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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How Ken Loach's radical vision won him a second Palm d'Or

In Loach's films, authenticity is everything, and when his quest for realism pays off, there's nothing as raw in all of cinema.

On 22 May, at the age of 79, Ken Loach became the first British director to win the top prize twice at the Cannes Film Festival. His previous Palme d’Or, in 2006, was for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatised the British occupation of Ireland and the origins of the IRA. This time, he won for I, Daniel Blake, the story of an ailing carpenter wrongly declared fit for work by the callous UK benefits system. No wonder Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, could issue only the most grudging acknowledgement, alluding vaguely to “Brit success!” in a tweet that failed to mention either Loach or the film.

The actor and Cannes jury member Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, called I, Daniel Blake “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul”. It was an incongruous delight to see Loach posing before swarms of paparazzi. He usually disdains such frivolities; he might be red but he’s hardly red carpet. “As a film-maker, you’re forever involved in things that constantly inflate their own importance,” he once complained. Artifice, hyperbole and celebrity hold no appeal. Even film-making itself is full of irritating impediments. “If Loach could make a film without a camera, he would,” said Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with him on Fatherland (1986).

Authenticity is everything. Unusually, Loach shoots in sequence, even if it requires moving back and forth at great cost between locations. In the days of celluloid, he would forfeit much of his fee to buy more film stock so that his beloved improvisations could roll on and on. When I visited the set of Carla’s Song near Loch Lomond in 1995, Loach gave the actor Robert Carlyle a good-natured ticking off for speaking to me between takes. “I’d rather he didn’t talk to anyone,” he said, “because then he’ll start thinking about things in terms of technique and who he really is, and it’ll all become conscious.”

When the quest for realism pays off, there is nothing as raw in all cinema. Think of the chilling attack on a family home by loan sharks in his 1993 drama Raining Stones, one of the films that began his most successful period, or the climax of Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC in 1966 and arguably his most groundbreaking film. As Cathy (Carol White) has her children taken off her by social workers and police, Loach films the entire traumatic episode in a wide shot with a hidden camera to preserve the reality. The movie led directly to the founding of Crisis.

Conversely, Loach at his worst can be one of the most simplistic sentimentalists out there. The characterisation of the salt-of-the-earth heroes in recent films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Route Irish, or the pantomime-villain Brits in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, shows what happens when action is overpowered by agenda.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Loach read law at Oxford but became seduced by theatre directing and acting: he was in a revue for which Dudley Moore composed the music, and understudied in the West End in One Over the Eight. He joined the BBC in 1963, where he brought extra earthiness to Z-Cars before finding his ideal outlet in The Wednesday Play slot that went out after the news. “We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news,” he said. He made ten TV films under that banner but it was with his second movie, Kes, in 1969, that he took flight, proving that the gritty and the lyrical need not be mutually exclusive.

His politics was fully formed by this point. Though he has rejected claims that he is Marxist or Trotskyist, he admits that the analysis to which he turned after his disillusionment with Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s was a Marxist one. “The idea of a class analysis was the one we identified with,” he said of himself and his collaborators the producer Tony Garnett and the writer Jim Allen. “What we realised was that social democrats and Labour politicians were simply acting on behalf of the ruling class, protecting the interests of capital.”

This stance was consolidated by a series of run-ins in the 1980s, when he saw his work banned and thwarted by political forces. The transmission of his four-part 1983 television documentary Questions of Leadership, which asked whether the trade union leadership was adequately representing its members’ interests, was delayed and blocked by Labour string-pulling. Which Side Are You On? – a documentary about the miners’ strike – was rejected because of footage showing police violence.

Since his full-time return to cinema in the early 1990s, acclaim has eclipsed controversy. Even if he had not won a Palme d’Or, his stamp is all over other directors who have won that award in the past 20 years. The Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) have never hidden their debt to him, while recent winners such as Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Cristian Mingiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) exhibit his mixture of directness, compassion and realism.

If there is anything that defines him, it is his fight, which has made it possible for him to remain one of cinema’s angriest and most effective voices. “In the long term, I guess I’m optimistic because people always fight back,” he said. “The reason to make films is just to let people express that, to share that kind of resilience because that’s what makes you smile. It’s what makes you get up in the morning.”

“I, Daniel Blake” is released later this year

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad