World food cup: a stallholder at São Paulo’s Mercado Municipal, June 22. Photo: Getty
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Felicity Cloake: Brazilian cuisine is the original fusion food

Nigerian peanut sauces, Japanese pastries and German sausages, Portuguese salt cod and an Amazonian duck dish made with the cyanide-laced juice of the wild cassava root.

It’s hard to feel sorry for men paid £300,000 a week for prancing round a pitch, but even I pity the England football team, travelling 5,000 miles to eat scrambled eggs and pasta in a country that packs four continents into one cuisine.

Gone are the glory days of 1966, of Jimmy Greaves’s match-day feasts of “roast beef and Yorkshire with all the trimmings, or pie and mash, followed by blackcurrant crumble and custard”, or even the great Raich Carter’s rather simpler take on the energy bar in the 1930s: six sugar lumps.

Football sounds like it was more fun in those days; indeed, most players once had great faith in the medicinal power of a pre-game whisky. But the England team’s tournament boozing probably came to an end with Gordon Banks’s ignominious exit from the 1970 Mexico World Cup, after drinking what he claims was a “spiked beer”.

Instead, the ominously named current team chef, Tim De’Ath, has catered for a strict protein- and carb-heavy diet: rice, white meat, salad. I’d rather have had a place in the US squad, which scored the two-Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola.

But the best spot of all has to be in the stands, eating beans sautéed in bacon fat and garnished with crackling and fried eggs, or great slabs of bolo de rolo, a huge Swiss roll filled with sweet guava jam – two of the local favourites on offer at stadiums in Brazil along with the usual hot dogs. Quite a step up from London 2012’s greatest gastronomic achievement, the world’s largest McDonald’s.

And though few England footballers play abroad, if their shopping list from the 2010 South African cup is anything to go by they, too, have cosmopolitan tastes: 24 bottles of piri-piri sauce, 12 tubes of wasabi, 25 bags of pine nuts and 30 packets of custard.

I reckon once they’d got over the lack of Bird’s, Rooney et al probably enjoyed a bit of Brazilian food. Certainly the country’s churrasco grills – where the cooks will stuff you with skewers of cow until you beg for mercy – would have proved popular with men so long starved of red meat.

You’d have thought a helping of the celebrated feijoada stew might have brought the striker a bit of luck: pre-match beans seemed to work for Alan Shearer, a prolific scorer, even if he famously preferred his own baked and served with chicken, rather than pigs’ tails and fried bananas. But this is all tame fare, the kind of stuff Steven Gerrard could find at a Brazilian grill in Liverpool, should he be so minded – definitely at the less interesting end of a cuisine that’s gobbled up European, African, Asian and Amerindian traditions, only to regurgitate them in a rainbow riot of tropical flavour.

Nigerian peanut sauces, Japanese pastries and German sausages, Portuguese salt cod and Italian pastas, and an Amazonian duck dish made with the cyanide-laced juice of the wild cassava root – Brazilian cuisine is the original fusion food.

And this country that stretches from the equator to the Uruguayan pampas offers cooks an impressive range of flora and fauna to play with. The Amazon region boasts an ancient armoured fish, the arapaima, that can grow up to 15 feet (though commercial fishing of it is banned in Brazil; the arapaima is farmed in neighbouring Peru). Then there are ants sweet enough to eat like candy, a mouth-numbing “toothache plant” and a dizzying array of rainforest fruits that make acai berries look pedestrian. Out of the running, despite the oatcakes and cottage cheese, perhaps the England team can take comfort from thinking that somewhere, deep in the jungle, there lurks a plant to dull its pain.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt