Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Minas Gerais - Gastronomic Routes

Even though Italian cooking includes such well-known regional styles of cooking as Neapolitan, Sicilian, Venetian, even Sardinian, most gastronomic historians consider the region of Emilia-Romagna to be the true heartland of traditional Italian gastronomy. Containing such gastronomic hot spots as Parma (with its ham and its cheese), Modena (home of balsamic vinegar) and Italy's food capital, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna is at the same time the cradle of traditional cooking and the location of some of the most daring and avant-garde 21st century Italian gastronomy.

In Brazil, which resembles Italy in the number and variation of its regional cuisines, the interior state of Minas Gerais, located in the south-eastern part of Brazil, holds an analogous position in Brazilian gastronomy to that of Emilia-Romagna in Italian. Not as unique as Bahian cooking with its bold mixture of African and European styles and techniques, nor as strictly-European as the cuisines of the south of Brazil, mineiro (meaning from Minas Gerais) gastronomy is to many people the true essence of Brazilian cooking.

The influences that went into the creation of mineiro cooking are those which define all Brazilian cuisine - European, particularly Portuguese, African and native Indian. In the lush highlands of mountainous Minas Gerais these influences were blended, mashed and mixed into something uniquely new and Brazilian - Minas Gerais was the crucible in which Brazilian cooking was forged.

Even today, Minas Gerais is one of the places in Brazil where food and cooking matters most. From the modern capital Belo Horizonte, through exquisitely beautiful baroque cities like Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Diamantina, and on to the small villages and farms that dot the landscape, people care about what they eat and they honor the foods that have been a part of their diet for years, even centuries. Local cheeses, long-cooked stews, sweets and desserts whose recipes date back to the convents of medieval Portugal - they all play a part in mineiro gastronomy.

Because so much of what makes mineiro cooking such a marvel comes from small towns and villages throughout the state, we at Flavors of Brazil were thrilled to recently come across a website called Sabores de Minas (Flavors of Minas Gerais) and its 69 different gastronomic routes through the state. Each route concentrates on a particular region or a particular speciality of this enormous state (slightly larger than France). For example, route number 32 concentrates of the baroque cities of the 17th Century mineiro gold rush, number 22 is focused on the relatively-unpopulated north of the state, and number 44 on coffee and sweets. For each route, the website publishes a map and a list of 15-18 suggested stops. A stop might be a farm that produces cheese, it might be a long-established local restaurant, or it might even be the home of a cook whose fame has spread beyond her family to include her whole village. Each stop is described in detail, with personal stories of the cooks and producers involved and each includes a recipe.

The site is a treasure-trove for anyone interested in traditional Brazilian gastronomy, and a powerful inducement to book a flight to Belo Horizonte, grab a rental car and head for the hills in search of the soul of mineiro cooking. And the 700+ recipes are enough to keep any amateur cook happy for months in the kitchen at home.

For most non-Brazilians there is one significant problem with the website - it's in Portuguese only. Although Google will offer to translate the page in most browsers, its translator is not yet sufficiently sophisticated to correctly translate this site. Because of that language difficulty, and because of the importance of mineiro cooking to Brazilian gastronomy, tomorrow  Flavors of Brazil will publish the first of s series of occasional reviews/translations of some of the best of Sabores de Minas. We hope it will open some eyes to the beauty of the state and the quality of its food products and cooking.

1 comment:

  1. I m Brazilian from Sao Paulo. Would like to thank your blog to help unveiling to the world about my loved country and cuisine. I ve traveled a bit and could appreciate different kinds of food, now I m in Japan where the food culture is also awesome, many amazing tastes, etc. but still for me, Minas Gerais has the second best food in the world (just to be beaten by my mom's) and anyone who goes there for food, cachaca, landscapes and friendly people won't be disappointed - will fall in love with that place as I did.
    Thank you again and all the readers.
    Specially guys like you, but also everyone is welcome in my country ;)
    Hope all have the opportunity to feel the Brazilian hospitality!

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