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Feijoada: Brazil's signature dish

24 Nov 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 24 Nov 2022 01:17:44
Feijoada: Brazil's signature dish

Feijoada is one of the signature dishes of Brazilian cuisine. Comprising a stew of black beans and various cuts of pork, it is customarily served with rice, sauteed kale, fried cassava flour, banana, and — if you’re lucky — a whole pork chop. The prefix -ada signifies that feijoada is more of an event than a meal, and friends and family traditionally gather around the table at Saturday lunchtime to tuck into plateful after plateful of what is largely considered to be Brazil’s national dish.

Feijoada not only fuels millions of Brazilians around the country each week, it also provides a crucial boost to two of Brazil’s most important agricultural production chains: pig farming and the cultivation of beans, which produced more than BRL 40 billion ($ 7.5 billion) combined in 2020 alone.

While the dish of pork and black beans itself is largely associated with the Southeast of the country — while the North, Northeast, and Center-West have their own regional variations of feijoada — its ingredients are overwhelmingly cultivated and produced in the South.

The states of Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Rio Grande do Sul are Brazil’s largest pork producers, while the majority of black beans come from farms in Paraná.

And Brazil’s farmers want more. According to the Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Confederation, they intend to further increase the consumption of these foodstuffs.

Unlike pork, the consumption of beans in Brazil is diminishing year on year. Until 10 years ago, the average Brazilian ate 17 kg of beans per year — this has now fallen to 14 kg. At the same time, farmers are beginning to pay less and less attention to cultivating the pulses that make up the backbone of Brazil’s traditional diet. The planted area of beans in Brazil has fallen by around 40 percent between 2015 and forecasts for this year. With growing uncertainty about food prices, farmers have focused on more profitable and predictable grains, such as soybeans and corn, of which Brazil is a major exporter.

With a smaller harvest and more exports — due to the increased appetite for beans in Europe and China — the humble grain was one of the big villains of Brazil’s lofty food inflation in 2020. According to the National Consumer Price index, black beans became 40.75 percent more expensive over last year.

Typically, feijoada is talked about as a strictly Brazilian dish. Its supposed origin story is tied to Brazil’s own history, as many locals will tell you that feijoada was invented by African slaves, who used beans and cheap offcuts of pork — unwanted by their masters — to make this now iconic stew.

However, this fable is rejected by culinary researchers, such as Luis Câmara Cascudo — in his book História da Alimentação no Brasil — and professor Henrique Carneiro, among others.

Indeed, they affirm that feijoada has strictly European roots, as a Brazilian version of a French cassoulet or Portuguese cozido, primarily made from beans and pork.

But feijoada, in itself, has Brazilian characteristics. Black beans originate from South America, as does the cassava flour served alongside it. According to sociologist and researcher Carlos Alberto Dória, feijoada owes its roots to feijão gordo — “fatty beans” — which is a dish consisting of stewed beans with bacon and jerked beef. Feijoada, in his view, is nothing more than a turbo-charged version of this traditional Brazilian meal, adding sausages, a wide array of pork cuts, and kale.