By William Jones, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At first glance, Europeans and Americans far from home will likely find themselves contented in the familiar foods of a Brazilian Christmas feast, yet the holiday meal in the South American giant incorporates additional regional flavors and ingredients that make the occasion deliciously unique.
Although centuries of immigration from Europe have imparted a certain influence on Ceia de Natal (Christmas Dinner), the tropical tastes and local customs bring some delightful color to the table.
Following the country’s Iberian heritage, the Christmas meal is the focal point of festivities and is traditionally eaten late on Christmas Eve, either before or after a late night mass known as the Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster), named after the rooster that announces the coming of Christmas day.
In southern parts of Brazil, it would not be uncommon to find German strudel and “stollen” (a cake containing dried fruits and marzipan), and an extremely popular Italian “panettone” (sweet bread) sitting next to the Christmas feast, displaying the strong European influence on the history and tradition of these regions of the Latin American country.
Throughout the country, however, the traditional Christmas Dinner is a large spread with such dishes as kale highly seasoned with garlic, local fruits, nuts, and the signature Brazilian rice, ham, roast turkey and salad. Similar to many European countries, a Christmas feast will center on a turkey, but in true Brazilian fashion, the bird will be served with local exotic fruits.
The Bacalhau (codfish), salted and rolled into balls, is a dish especially popular in Brazilian coastal towns, and often more likely to make an appearance too.
Turkey in Brazil can come in several different varieties. The Chester Turkey is “a super bird” according to chef João Nunes from Restaurante Armazém Italiano in Curitiba. “What gives this characteristic size and flavor is just the crossing of special strains of turkeys, much juicier than a regular bird.”
He warned that Brazilians do not miss “fruits in general” at the Christmas table, “especially tropical, which we have the blessing of having for a very low price. Especially the fruits in syrups like cherries, pineapple and figs.
If Turkey isn’t your favorite, “leg or calf of pork is tasty and can be served with or without bone, stuffed and baked in a conventional oven or wood, which gives a very nice smoky flavor,” but the chef warned not to overcook.
Guto Correia, a lifelong resident of Rio de Janeiro, told The Rio Times, “My family traditionally eats codfish, turkey and ham. There is also a dessert called Rabanada. It is made from bread and cinnamon, delicious.”
“Rabanada,” a dish that will remind Americans or the British of French Toast, is thick slices of day-old bread, dipped in a mixture of milk and beaten eggs, fried in butter and deliciously covered in thick syrup made from port, honey and cinnamon. Although it is a tasty favorite all year round, rabanada is a ‘must have’ on the Brazilian Christmas meal table.