Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Bible of Brazilian Historical Gastronomy

A few months ago Brazil's best and largest chain of big-box bookstores, Livraria Cultura, finally opened a branch in Fortaleza, my hometown here in Brazil. When I was in São Paulo I always tried to save an afternoon free to wander their branch on Avenida Paulista, and I had from time to time used their online bookstore to buy books. But neither is the same thing as having a local store just a few kilometers from home, open 7 days a week, with aisles and aisles of books just begging to be perused. For a bookstore junkie like me, it's heaven to have Livraria Cultura in the neighborhood.

It might be heaven to have an easily accessible mega-bookstore, but it's dangerous for one's bank balance. Online shopping is one thing, but when there's a book in your hand that you've lusted after for a long time, it's almost impossible to resist the temptation to buy it. Particularly when it seems to be the only copy in the store. That's what happened to me recently when I spotted a copy of História da alimentação no Brasil (in English: The History of Brazilian Food) by Luís da Câmara Cascudo lying in wait for me in the gastronomy and cookbook section of the store.

Generally acknowledged as the authoritative book on the history of Brazilian food culture,  História da alimentação no Brasil was first published in two volumes in 1967/1968. The author was already considered one of the top scholars and authorities on Brazilian folklore and traditional culture, but had not previously written anything on the subject of food or gastronomy. There was a second edition, this time in a single volume, in 1983, and a third, posthumous, edition in 2004.

Luís da Câmara Cascudo
Enormous in scope and size (my edition runs to 954 pages) this book encompasses the foods and food traditions of Brazil from pre-historic times to the time of writing. It covers in great detail the botany and zoology of food sources, and deals with the three main traditions, Indian (Native American), African and European, that combined to create the unique cuisines of Brazil. It is chock full of detailed scienctific and cultural facts, but the author's style makes it very enjoyable to read. It has quickly become my go-source for answering questions or researching facts relevant to Flavors of Brazil.

As far as I can tell História da alimentação no Brasil has never been translated in English, and so this vast repository of information remains, at present, only available to Portuguese speakers. Perhaps, one day when I've got a bit of time, I'll have a go at translating it! In the meantime, I hope to give readers of this blog just a bit of the mountain of interesting and important information contained within its pages.

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