How to tackle a feijoada, Brazil’s extraordinarily tasty national dish
Feijoada, Brazil's national dish and an endless source of countrywide pride, is a black bean stew of various salted beef and pork cuts seasoned with garlic, onions, bay leaves and even cachaça (liquor distilled from sugar cane), served over rice alongside fried manioc (cassava), sautéed kale, orange slices and farofa (manioc flour).
Traditionally eaten on Saturdays (it's too food coma-inducing for weekdays, though many touristy restaurants do it daily and some folks do it Wednesday), it's a meal for which one's schedule must be cleared.
On an episode of The Layover, TV chef and culinary explorer Anthony Bourdain nailed it, crowning the coveted dish a "magnificent, beautiful, murky black substance," "perfection in a dish" and "truly, transcendently wonderful."
At trendier restaurants, feijoada is served in individual portions at the table ("na cumbuca," or, "in the bowl"), but the real deal is a far bigger production and can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated. So where to begin?
A traditional feijoada is self-serve, with up to 12 or so massive piping hot cauldrons of various cuts on offer, lined up buffet-style like soldiers of culinary fortune. Diners may pick and choose which versions they want to ladle onto their plate. Choices run the gamut, from pig ears, pig's feet and tongues to carnes nobres (noble cuts) like smoked sausage, jerked beef and smoked ribs (feijoada's history in steeped in slavery, with the slave owners keeping all the carnes nobres for themselves, throwing the more unsavory bits to the slaves).
Did we mention it's all-you-can-eat? Pacing yourself is the key.
With beer (or free-flowing cachaça or batidinhas, a sort of strained caipirinha) whetting your appetite, it's time to tackle the task ahead. On your first run through, you'll want to start slowly: Grab a little appetiser of caldinho de feijão, a sometimes spicy black bean puree (if it's not spicy and you want it to be, a house-made hot sauce will be within reach). Once you have prepared your stomach for what's to come, grab a plate and go in for the kill.
Serve yourself a bottom layer of rice and a second layer of black beans, then decide your comfort level of food adventure. Head down the line, choosing your preferred cuts and piling them on top of the rice and beans. Paio (smoked sausage) and carne-seca (sun-dried beef) are top choices. Save a little room on your plate for some fied manioc, sautéed kale and a few orange slices (the latter is a palate cleanser designed to cut the richness of the dish). Sprinkle a bit of farofa over the top of the stew and, if you're so inclined, a healthy slathering of house-made pepper sauce.
Eat. Repeat. And cancel your plans for the rest of the afternoon.