SCHAUMLOEFFEL, Marco Aurelio. The links between West Africa and Brazil in the Culinary Art. Daily Graphic, Accra, v. 149137, p. 14 – 14, 27 maio 2004.
The links between West Africa and Brazil in the Culinary Arts and Food
Both Brazilians and Africans have a lot in common in the way that they prepare their meals, not only common ingredients, but also alimentary habits. In Brazil, especially in areas like the Northeast of the country, the region with the biggest African influences, it is very common to see people preparing and selling food on the streets. It can be food like fried “acaraje” (a little spicy ball made of bean paste, onions and fried in palm oil, well-spiced with chilli and filled with a sauce of dried shrimps) or “pastel” (pies of different types e.g. with meat, cheese, chicken, maize or banana). In Ghana they also sell fried or grilled food and fruits. In Brazil and in Ghana the women carry their “shops” over their head or simply install it over a box or a small table at any point that seems to bring good deals in the streets.
One of our national main dishes is “feijoada”. It is stew that combines black beans cooked with pork meat and as accompaniment we eat rice, salad of green leafs of cabbage, roasted cassava flour and oranges. This dish is clearly a creation of Africans in Brazil. In the past unfortunately they were slaves of the Portuguese big landowners and received from them only the offal of meat, when they slaughter e.g. a pig. But they were very creative and cooked with the pork the “feijoada”, since black beans and the other accompaniment like the roasted cassava flour were abundant. We call our roasted cassava flour “farofa”, which is the same than your “gari”. In Brazil and in Ghana we use it accompanying bean dishes. We eat it normally on Saturdays at lunch, because it demands a long time for digestion, so that we can sleep in the afternoon, if necessary, especially if you have before the “feijoada” our national drink, the “caipirinha”, made of lemon, sugar, ice cubes and a sugar cane schnaps.
One of the main foods used by Ghanaians when they prepare their dishes is cassava. Cassava is native from South America. It was used as food by the aborigines (indios) a long time before the discovery of the Continent by the Europeans. It was probably brought to Africa by Afro-Brazilians. In Brazil we call cassava “mandioca”, a term that comes from the aboriginal language Tupi. Because it is wide spread throughout the country, we have, apart from the name “mandioca”, other names for it: “aipim”, “macaxeira”, “castelinha” and “maniveira”. Normally we use only its root, but in the last years we are also using the leaves, because of its high protein values. From the cassava it is also possible to extract alcohol.
Cocoa and coffee are also very common in Brazil and in West Africa. Cocoa is native from Central America. The people called Olmeca in Mexico knew the uses of it already around the year 3000 B.C., amongst other as a drink and in the religious ceremonies. Coffee, on the other hand, is native from Africa, precisely from the province of Kaffa (where the name “coffee” probably comes from) in Ethiopia. Brazil is the main coffee producer in the world, while Cote D’Ivoire is the main producer of cocoa.
A lot of other alimentary habits are the same in our countries. The food street vendors also offer green coconut juice, fried food made with palm oil (“oleo de dende”, originally from Angola), roasted peanuts as a snack, we have also rice as a side dish (not potatoes), we dry the shrimps. Some other habits are similar, but with some differences. We like to eat both cashew fruits and the roasted nuts. Sugar cane is normally sold as fresh juice, not as sticks. As a variation, it can be mixed with lemon or pineapple juice. “Vatapa” is a spicy stew made of fish or chicken, coconut milk, leftover bread, dried and fresh shrimps, roasted peanuts and cashew nuts, palm oil and other spices like onions, parsley and spring onion. “Caruru” is another stew made of fish, shrimps, okra (originally from West Africa) etc., that can be compared to the sauce that you use for the traditional “banku”. We don’t have the habit of eating plantain or yam, even though we have them as a plant.
The similarities in the culinary arts and food available are big, so that a Ghanaian probably will feel at home in Brazil, especially in the Northeast region.
Marco Aurelio Schaumloeffel
Brazilian Lecturer in Ghana