Rio! To someone who’s never been there before, the word conjures images of a stunning stretch of beach, exotic food and beautiful people celebrating Carnival. As the world turns its attention to the coastal city this month for the Olympic Games, people in the DC area have plenty of opportunities to experience an authentic taste of Brazilian culture.
The roots of Brazilian cuisine can be found in a melting pot of cultural influences. Immigrants from Asia, Africa and Europe blended with indigenous people for centuries, combining flavors and cooking traditions from Portuguese colonists, Angolan slaves and residents of neighboring Latin American countries. Coconut milk and palm oil are kitchen essentials in Brazilian cooking, as are black beans and lime.
A handful of restaurants in the DMV serve authentic Brazilian cuisine, ranging from the elegant Chima Brazilian Steakhouse in Vienna, Va. and Penn Quarter’s Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse to Bossa Bistro + Lounge, a cozy spot in Adams Morgan praised for its tapas-style bites and lively nights of Latin music and dancing. Whichever eatery you try, the feijoada is a must. Considered the national dish, this rich stew of black beans, dry beef, pork, sausage and smoked meat is hearty comfort in a bowl.
On both the opening night of the Olympics and the evening of the closing ceremonies, Adams Morgan’s The Grill from Ipanema will feature live Brazilian music, drink specials and new menu items representing popular street food. Chef Alcy De Souza established the restaurant in 1992, and still runs the kitchen today.
“Our menu is large,” says Ester De Aguiar, The Grill from Ipanema’s Director of Events and Catering.
“We are witnessing the third generation of customers now,” she says. “This place is special.”
De Aguiar emigrated from Brazil to the U.S. more than a decade ago, and stayed connected to other expats by spending much of her time at the Adams Morgan landmark.
“Rio is just beautiful,” she says. “It is more enchanting and captivating than what people tell or write. The city is magical [because of] its natural beauty and friendly people. People there are what we like to call ‘cariocas,’ or naturally happy people.”
De Aguiar misses weekend meals most.
Even though AG Kitchen in Silver Spring, Md. doesn’t focus solely on Brazilian fare, celebrity chef Alex Garcia developed his samba chicken dish with Brazil in mind.
“A chef from Bahia used to make it for us at Yuca in Miami, the original restaurant where Nuevo Latino cuisine was born,” Garcia explains.
While watching the games on TV, it’s easy to prepare and serve your own Brazilian dishes, like pão de queijo (cheese bread) or brigadeiros (chocolate truffles). Get all your supplies, and a healthy dose of cooking advice, at European Foods Import Export Inc. in Arlington, Va. The gourmet grocery store specializes in Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian foods, and even has an in-house butcher.
And please don’t forget cocktails! Made with lime, sugar and cachaça, caipirinhas are refreshing on a hot summer day. Unlike rum, which is made from a byproduct of sugar processing (molasses), cachaça is made from fresh sugar cane. It has a clean, light taste and mixes beautifully with lime and other fruit like kiwi and acai, which are both popular in Brazil.
Of course, there’s more to Brazilian culture than libations and food. For visual art, check out “Bandits and Heroes, Poets and Saints: Popular Art of the Northeast of Brazil,” on view through August 14 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center in Tenleytown. This eclectic collection of photographs, sculptures, paintings, religious objects and books of poetry brings Brazil’s culture more fully into perspective.
For ideas on where to listen to Brazilian music, join the “Brazilian Music and Dancing in DC” meetup, a calendar of events with more than 1,700 members. Samba and percussion classes, as well as Brazilian jazz concerts, are posted. Follow “Brazilian Events in the DC Area” on Facebook for an even more comprehensive list of events celebrating Brazilian culture.
These ideas are just a small sample of Brazilian delights available in DC, so even without a ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics, it’s possible to enjoy the flavors, music and excitement of this wildly diverse country.
Photos courtesy of AG Kitchen and The Grill from Ipanema