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.
- Care for a Drink with your Film? (or a Film with your Drink?)
- 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
Pipoca Tale No. 1
This week, as I was perusing the Brazilian press for online coverage of the World Cup, I happened upon an interesting stat: whenever it's Copa do Mundo time, sales of pipoca (popcorn) explode throughout Brazil.
Pundits are estimating that pipoca sales are going to increase by a whopping 30 percent. If there's any doubt that Brazilians' love of pipoca transcends all socio-economic barriers, one need only observe the wide variety of World Cup popcorn products on offer. These range from the verde e amarelo–– (green and yellow) paper and plastic popcorn buckets sold at R$1.99 discount stores to special edition boxes of PipoKopa – popcorn coated in gourmet chocolate – launched by Kopenhagen, an upscale Brazilian chocolatier.
I must confess that before moving to Brazil, I had always viewed popcorn as a quintessentially American snack. However, the truth is that 2,000 years ago, indigenous peoples throughout the American continent – from the Iroquois to the Incas – were already proficient at popping corn. Back in the day, kernels were often tossed directly onto hot stones, (part of the fun was chasing after the freshly popped kernels as they exploded every which way). Later on, some savvier tribes hit upon the idea of oiling up whole ears of corn and roasting them in the flames, resulting in easier-to-eat, popcorn-on-the-cob.
Popcorn technology advanced significantly in the 1880s with the arrival of the popcorn cart; the brainchild of Chicago inventor (and peanut roaster) Charles Cretors. By the early 20th century, these portable steam and gas poppers were a common sight throughout the entire American continent.
Although in contemporary North America, the popcorn man and woman is a vanishing species, being a pipoqueiro or pipoqueira is still a major source of livelihood for many Brazilians. Their carrinhos (carts) can be spotted along beaches, in parks, and in front of soccer stadiums and cinemas. In front of theaters, their presence is oracular for producers and playwrights, who watch anxiously to see how many pipoqueiros (if any) congregate outside a theater on opening night. The more popcorn carts on the sidewalk, the longer, and more profitable, the run of the play.
In Brazil, carrinhos range from merely functional to works of art. While some are industrially manufactured, others are (sometimes ingeniously) home-made. Most share certain basic features: an aluminum surface with a hole in which a cauldron of kernels can be heated over a gas flame; glass casing into which fluffly, white pipocas is poured; bicycle wheels for mobility. Popular accessories include lighting systems for night, pop-up parasols for rain, and radios or other sound systems for the inevitable soundtrack (many pipoqueiros have also perfected their own signature cries and chants to attract customers).
Then there is the pipoca itself. Most pipoqueiros worth their salt make salgado (salty) and doce (sweet) versions. Depending on the region of Brazil, there will be certain variations on these two tasty tropes. For example, while the classic salgado version is sprinkled with sal (salt) and manteiga (melted butter), I've also had pipoca with freshly shaved coconut (Northeast), grated parmesan cheese (São Paulo), and pork rinds (Minas Gerais). The classic pipoca doce is caramel corn, to which peanuts or shaved coconut may be added as well a thick creamy drizzle of leite condensado (condensed milk). Kids often favor ultra-sweet pipocas coloridas, whose sugary coatings come in garish circus tones.
It's said that in recent times, pipoqueiros and their carrinhos have dwindled due to the introduction of microwave and gourmet popcorn. However, viewed that Brazil is one of the biggest popcorn markets in the world, their future seems to be assured. Surely it's more than mere coincidence that the king of gourmet popcorn, Orville Redenbacher, was born and raised in Brazil (Indiana).