World food cup: a stallholder at São Paulo’s Mercado Municipal, June 22. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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?

Show Hide image

Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496