by Ernest Barteldes
Last week I wrote a post about English-language songs that talk about food, and after I finished writing I started thinking about the many Brazilian songs that have the same subject matter. I compiled a small list based on my own collection and songs I have known for a number of years (I wouldn’t know top 40 hits that made the charts after I relocated to the US in 2000) that reveal not only the country’s celebratory nature but also some culinary preferences.
Portuguese composers have also included food in their songs as well, especially in the more apolitical fados written during the repressive Salazar regime, which used the genre as a national postcard of sorts. Unfortunately, they also suppressed more politically charged lyrics, which led fado into decline until its resurgence in recent years.
Chico Buarque de Hollanda has written many confrontational songs during his long career. However, being a ‘carioca’ that he is, he certainly knows a thing or two about having a good time. An example of that is “Feijoada Completa,” a tune in which the narrator tells his wife to get things ready for a big celebration with friends, including the signature dish, “stupidly cold” beer and appetizers. He also reminds her to ‘add water to the beans’ as they cook.
Luiz Gonzaga (whose centenary was recently celebrated in Brazil) was dubbed the ‘king of baião,’ a syncopated beat from northeastern Brazil. The songs’ words are filled with double entendre and words that don’t say exactly what they’re supposed to mean. An example of this is “Eu Quero Ovo de Codorna,” whose lyrics talk of a man who ‘is not that young anymore.’ He consults a doctor, and he prescribes him quail eggs – a known aphrodisiac – which ‘made the wife happy’ since his ‘problem’ was now solved.
Farofa is a side dish mainly made with leftover cooking grease and manioc flour; there are many variations that include dried beef, vegetables and even eggs, and it is a staple in pretty much every northeastern home (I love it and often make it even if Renata will not as much as touch it). The dish was the topic of “Farofa-Fa,” written and recorded by Mauro Celso in the mid-70s. The lyrics simply give the recipe for preparing the dish – it was a smash hit in the country thanks to its great hook (Faro-fa-fa) and simplicity. Sadly, Celso would only have one more hit and then disappear into obscurity until his tragic death in a car accident in 1989.
Dorival Caymmi loved his native Bahia, and he celebrated it in song countless times. One cannot think of Bahia without being reminded of its rich Afro-Inspired culinary, and Caymmi knew that – among many songs, I recall “Vatapá,”” Os Quindins de Yaya” and “No Tabuleiro da Baiana,” – the former actually teaches the listener how to prepare the dish!
There are many other Brazilian songs that celebrate its food, but I will leave you with “Eu To Voltando,” a hit for Sergio Mendes that talks about a person who has been away (probably from the country) for a very long time and announces his return – “prepare those black beans and chill the beer,” the words go… It’s clearly time to celebrate
(from What’s For Eats International)
- Onion, chopped — 2
- Dried shrimp (see notes) — 1/2 cup
- Garlic, chopped — 2 to 3 cloves
- Malagueta or jalapeño chili peppers, chopped — 1-4
- Oil — 3 tablespoons
- Stock or water — 1 1/2 cups
- Natural peanut or cashew butter — 1/2 cup
- Breadcrumbs — 1 cup
- Salt and pepper — to taste
- Shrimp, peeled and deveined — 1 pound
- Coconut milk — 2 cups
- Dendê oil (optional) — 1/4 cup
- Place the onion, dried shrimp, garlic and chilies in a food processor or blender and puree well. Add a little water if necessary.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion-shrimp mixture and sauté until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the stock or water and whisk in the peanut or cashew butter until smooth. Then stir in the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-8 minutes to meld the flavors.
- Stir in the shrimp and coconut milk and simmer another 5-6 minutes, or until shrimp is almost cooked through.
- Remove from heat, stir in the dendê oil and serve.