We spent last weekend at the wonderful colonial mining town of Tiradentes, up in the hills of Minas Gerais, grazing our way around their annual food festival. Here are some of the highlights:
Despite the festival having an overwhelming ‘corporate’ presence (a funding necessity in order to keep the festival proper free, according to the festival organiser), some local producers from the neighbouring town of São João del Rei managed to get a look in nonetheless. Local cachaça and other treats were on offer - the lovely Edna (pictured) was selling homemade puxa puxapirulitas (R$1 sticky lollies made from sugar, lime and honey) and pé de moleque, a sugary peanut sweet that loosely translates as 'rascals’ feet’.
Having swung by the local Senac food school for a lecture by Alberto Landgraf (more of him later), we found ourselves the surprised recipients of a last-minute invite to the house of local glamour puss and museum patron Angela Gutierrez, who opened up her back garden for champagne and paella, cooked by two enthusiastic local doctors (something of an annual tradition it seems).
The classic seafood paella was sublime, accompanied by the shelling of prawns and messy fingers that are half the fun. But the real real treat was the 'paella mineira’ (paella from Minas Gerais) - who knew there was such a thing? Not surprising for a land-locked state, it had no seafood, being packed instead with whole roasted heads of garlic, smoked bacon and local mineiro sausage.
From garden party to serious gastro chic, we rolled on in the evening to the impressive Vila Paolucci pousada and a top dollar dinner cooked by the hot young cheffing talent Alberto Landgraf, from Epice restaurant in São Paulo and the two Castanho brothers from Remanso do Bosque restaurant in Belém.
Each of the six courses had at least one ingredient that I had never eaten before. I love that about Brazil - even the hardened Brazilians food critics at our table hadn’t heard of some items on the menu. We ate pigs ears, açai served with oxtail, Amazonian fruits such as bacuri and camaru, and a sauce made with urucum seeds – a natural red dye. The dinner was fantastic, though possibly not worth the R$340 per head price tag.
I could bore you with endless photos but here are two of the best dishes - smoked pirarucu river fish with urucum sauce, crispy banana and a 'farofa’ crumb made from Brazil nuts, piled at a jaunty angle on the edge of the plate.
This beautiful dessert teamed mounds of cacau, coffee and treacle in a foamy sauce made of tangy, orange bacuri fruit, with caramelised tapioca.
After that meal Belém has just gone straight to the list of my must-visit list for Brazil, just to eat the Castanho brothers’ food again!