Cooking is a direct testament to a country's history, culture and what the land provides. Tropical cultures often eat very nutritious and satisfying foods, rich in fruits, vegetables and grains. It's always a treat to try cooking new dishes from exotic places -- especially when your wallet can get to you to the supermarket for the ingredients but not halfway across the world to that special place!
Brazil is the largest country in South America, and the fourth largest country in the world [source: Lonely Planet]. When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they brought sugar, citrus fruits, and many sweets that are still used for desserts and holidays; eggs, fruits, spices (such as cinnamon and mint) and sugar are used to make sweet treats, such as ambrosia salad. They also use savory seasonings such as parsley and garlic. Other populations that settled in Brazil include the Japanese, Arabs, Germans and Italians, bringing further variations of foods and influences to cooking.
Some of Brazil's most popular foods include:
- Spicy dishes, such as pepper-scented rice, and sweets during Carnival, the all-day/all-night celebrations for which Brazil is most famous
- Street foods in Rio de Janeiro, such as barbecued prawns, queijo coalho (salted cheese) and fresh coconut water
- Churrasco, Brazil's version of slow-roasted and rotisserie meats
- Clay pot stews from the Bahia region, which include ingredients such as okra, coconut milk and prawns
- Exotic fish and fruits such as passion fruit and acai from deep in the Amazon region
- Feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-da), a stew of pork and black beans that's traditionally served over rice with fresh orange slices. This dish is often served on special occasions and is considered Brazil's national dish [source: Culinary Institute of America]. The meats and spices used in the dish vary in every region of Brazil.
In central and western Africa, cooking varies from region to region. In central Africa, much of the meat available is very exotic to our tastes and usually has to be hunted first. This includes animals such as crocodile, and antelope, in addition to beef or chicken [source: World Food and Wine].
However, staple foods in central Africa are plant-based, including cassava root, peanuts and chili peppers, which make for great soups and stews. A typical dessert is bambara, a porridge made from rice, peanut butter and sugar. West Africans enjoy a much greater variety of spices, and they like it hot! Because of its coastal location, visitors from outside countries have helped west African cuisine evolve to include foods cooked with spices like cinnamon and cloves. Seafood is eaten regularly, and goat meat is the staple protein.