Last Saturday, the New York Times ran a not-so-complimentary article about food in Rio de Janeiro, much of which was centered around the Biscoito Globo, a local brand of a ubiquitous crunchy, savoury baked snack made from a manioc (yucca) starch known as polvilho, born locally some 50 years ago and sold throughout Brazil. It’s not only adored by all Brazilians, but it’s an iconic piece of the Rio de Janeiro history as well. However, the New York Times wasn’t feeling the love – or the nostalgia.
“To the American palate, a Biscoito Globo is basically an oversize Funyun minus the onion, or what you would get if you ordered a Cheez Doodle, hold the cheese,” wrote journalist David Segal for the Times. “It is crumbly texture and nothing else — air turned into a doughnut-shaped wafer. Pop one in your mouth, and it is as if your teeth are at a party to which your tongue was not invited.”
In all fairness, it’s an accurate portrayal to an outsider who didn’t grow up tearing through these bags of fried air in childhood, but it caused a Twitter firestorm. Brazil was not happy, Cariocas even less so. “These people don’t know the tradition,” beach vendor Roberto de Paula told Rio’s Globo news (no relation). “They are very dear to the beaches and loved by both higher and lower classes, rich people, poor people, children, adults. Everybody loves these biscuits a lot. It’s unfortunate these people spoke badly about one of the city’s cultural icons.”
“Biscoito Globo and other brands of this type of snack are made from polvilho, a tasteless manioc starch,” adds Brazilian Adriana Schmidt, a card-carrying fan of the snack. “We love the tasteless taste of polvilho because we love the crunch and we associate it with road trips, beach holidays, camping and surf safaris. Every roadside rest stop in Brazil is stocked with this ubiquitous snack. It’s emblematic!”
But the food and beverage wars didn’t stop with Biscoito Globo. Another journalist in town for the Olympics, Canadian Scott Stinton from Canada’s National Post, also felt the wrath of proud Brazilians on Twitter this week after he tweeted a photo ridiculing the size of a Brazilian espresso. Brazilians, united in a love for short, strong doses of caffeine, scoffed at what they called his cultural insensitivity and lack of knowledge – as well as the large vats of coffee typically drunk in North America.
Back at Biscoitogate, Marcelo Ponce, the son of one of Biscoito Globo’s founders, told Globo news that despite his father being none too pleased about the disparaging article, he has enjoyed the ride. “My father is 80-years-old,” said Ponce. “He received the journalist here at the factory and is upset, not for speaking evil about the biscuit – they said it’s bland and tasteless, but that is a matter of taste – he is upset because they spoke evil of Carioca cuisine as a whole. But on the other hand, my father is very happy with the positive impact from the internet and social networks, with all Brazilians defending us.”
The latest culinary controversy caused such a stir that some Cariocas have changed their Facebook profiles to photos of themselves with the cherished biscuits; and Globo news took to the beaches on Tuesday, filming foreigners taste-testing the enamoured biscuit and receiving mostly positive feedback, with reviews from everyone from Russians to Japanese ranging from “like popcorn, but different” to “salty but delicious.” Overall, the beach bumming visitors enjoyed this Brazilian treat a lot more than the New York Times writer.
Perhaps most importantly, though, many foreigners quickly realized the point of a Biscoito Globo in the first place: As a savoury accompaniment to an ice-cold beer or caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail).
As far as beach traditions go, it doesn’t get much better than that – no matter how unsophisticated your palate.