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Introduction to Brazilian Cuisine with Tropicool

Chef Jacklin John of Tropicool gives a deep-dive into Brazilian cuisine.
Tropicool Brazilian cuisine

Did you know that in the heart of Mumbai, you can get a Brazilian meal as authentic as it can be? Tropicool in Bandra is known for its açaí bowls and Brazilian cuisine. Rohit Gupta, Randall Fernandes, and Tyrell Valladares brought this international food spot to India early this year and is claimed to be the only Brazilian café in India.

To promote Brazilian cuisine in the city, Tropicool got Chef Jacklin John, the Executive Chef at the Embassy of Brazil in New Delhi to be the Head Chef at this café. With over 30 years of experience in Latin American cuisine, Chef John is now an expert on Brazilian cuisine.I joined the Embassy in 2004,says Chef John But before that, I have been in Venezuela for seven years so I have been associated with Latin American [cuisine] for a long time, especially with Brazilian cuisine.

Besides a section for Brazilian cuisine, Tropicool is known as the only brand in India that exports açaí pulp, unlike others who use dehydrated açaí powder. Last month, Tropicool hosted a Brazilian Fiesta curated by Chef John. Most dishes from this pop-up will be retained in the menu as well to encourage diners to try Brazilian cuisine.

We quizzed the veteran chef on a crash course on Brazilian cuisine.

A melting pot of cultures

“What we call Brazilian cuisine is Afro-Brazilian,states Chef John. This is because of the African settlement in the country, followed by Argentinians, French, Indians, and even Asians such as Chinese, Levantine, and Japanese. The immigration and influence of multiple nationalities and cultures from across the world can be seen in the cuisine as well. These influences can thoroughly be seen in the traditional cooking practices of Brazilian cuisine.Now it’s a multi-cuisine,states Chef John,So, people are forgetting the natural Amazonian or Brazilian cuisine.”

So what exactly is traditional Brazilian cuisine? I pondered out loud and the chef answered eagerly. A typical dish is called Feijoada, which is a black bean stew, made out of different parts of pork meat. We use smoked sausages of pork, fresh pork sausages, black beans, smoked meat, fish meat, and pork ribs,he explains.

Mandioca, also known as Cassava is a type of root found in Brazil. With availability in Africa as well, Brazilians make a blend of mandioca where they stir fry it, add a little bit of butter, and some people either add vegetables or fried egg. Chef John also tells us about Brazil’s excessive use of Azeite de Dendê or palm oil.

Tropicool Brazilian cuisine

Photos: Tropicool

We still didn’t know what authentic Brazilian food tastes like so we probed the chef some more.It is not spicy. It is sweet and sour,he says.[Azeite de] Dendê, coconut [cream and milk], fresh tomatoes from Amazon,are the basic ingredients in Brazilian cuisine. Another basic dish in Brazilian cuisine is called Moqueca.It is a type of salsa made from onion, garlic, red, green, and yellow capsicum. It is very flavourful and colourful,he adds.

Distinguishing between Brazilian and Latin American cuisine

After spending some time in Columbia and quite a few years in Venezuela, Chef John confirms that most Latin American countries have similar dishes but they use their own culture and recipes for each dish.If we talk about Pão de Queijo [ a soft, warm Brazilian cheese bun, and also our favourite],says the chef,Ecuador would say that it came from them but it is not true because everybody has their recipe that they have been following for a long time.”

The Pão de Queijo I had at Tropicool is something I would keep going for again. Instead of maida, corn starch, or any other flour, they use tapioca starch to make it. Another dish that is light on the stomach is the tapioca warp, stuffed with a vegetable ratatouille for vegetarians and the non-vegetarian one includes pulled beef, pork, or chicken.

Bringing a desi twist to Brazilian cuisine

Brazilian cuisine, which is characterised by a sour and spicy flavour profile uses similar ingredients such as onion, tomato, coriander, coconut milk, and coconut cream. While these ingredients are the same, the differentiating factor is the quality of produce that is available there. For starters, tomatoes in Brazil are sweeter than what we get here but overall, India is known for its top-quality produce, notes Chef John.

For a lot of dishes, he makes do with the Indian equivalent of spices and ingredients. He gives the example of the chilli pickle.In Brazil, they have many kinds of chilli that we don’t get here in India. So I take a small red Mexican chilli and our Indian green chilli and try to create a balance.  I add extra virgin olive oil and synthetic vinegar to reduce the spice level because both, the Mexican and Indian chillies are too hot,he explains.  At Tropicool, Chef John also plans to change the menu every three months and introduce more dishes from Brazilian cuisine.

Tropicool Brazilian cuisine

(left) Salpicão de Frango com Batata. Photos: Tropicool

What’s in the new menu?

Even though Brazilian food is predominantly meat-heavy, Chef John ensured that it would cater to vegetarians as well. A few teaks later, his Brazilian cuisine menu at Tropicool is now a good mix for both preferences. The dishes are written in English, followed by the authentic name along with the origin for diners to know more about this cuisine. Rissoles de Frango, a chicken stuffed patty, Dadinho de Tapicoa which is Brazilian Tapioca cheese bites, to our favourite Pão de Queijo, the appetizers themselves are tempting enough! A typical salad we are introducing here is the Fijião Tropeiro which is a black bean salad soaked overnight from Southeast Brazil.

Another dish that had us drooling just at the description was Chicken Salad with matchstick fried potatoes aka
Salpicão de Frango com Batata. Think thinly sliced potatoes with a creamy base inside and crunchy on the outside.
Another main dish which is very popular,says Chef John,is Bobo de Camarão Na Moranga.Originally part of the Afro-Brazilian cuisine, it is a shrimp-stuffed pumpkin.We blend tapioca paste with Moqueca and boiled Mandioca. After scooping out the pumpkin, the pulp goes into the sauce which has flavours of coconut, pumpkin, tomatoes, and cream. We add the prawns inside the pumpkin and bake it. On top, we decorate with bigger shrimp and it is served inside the pumpkin,he explains.

Tropicool Brazilian cuisine

(from left to right) Tapioca Wrap, Pão de Queijo. Photos: Tropicool

Brazilian cuisine is predominately non-vegetarian forward. But as we tried Pão de Queijo at Tropicool and listened to Chef John talk about his passion – Brazilian food – and his vegetarian variations of dishes, we found ourselves eager to try more. Planning our next visit soon!