By Bryan Gregory Sanders
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Festa Junina always draws the crowds throughout June and now rolls its way into July and August, continuing the celebration of the end of the harvest, love for the Northeast, and the change of seasons. With the continuation of the festival into the coming chilly months there is no better way to get a taste of the Northeast’s unique Brazilian cuisine.
Any party that celebrates the harvest must celebrate food. Festa Junina parties don’t disappoint as they leave one warm and merry much like Thanksgiving, but unlike the puritans of North America, in Brazil there is dancing, drinking, and a very different menu.
Changing seasons and cooler nights mean that any Festa Junina party, especially in July, should begin first and foremost with vinho quente and it’s liquor cousin quentão. Vinho quente is a hot red wine served with fruit inside similar to sangria.
A good red wine vinho quente is made in vats, should warm the soul, and should have just enough spicy cinnamon and fruit. Quentão however is a mix of sugar, water, cinnamon, ginger, and cachaça. The drinks will have patrons dancing to the Northeastern beat.
Traditional harvest items like corn on the cob can often be found in variations like sweet corn or pamonha the traditional corn milk paste dumpling boiled and wrapped in cornhusks.
Pamonha, just like those found on roadside restaurants in Northeastern Brazil, are usually sweet, much like in Rio. Besides corn, they can be full of cheese, sausage, minced meat, minced chicken, peppers, or even coconut milk.
Another Junina staple is pinhão, a large seed that peels like corn but goes down like large fibrous flower seeds. These are served hot and are sometimes a little tricky to open. It is best to bite off the end of the husk and then peel it like a banana. All the work opening them eventually does pay off.
The savory dish cuscuz, a Brazilian variation of cous-cous often found with tomato, corn, peas, mushroom, and sometimes hard boiled eggs, is mixed into a deliciously moist loafy cous cous pie. It often is a bit crumbly and quite filling.
Not to be missed are other festival treats like acarajé, the dessert staple arroz doce, a sweet rice topped with cinnamon, and even hotdogs often find their way to the party.
The city of Rio is full of Festa Junina parties through July, here are a couple recommendations to put on the calendar:
On July 14th, the massive Junina party, Arraiá do Circo, at the famed venue Circo Voador under the arches of Lapa, will lead those with a dancing spirit into July. Arraiá do Circo has consistently brought the celebration of all things Northeastern for the last eight years.
July 27th and 28th in Urca hosts a younger and guaranteed more collegial experience at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) annual Festa Junina full of university students, mechanical bulls, sack races, tug of war and lots of drink.