By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the end of the year approaches, Christmas seems to be everywhere in Rio, from the shopping malls’ lavish holiday decorations to the shining Christmas lights hanging from Carioca’s apartments. Likewise, this is the time when many Brazilians and foreigners here get started with the arrangements for the Christmas dinner.
Due to the strong Iberian heritage and the remaining Catholic influence in the country, Christmas has become a great cultural event in Brazil’s calendar, also being celebrated by families who are not Christian. The Christmas celebration is so big in Brazil that the preparation for the big night usually start very early, sometimes in the beginning of November.
Food wise, the Brazilian Christmas owes a lot to the Iberian heritage, responsible for the still predominant Portuguese cuisine in the dinner of December 24th. However, Brazil’s tropical climate and culinary creativity made some dishes more locally authentic, adapted to Brazil’s culinary culture and its local ingredients.
Among the delights from Brazil’s typical Christmas dinner, the roast turkey is always a must. Its most traditional recipe includes “fios de ovos”, a very Portuguese kind of egg yarns, which go on the top of the Turkey.
What’s more, a turkey recipe can only be authentically Brazilian if it is surrounded by many tropical fruits, of all types. Nowadays, some families have been replacing the actual turkey by the Chester, a “super bird” that is considered juicier than the former one.
Apart from turkey, bacalhau (codfish) is a big hero of the Brazilian Christmas’ dinner. Many are the possibilities for serving a real Brazilian bacalhau, which also comes from the omnipresent Portuguese cuisine.
A popular recipe for a good roast bacalhau includes ingredients like eggs, peppers (red, yellow and green), black olives, onions and olive oil (a lot of olive oil). A favorite, however, is the unbeatable “bolinho de bacalhau“, the codfish fritter, which is actually served in Carioca bars during the entire year.
The most typical sides for bacalhau and turkey are the white rice (which is usually seasoned with raisins), farofa (cassava flour with ingredients like, sausage, eggs, onion, garlic and banana), and the mayonnaise salad (with cooked potatoes and carrots). Brazil’s full Christmas dining table still includes nuts (usually walnuts and hazelnuts) and dried fruits.
Even though desert recipes can vary from family to family, the one sweet that cannot miss in any Christmas dinner is the “rabanada”. Somewhat similar to the French toast, “rabanada” is thick slices of day-old bread, dipped in a mixture of milk and beaten eggs, fried in butter and covered in port, sugar and cinnamon. Some families prefer it baked rather than fried. Rabanada is such a popular sweet that one can easily find it in Carioca bakeries all year round.
For those interested in cooking a traditional Brazilian dinner for Christmas Eve, a great suggestion is going to Casas Pedro, a traditional grocery/ spice market with many branches spread around Rio’s Centro and Zona Sul (South Zone). There, one can easily find all the ingredients needed for fair prices. Another address worth to check out, especially for the codfish, is the CADEG Market, situated in Benfica, Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone).
Those looking for a Brazilian Christmas dinner who are unable to cook should try ordering the dishes prepared by Rio’s restaurants and bakeries. More contemporary versions of the Brazilian dishes can be found at the Monique Benoliel Buffet, like the seafood rice (R$380 for ten people) and the pork stuffed with bacon and thyme (R$480 for ten people). The Christmas menu of restaurant Gula Gula offers traditional plates like turkey with orange sauce (R$190) or lentils rice with crispy onions (R$60).