In Brazil the heavy meat and bean casserole known as feijoada is considered a national dish with roots in the time of slavery, left-over meat was supposedly utilized by slaves to make this dish. Of late this idea has been challenged as untrue.
Feijoada is a hearty stew made with black beans and meat, before I came to Brazil I had read how this stew made with left-over meats had become the national dish. Freshly arrived in Brazil in 2003 I of course had to try it, I liked it, heavy and very rich. Over the last few years I have read a lot about food history and the notion that feijoada originally would be slave food seemed more and more strange, up until 100 years ago pretty much all parts of the pig and cow was considered good to eat and dishes rich in any meat not food for serfs and the poor. I have also across some texts that suggests I could be right. Let me explain.
Feijoada Has European Roots
To begin with, the meat and bean stew does not have Brazilian origins, a French dish called cassoulet has been around since at least the 14th century, it is a bean and mixed meat casserole which is popular until today in southwest France. Originally it was made with fava beans but since a few hundred years the white bean, endemic to the Americas, has become the most common choice. Other types of bean and meat stews existed in Europe at least a couple of centuries earlier, the cassoulet is very similar in preparation and taste, it is easy to see the connection with the Brazilian dish.
The Portuguese Brought It To Brazil
A type of feijoada was already in Portugal before the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese version most often today (just like the cassoulet), include white or red beans, different types of sausages, beef- and pork-parts together with vegetables – it is popular in Portugal until today. The Portuguese brought the dish with them to their colonies like Angola, São Tomé and Brazil. The black bean, which is the main ingredient in most Brazilian versions, became popular with the Portuguese already in the 16th century. The black bean is easy to grow and nutritious, to be able to digest it you have to cook it for hours or use a pressure cooker. The bean stew feijão is eaten on a daily basis by many Brazilians. Together with rice and manioc it would become a mainstay for the whole population, from rich to slaves. The feijão was often enhanced with vegetables and tubers.
How Brazilian Feijoada Evolved
The habit to mix in sausages, bacon, pig’s ear, tail and trotters, bacon and beef jerky the Portuguese already had (as I have explained). Exactly when the feijoada brasileira became a defined dish is uncertain but by the mid 19th century there are written sources proving its existence in Brazilian high society. To use tail, ears and other obscurer parts of the pig was common, at this time it is doubtful that even the King of Brazil would have frowned upon that since our more selective behavior towards which animal parts we eat is a quite recent behavior. Without the inclusion of the fatty “unnoble” parts of the pig the dish would not get its distinctive taste. Of course there might have some left overs cooked into a bean stew for the slaves, but most likely it would bear little resemblance to the rich tasting dish we see today since ingredients like sausages and bacon would probably have been left out – Perhaps you had something you could call a slave-feijoada. For me I always saw feijoada as a kind of feijão-de-luxe, something for special occasions, with my new knowledge it seems like it also could have been on the menu of the rich quite often.
When the idea that this would be some kind of left-over slave food sprung is unknown, perhaps some time during the 20th century. My unfounded guess would be that when the population started having ample access to meat they became more selective to what they ate, many of the parts that is included in the feijoada were not eaten anymore and became considered as lesser. From this development the idea perhaps came. In Brazil the most common bean in use became the black variety, ingredients vary a lot with region: Onion, garlioc, bacon, dried beef, pig’s ear, kale and okra are examples. Feijoada is often eaten with manioc flour, rice, fried kale and sliced orange.
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