When it comes to eating food in another country, there is no better way to experience and learn about the country’s food, culture and history than through a local cooking class.
Almost more so than in any cuisine, the food scene in Brazil is a culinary melting pot with many cultural inheritances that has been built upon by waves of immigrants. This diversity creates tastes beyond imaginations.
A cooking class with Cook in Rio offers a cultural immersion experience that lets you uncover Brazil’s food heritage and culture, in a fun and hands-on class.
In just four hours, you will learn how to make a traditional Brazilian dish, feijoada (black bean and pork stew) or moqueca (fish stew), along with an appetiser, caipirinhas and a dessert. And the best part is you’ll get to devour it all afterwards!
The market visit
We met with Chef Simone and set off with her to the market to pick up the supplies for our cooking class. Simone showed us many of the exotic fruits, the famous Brazilian cheese (queijo coalho), and the largest avocados we’ve ever seen in our entire lives – I’m talking 25cm in length!
Upon leaving the market, Simone encouraged us to sample the Brazilian ‘bronzing’ drink said to have special tanning powers (a concoction of beetroot, carrot and orange), along with a moreish cheesy pastry.
The cooking class
Cook in Rio is located in the heart of Copacabana, tucked away from the shores of the bustling beach. It’s an intimate and beautifully presented space, with copper pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, an open kitchen with a humble stovetop, and decorative tableware.
As Simone prepared the ingredients for our class, we found ourselves gazing at the walls scattered with messages from visitors all over the world, expressing their delight at the fabulous cooking class.
“First you have to understand Brazil’s people, before you can understand its food” – Chef Simone
The conversation turns to the past, as Simone explains the country’s culture-rich heritage, and how traditional Brazilian food stems from three different cultures; Portuguese, African, and Brazilian Indigenous.
It’s the combination of cultural influences that make Brazilian food so unique, and Simone goes on to tell us which spices and ingredients have Portuguese, African and Brazilian roots.
Take Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. During the slave period, the Africans brought this dish to Brazil, adding to it the combination of Indigenous and Portuguese flavours.
It quickly became evident that Brazilian food is not complicated. It’s simple ingredients with bold flavours.
We started off by tasting a pinha, an amazing exotic fruit that looks almost like a custard apple. It was white and flesh-like on the inside, and the seeds were fragrant and sweet, similar to the beans of a fresh cocoa pod.
The room was small enough that we could crowd around the workspace and watch Simone, while taking turns ourselves and asking questions, which made it feel more intimate than individual workstations.
Simone had us chopping onions, slicing peppers, and sautéing all sorts of ingredients. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with a fragrant aroma.
Simone reminds us of one very important element when plating our dishes.
“First we eat with our eyes, before we eat with our mouths”
What did we cook?
Entree: Queijo coalho with spicy guava chutney
We started by pan-frying queijo coalho (salted cheese), then cutting it into bite-sized cubes, and topping it with a spicy guava chutney, a dash of lime, and fresh guava on the side.
These halloumi-like morsels were absolutely delicious! The flavours worked exceptionally well together; the rich saltiness of the cheese, balanced with the spice of the chutney, and the tartness of the lime and fresh guava slices. Muito bom!
Drinks: Passionfruit caipirinhas
These cocktails are incredibly simple to make with just five ingredients muddled together. Fresh lime, passionfruit, sugar, cachaça, and ice.
We crushed some chunks of lime, tossed in some sugar and fresh passionfruit pulp, giving it a good muddle with ice.
We were a little skeptical about drinking caipirinhas before noon (given our experience of the notorious alcohol-fuelled drink!) but Simone assured us that a 5-second pour of good quality cachaça would be just the right amount.
Side: Banana farofa
While sipping on caipirinhas, we went on to make banana farofa, a side dish to the Moqueca fish stew.
We caramelised some onions, added sliced bananas, and tossed in cassava flour to make a toasted farofa mixture.
Now, it’s time to move onto the main dish.
Main: Bahian Moqueca fish stew
The first step is to get the fish marinating for 10-minutes in a simple spice mix of cumin and black pepper, with a hint of salt and lime juice.
As Simone says, “whatever was alive, must be marinated first.”
We sauteed some peppers, and poured in fresh coconut milk until thick and creamy. Then we added the marinated fish to the base of the pot, and a good heap of fresh coriander. The smell as it simmers away was just incredible.
The stew paired with the banana farofa, was just as warm, comforting, rich and vibrant as the music, people and culture of Brazil.
Simone’s recipe: http://www.cookinrio.com/recipes/bahian-seafood-moqueca/
Review: Cook in Rio
We absolutely loved our morning with Chef Simone. She was full of energy, passionately invigorating, very funny, and made us feel like long-lost friends. We enjoyed learning about Simone’s upbringing, and she gave us some incredible insights into the country’s cultural influences that define Brazilian cuisine.
We would highly recommend this class as it’s a great way to learn about Brazil’s exotic ingredients, techniques and flavours.
Big thanks to Chef Simone for providing us with two complimentary places so that we could experience Cook in Rio, and give you an honest review. As always, all photos and opinions are our own. All photography is the property of The Travel Status and must not be used, copied or manipulated without our prior permission.