Did the World Cup stimulate your appetite for all things Brazil? How about visiting a historic town during a culinary festival? Well, Tiradentes is the place for you.
The charming little town within the inland Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is 200 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro, about a four hours drive. Founded in 1702 as a haven for wealthy barons, Tiradentes retains its colonial state and languidly shows off its 18th century architecture. The sleepy town of 6,500 residents has many cobblestoned streets, some impressive old churches, fountains, a quaint downtown, art galleries, plus its fair share of restaurants and cafes. An official “Slow” city espousing Slow Food principals, Tiradentes hosts one the most important Gastronomy Festivals in all of Brazil.
THE GASTRONOMY FESTIVAL:
Even though it is based is the little town of Tiradentes, people come from all over Brazil and beyond to the Festival Cultural e Gastronomia de Tiradentes. Visitors come to see culinary demonstrations, meet and greet top chefs, go to fancy wine dinners, listen to rousing music (Samba) dance, drink and of course, enjoy both the elaborate and humble foods on display. The Festival runs from August 22nd to August 31st. Events takes place in the small downtown area of Tiradentes, at various restaurants all over and at the Pousada Villa Paolucci - an exclusive retreat in town. What a party! Beer was flowing, samba music played, dancers, both pros and amateurs hit the outdoor dance floor. And a wide selection of delectable foods were served, buffet style to the attendees. Minas Gerais is key pork producing region in Brazil and pork products are presented in a multitude of ways such as various kinds of pork sausages, shredded pork meat, barbecued pork ribs, roasted pork or in empanadas. Here was where I experienced a unique look at one of the most intriguing foods I've ever tried...
A MARTYRED MAN:
The town of Tiradentes was named for a significant and tragic figure from Brazil’s history. Born in 1746 as Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier to a poor family and lacking in formal education, Xavier still grew to be an intelligent and resourceful man. Among many other professions, he became a “tooth puller” or field dentist in the army, and his nickname, “Tiradentes” stuck. He traveled widely and was able to see for himself how the Portuguese crown pillaged all the local gold (30,000 lbs. per year was demanded and brought back to Portugal) and then extorted further debilitating taxes from the local population. Tiradentes eventually came in contact with like minded individuals who became enlightened by the American and French Revolutions. Responding to injustices perpetuated upon his people by her Portuguese rulers, Tiradentes joined the separatist group Inconfid?ncia Mineira, seeking independence. Betrayed by one of the key members of the group, Tiradentes and many other were arrested by royal authorities in 1789. After a nearly three year trial, some members of the Incofidencia were acquitted, some found guiltily and banished while other were found guilty but pardoned by Portuguese Queen Maria I. All but Tiradentes. Some say it was due to his humble origins, while official records state he proudly accepted full responsibility for his revolutionary actions. On April 21, 1792 he was publicly hanged in Rio de Janeiro in a plaza known today as Praca Tiradentes. His dead body was then brutally quartered and his body parts were sent to far corners of Brazil as a reminder to the people. Almost a hundred years later, the Tiradentes legend grew and helped lead the cause toward Brazilian independence in 1889. The small town of Sao Jose del Rey adopted the name Tiradentes at that time. The day he was executed, April 21st is a national holiday in Brazil.
LEITAO a PURURUCA:
The assembled, well dressed Festival crowd was eagerly awaiting a star chef cooking a local specialty. In walked Luiz Ney, a doctor, who carefully set up his equipment. A famous chef at night and weekends, Dr. Ney is a well known gynecologist by day! His culinary forte is Leitao a Pururuca. The word Pururuca means to “pop up” or crackle the skin in an indigenous Indian language. Dr. Ney marinates his “Leitao” or suckling pig for seven hours, then slow cooks the meat in a wood burning oven for seven hours. What is truly unique is his self-ted hand held heating element that projects heat of more than 800 degrees, which he holds very close to the meat. The element is extremely hot, but Ney is nonetheless cool under fire and doesn’t even wear gloves. He said, “This technique is only for pork and my family has been doing this for over a hundred years.” The fat in the meat makes crackling and popping sounds as it bubbles up rapidly near the heater. It’s very odd and you can hear that sharp sizzle-pop sounds as the crowd oohed and aahed. “This is my first time here,” said Amauri Peloia visiting from Sao Paolo. “This festival is like others but there’s nothing like this (referring to the Leitao Pururuca). “They have a strong food culture here, I come here to eat.” The Leitao’s caramelized burnt-ends mixed with the meat below the skin was simply delicious. Typical Leitao side dishes included garlic rice, tutu, kale, roasted potatoes with rosemary and orange slices. (Tutu is a combo if beans mixed with manioc - cassava root flour - cooked together) Some ice cold draft beers and expert samba dancing made the scene ideal.
The Pousada Villa Paolucci portion of the Festival costs 300 Real (about $150 dollars) but all food, alcohol and music was included. Some of the fancy wine dinners are even more expensive but include everything. These dinners attract foodies, celebrities, politicians and business people from Brazil plus some international visitors. It’s the happening place to be. Another Festival must is the famous Yum Yum Coxinha, served on the fair grounds or at their restaurant just outside of town. Coxinha is a fried chicken thigh but Yum Yum’s Chef Thereza Cristina M. Oliveira’s version is considered the best in all of Brazil. Coxinhas are little balls of chicken thigh meat, rolled into a chicken thigh shape that comes with or without cheese inside. (Also offered with shrimp meat) These balls are rolled in a light batter (using a secret recipe) and then fried. The Coxinhas come out hot and tender, not at all greasy and are delightful.
The World Cup may have passed but the 2016 Summer Olympics will be coming soon. If visiting Brazil, seeing - and eating in Tiradentes is a lovely treat not to be missed.
c. Bob Ecker 2014
For more information:
Various airlines including American Airlines fly from the US to Brazil.
For lodging, the Pousada Tiradentes is the place to stay in Tiradentes, a small luxury retreat very near downtown. http://www.pousadatiradentesmg.com.br/home/
c. Bob Ecker 2014