Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come curious about foreign foods. As you well find later this week (Oh, the mystery of this tiny hint!), I even have gone so far as to do a little research on international dishes. That’s right, a student doing unrequired research. Teachers around the world rejoice. I figured what better way to learn about the culture of another country than go directly to the source?
This year, my aunt decided to host a foreign exchange student, Lorena. A mom of two boys, she was tickled pink to finally get the daughter (albeit temporarily) she’s always wanted.
It’s rather comical following it all via Facebook. Posts such as “Shopping date with my daughter!” or “Look at what I came home to after work” captioned under a photo of a cake plague my news feed. Saying my aunt is excited to be a mum to Lorena is a bit of an understatement.
Over Thanksgiving Break, I was lucky enough to talk to Lorena about some of her culture, adjustment to life her, and favorite foods.
Q: Where are you from originally? Why are you in Missouri now?
A: I’m from Brazil! I came to Missouri in an exchange program to improve my English and live the American experience. It is really common in Brazil for students to try new experiences. I have a lot of friends that are doing the same thing here in the US and also different countries.
I must hand it to her. I am having a hard enough time adjusting from Kansas to Pittsburgh. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to move from country to country, let alone trying to improve on another language.
I then decided to get down to the nitty gritty: the food. As I said, I have suddenly become extremely interested in international foods. I blame it on all the cookbooks I got from the library. They talk about dishes I can’t even pronounce, let alone understand how to make. I’ve quickly caught on that cooking is like learning another language entirely.
Q: What is typical Brazilian food like?
A: Most of the typical foods are made from grains and vegetables with lots of different seasonings. We always have rice and baked veggies as side dishes. Meat is also frequently used in tons of different ways: Beef, chicken meat, pork, mutton and seafood are in many recipes. Also, the flavors are usually really mild, never too strong or spicy.
Q: So then what’s your favorite Brazilian dish?
A: My favorite Brazilian food is called Feijoada. It is made with black beans, pork, sausage, lots of different seasonings, and verdure. It is served with white rice, sliced oranges and Farofa (a toasted manioc flour mixture). It tastes amazing! I made it for my family here and they loved it!
I decided to do a little research on this feijoada dish. Turns out, it’s a bit of a Brazilian delicacy. It’s extremely rich, hearty, and time consuming, so it only gets whipped up on special occasions. It’s sort of like a twist on a typical stew. Sign me up!
Considering I saw Lorena around Thanksgiving time, a holiday centered on American food, I thought I would ask her how it faired. Hilarious, irrelevant tangent, but you wouldn’t believe some of the questions exchange students get asked. I guess a lot of people asked her what Brazilian Thanksgiving was like (it doesn’t exist in case you were confused). She also said many people ask if she actually lives in a hut. Hilarious.
Q: How was your first Thanksgiving?
A: It was great! People were always telling me about how good food is and how excited they all were to eat it. It’s so true! It felt good to eat a lot of truly homemade food after a long time.
Q: What was your favorite dish?
A: I really liked stuffing. I think the mixture of chicken, bread & seasonings are great. And it was the first time I ever ate it.
Aaaah…yes. The stuffing at Thanksgiving is always a hot commodity. Little does anyone know (Okay, actually everyone knows because my Grandma Violet announces that it is so tasty and so easy nearly every holiday) my Grandma actually does it all from a box. Clearly, that’s where my mom got her cooking skills.
I decided next to venture into some general talks about American food. I always wonder what people from other countries find delicious here. I grew up thinking my dad’s homemade spaghetti sauce was nectar sent from the heavens. My friend, on the other hand, sees red sauce as the most repulsive topping for pasta. How does growing up with a different food culture influence a palate?
Q: What’s been your favorite thing you’ve eaten or made here?
A: Mexican food! I eat all the time here. I barely ate it in Brazil and used to hate it, but now I just can’t leave without it. Quesadillas are the best.
Mexican? Interesting, I thought. Makes sense, considering the staple of most Mexican food is meat and rice.
That begged the question, what was the most noteworthy difference between American and Brazilian food?
Q: What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the two foods?
A: I find Brazilian and American food different in several aspects. Even if it is the same type of meal, for sure it will have a completely different taste. In my house we always use fresh seasonings, vegetables and fruits, which we usually buy daily. I really think it makes a big difference. Other thing is that most of American dishes have a strong or spicy flavor, the opposite for us! And I miss eating rice with steak.
Oh, lord. She had me there. Have you ever had fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the Farmer’s Market? Dear lord, it’s an experience to say the least. You will never buy foreign produce again.
I thought it was time to wrap up the somewhat informal interview. I wanted to end with one final question though: What is the one food you never, ever, ever want to eat again?
Sweet baked beans. Ugh!