About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
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- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
Minas Gerais Road Trip - Part 3 (Comida di Buteco)
Bar hounds beware (or prepare)!
Belo Horizonte is Brazil's bar capital par excellence.
At last count, the capital of Minas Gerais boasted some 12,000 watering holes, a figure that translates into more bars per capita than any other Brazilian city. For this reason, "BH" has earned the informal title of "capital nacional do boteco" – a boteco being the Brazilian term for an informal bar that functions as neighborhood headquarters for residents (and bohemians) from all walks of life who get together to talk about futebol, politics, or their sex lives for hours at a time, while downing ice cold cerveja or shots of cachaça.
Since hanging out at bars for hours on end can be hungry work, almost all botecos serve (often very tasty) sustenance of some kind to their loyal clientele. For the happy-hour or late-night crowd, it's common to nibble on snacks known as tira gostos or petiscos. Options vary tremendously according to the region and sophistication of the bar, but universal classics you're likely to encounter throughout Brazil include bolinhos de bacalhau (crunchy codfish balls) and caldo de feijão (a thick bean soup often accompanied by cilantro and pork rinds). One or several porções of these snacks can easily serve as a meal, and, in fact, tablesful of Brazilians often communally share one of more dishes in lieu of dinner. However, many botecos also serve full meals, which run the gamut from home-cooked pratos fixos to innovative fare on par with some of Brazil's finest restaurants.
Viewed Mineiros' unrivaled passion for both food and drink, it's hardly surprising that it's in Belo Horizonte's botecos that you're apt to find some of the most inventive and varied bar food in the country. In fact, it was to celebrate – and provide further incentive to - this increasingly valorized form of baixa gastronomia that, in 1999, a local gastronome, cooking teacher and culinary guru by the name of Eduardo Maya created the first Comida di Buteco, festival.
Held between the months of April and May, Comida di Buteco constitutes the most important gastronomic event in Minas Gerais. Dozens of bars and botecos throughout Belo Horizonte take part in the competition which involves creating a special tira gosto and then serving it to the masses who hop from bar to bar with more than the usual frenzy, under the pretext of attempting to savor all the specialties before the month is up. Although a jury composed of professionals judge competing tira gostos, equal weight is given to the opinions of customers who are asked to fill out ballots before wobbling off into the night.
Aside from grading the dishes, judges and customers weigh in on other factors as well such as the temperature of the beer, the quality of service, and level of hygiene. Over the years, Comida di Buteco has not only revitalized Belo Horizonte's already vibrant bar scene, but its success has been such that other cities throughout Minas and the rest of Brazil – including Rio de Janeiro and Salvador – have launched their own Comida di Buteco festivals featuring recipes that incorporate regional products and culinary traditions.
Having sampled some of the past winners from previous competitions (and never erased them from my culinary memory), I was thrilled to discover that my arrival in Belo Horizonte was to coincide with the final weekend of the 2010 edition of Comida di Buteco. Even more exciting (to me at least) was the fact that the 41 botecos competing for the grand prize of best tira gosto all had to concoct creations featuring the exotic and unusual green jiló, a distant (and more bitter tasting) relative of the eggplant that became popular in Brazil after being brought over by slaves from West Africa (where it is still cultivated).
When I picked up the Comida di Buteco passport at the Mercado Central – a pocket-sized booklet with names, addresses, and operating hours of all participating botecos (also available online at www.comidadibuteco.com.br) – my mouth started to water as I read the description of the contenders: cachaça marinated pork in a rosemary sesame crust flavored with jiló vinaigrette; jiló and vegetable stuffed chicken roll; jiló pasta bathed in orange sauce... and the list goes on. There were no limits to what this oblong fruit was being subjected: jiló parmesiana; jiló gratinado, jiló chowder, jiló carpaccio, jiló purée, jiló bread and even jiló chips – I wanted try them all. Unfortunately, since we didn't begin to boteco hop until the very last day of the event, we only had time, not to mention room in our stomachs – (the ample, and inexpensive, portions easily feed three) – to sample two contenders.
The first was at the traditional Bar da Lora, located within the Mercado Central, where the jiló was grilled with sausage and served alongside beef marinated in dark ale and a purée of manioc and creamy Minas cheese. The second was at Boteca da Carne, an atmospheric boteco perched on a steep residential street in the bairro of São Pedro, where the "jiló japonês" (Japanese jiló) consisted of fine slices of jiló marinated in a sweet-sour vinaigrette and served on a platter along with kaftas (Middle Eastern seasoned meatballs grilled on skewers), herbed french fries, and onion petals in a parmesan cream (see above photo).
Both of these inventions were downright delicious, and having just checked the results of the winners (which were announced at a festive "Saideira" ("Last Call") ceremony held on May 16), it's hardly surprising that both racked up top prizes (Bar da Lora was crowned champion while Boteco da Carne was tied for second place).
Although Belo Horizonte's Comida di Buteco won't come around for another 11 months, over the next few weeks editions of the festival will be taking place at botecos in Salvador, (May 21-June 20) and Rio de Janeiro, (May 28-June 27) – if you're planning a trip to these cities during these periods, be prepared to have your tastebuds challenged and your waistline expand.