American bananas have very little (if any) flavor at all. Simply peel the bananas, cut into thirds or quarters, coat lightly in flour, dip into beaten egg, and roll in finely ground breadcrumbs, then fry until golden brown. For more of a dessert flavor, add cinnamon and a little sugar to the breadcrumbs.
As a result of this experience, I have devised a new goal : taste at least one different type of banana at every market in town, until I have tried them all 🙂