S√£o Paulo ‚Äď They are so loved that they have become national heritage. Or does anybody still see borders dividing tastes when it comes to delicacies such as kibbeh and safiha? The influence of Arab cuisine in Brazil, established as in no other country outside the Middle East, is ancient and deep-seated, having left strong marks on Brazilian tables. In our taste for strong spices, scents and flavours. This has led Ricardo Maranh√£o, the Gastronomy professor at Anhembi Morumbi University, in S√£o Paulo, to research the matter, in a quest that resulted in book √Ārabes no Brasil – Hist√≥ria e Sabor (Arabs in Brazil – History and Flavour), released this year by the Boccato publishing house.
‚ÄúThe Arab influence in Brazilian cuisine may be understood based on two distinct moments: the first is the Moor heritage in Portugal, with the Iberian Peninsula,‚ÄĚ explains Maranh√£o. ‚ÄúThen, already in Brazil, with the arrival of the first immigrants, in the late 19th century," he says.
According to the professor, it is because of the Arabs that we use ingredients such as lentil and chickpea, as well as spices such as Syrian pepper and zaatar, among others. ‚ÄúFood is an important element in reinforcing the immigrant’s identity,‚ÄĚ says Maranh√£o. ‚ÄúAn asset that families do not waiver,‚ÄĚ he claims.
Thus, it was due to the immigration having spread throughout virtually the entire country that Arab cuisine gained so much space in Brazil. This, by the way, was how he himself acquired a taste for Arab specialties. ‚ÄúI spent my childhood in S√£o Jos√© do Rio Preto and our neighbours were Arabs,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI learnt at an early age to enjoy the typical dishes. My mother used to cook them all,‚ÄĚ he claims. The unforgettable flavours include grape leaf rolls and honey-flavoured hard candy that the neighbours used to make. ‚ÄúMy mouth waters just from remembering it,‚ÄĚ he says.
According to the professor, it is this relation of total nearness and complicity among tastes that has made Brazil a reference in Middle Eastern cuisine. ‚ÄúI have never been to a country outside the Arab world that had such strong influence of its cuisine as this,‚ÄĚ he asserts. ‚ÄúThe safiha and the kibbeh, for example, are so widespread and accessible that they can already be considered Brazilian foods,‚ÄĚ he explains. In his book, which also includes recipes, Maranh√£o points out that there are fast-food chains geared towards this type of food in many different states, such as Habib‚Äôs, the largest, and Mister Sheik, among others.
In addition to highlighting flavours such as these in his classes at Anhembi Morumbi, Maranh√£o makes a point of having either lunch or dinner at an Arab restaurant at least twice a week. In his refrigerator, foods such as hummus and baba ghanoush are as much staple as butter or cream cheese. ‚ÄúI love it, I would eat kibbeh everyday if I could,‚ÄĚ says he, who is in love with the Arab delights, as are most Brazilians. Watch a video with excerpts from the interview below .
√Ārabes no Brasil – Hist√≥ria e Sabor.
Ricardo Maranh√£o and Est√ļdio Paladar.
Average price: 69 Brazilian reals (US$ 50).
*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum