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By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The “prato feito” combination of the basic choices of meat (beef, chicken, pork or fish), plus rice, plus beans is ubiquitous in many restaurants across Brazil. It’s also a blanket of culinary consonance that can mask the creativity and innovation that exists in contemporary Brazilian cuisine.

Restaurante Laguiole's codfish rice with fried potato and quail egg, photo courtesy of Abrasel.

Fortunately Abrasel (the Brazilian restaurant and leisure association), has organized the national food festival Brasil Sabor which launched this week with a mission to celebrate the exciting diversity of Brazil’s food culture and promote the flavors and talents of restaurants across the country.

The enormity of the country, and the event, makes Brasil Sabor the world’s largest food festival, connecting over 2,000 restaurants in 300 cities including 27 state capitals. Until May 15th, participating restaurants have on offer a specialty dish which has been chosen to represent their cuisine, often at a discounted festival price.

The 2010 and fifth edition of the festival focuses on the vast range of regional varieties with specialties showcasing the spices, flavors and traditional dishes of the particular locale. With a grand celebration of local culinary excellence, the launch of Brasil Sabor in Rio de Janeiro state took place at the Modern Art Museum last Tuesday, April 13th.

In the chic surrounds of the gallery’s function space, some of the best restaurants from the city and beyond presented their specialty dishes and demonstrated the excellence of culinary talent in the region.

As the culinary capital of the state, it’s not surprising that Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio de Janeiro was particularly well-represented. Highlights include the hearty comfort flavors of the black rice with lamb and rosemary (R$48) from Aquim Cafe and the luscious creamy indulgence of the brie tortelli with apricot sauce and almonds (R$29.90) from Pax, both in Leblon.

Many of the more exciting dishes show real creativity for example the Couveflor group’s cod roulade with passionfruit sauce, the sweet fruit flavor cutting through the savory fluffy fishcake. Passion for ingredients and skill was in evidence in the dish from the Modern Art Museum’s restaurant Laguiole, a sublime creamy codfish rice topped with crispy fried potato slithers and a perfectly fried quail’s egg (R$58).

On the sweet side of things, Sorvete Brasil with branches in Ipanema, Barra, Urca and Itaipava are presenting their deliciously naughty cachaça ice creams (R$7) in a variety of fresh fruit and chocolate flavors.

Abrasel's Rio de Janeiro president Anna Maria Torres with former president Rodrigo Aquim at the Brasil Sabor Rio launch, photo courtesy of Abrasel.

This year’s festival has a particularly strong participation of restaurants outside the city. From Paraty, highlights include Restaurant O Cafe’s innovative vegetable lasagna with palm heart pasta sheets (R$40 for two people) and the dessert massapão, a doughnut delicately infused with cachaça and served with passionfruit sauce and ice cream (R$24) from Banana da Terra.

Other state hot spots are Solar Fazenda do Cedro in Petrópolis who are serving duck breast basted in sweet and sour sauce with mashed white carrot and broccoli rice (R$40) and Lucca Ristorante in Macaé with their fresh tortelli filled with Italian burrata cheese served with a rich pesto sauce (R$35).

With such exciting dishes, the festival looks likely to draw attention to the burgeoning eating out scene in the region which according to Abrasel’s Rio de Janeiro president Anna Maria Torres is the event’s aim. “The purpose is to enhance gastronomy in our cities and states,” she says. “It’s an entertainment festival to motivate people to go out and try new restaurants which means advancement for the sector”.

For full listings of participating restaurants visit brasilsabor.com.br

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