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People usually think of Brazil as a tropical paradise, whose people are dancing and having fun all day long. Rio's Carnival has helped to develope that image. However, only Rio de Janeiro and the Northeast apply to that prototype. Brazilian culture is much more than that.
Brazilian people are a mixture of three cultures: Portuguese, African and Native American. European immigrants, especially Germans and Italians, also influenced Brazilian culture a lot in São Paulo and Southern Brazil.
Native American influence is more obvious in the Amazonas basin. Many regional dishes, dances and customs clearly reflect Native American origins.
African culture is strong in the Northeast. Most of the people are black in this corner of Brazil. Salvador da Bahia may possibly be the most African city in the Americas. Food, music, dances and religion resemble Africa. Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Candomblé, have spread all over Brazil. Capoeira, a kind of African dance and sport, is widely practised, too.
Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais look a bit more like Portugal. Minas Gerais' colonial cities seem to have been taken directly from the Portuguese countryside. Rio de Janeiro used to be the capital city of Brazil and many Portuguese immigrants came to the city during the 19 th and 20 th centuries.
São Paulo received thousands of Italian immigrants during the 19 th and 20 th centuries and their influence spread all over the State. Germans settled in the valleys and mountains of Southern Brazil and their culture and language is still strong in Santa Catarina. Finally, Rio Grande do Sul, the country's southernmost State, looks more like Argentina and Uruguay than Brazil.
Some Brazilian traditional dishes
In case you have already tried churrasco and feijoada and you are willing to try other typical Brazilian dishes, here are some suggestions (you may want to write down their names in Portuguese and show it to your waiter, since the pronunciation is a little tricky):
1) Tutu a mineira (originally from Minas Gerais state, it can be found in restaurants around the country). The main ingredient here are brown beans (similar to pinto beans) cooked and mashed (similar to refried beans). The difference is the addition of garlic and a manioc powder that gives it a creamy texture and unique flavor. It is served with thick slices of baked pork tenderloin, cooked eggs, cooked dark greens (the leaves are similar to collard greens), white rice, and thick chunks of pork fat fried so that there is a crispy crust on the outside (it is called torresmo).
2) Caruru (from Bahia state, with African roots, found most easily in Salvador, Rio and Sao Paulo and some cities of the northeast coast, or any Bahia food restaurant). This dish resembles the New Orleans’ gumbo, but it contains fewer ingredients, which highlights the natural flavors of the shrimps and the okra. The dish is made basically with okra, dried shrimp, coconut milk, cashews and peanuts. Plus tomatoes and fish stock. The main condiments are red, hot Brazilian pepper and the oil of a palm tree grown in Bahia state called Dende. It is usually served with white rice.
3) Tacaca (Amazonia, particularly Belem city). This dish is a popular street food in Belem and it is extremely exotic, with strong Indian roots. It is soupy, served very hot in hand made coconut bowls. There are four main ingredients: a glue-like paste made from manioc, a fermented stock also made from manioc ( tucupi), dried shrimp and a dark green leaves that produces a light numbness on the tongue. The texture and the combination of all these ingredients produce a unique taste and texture. You may not want to have this every day but if you have it once you will remember it for a while. For the adventurous food explorer. A variation of this dish can be found in restaurants in which cuts of duck meat are cooked in the fermented manioc stock with the dark green leaves. It is called Pato no tucupi.