The saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” can also apply to travelers. The way to understand a culture is by learning how to cook and eat like the locals. My trip to Rio de Janeiro in October included the usual tourist sites including a visit up Corcovado Mountain to get up close with Christ the Redeemer, a ride up the cable car to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain and dinner at a Brazilian-style steakhouse.
Cook in Rio – Best thing to Do (and Eat) in Rio de Janeiro
Yeah, those things were all nice but the best thing my sister and I experienced was also our last activity before heading home, a Brazilian culinary class with Chef Simone Almeida’s Cook in Rio. During this four-hour, hands-on, English-language cooking class, we learned how to make a full meal with appetizers, main entree with side dishes, and dessert.
Most importantly, we learned how to properly make Brazil’s national drink, a caipirinha (pronounced kie-purr-REEN-yah). All week we had been on the quest for the perfect caipirinha (and it took me a week to pronounce it) and we finally found it during our last afternoon.
The traditional cocktail calls for a lime, 2 ounces of cachaça – a sugar cane rum – 2 tablespoons of sugar and ice. Chef Simone showed us how to make the traditional drink with alternative fruits, such as passion fruit or other citrus, and suggested other alcohol can be substituted, such as vodka or rum.
All Hands on the Counter
There’s no sitting back and watching others do the work. Chef Simone gets everyone involved whether it’s mashing limes for the caipirinha, slicing vegetables or cooking the meal. The small class size, up to five, keeps it intimate and allows a flow of conversation. Not only did we learn the mechanics of making a Brazilian meal, we learned about some of Brazil’s history and insight into the culture.
Preparing something fried? Brazilians balance by adding something green to a meal, such as broccoli in the rice. Speaking of rice, Chef Simone lightly fries rice with minced garlic, adding multidimensional of flavors to a simple food.
When it comes to oil, Brazilians use olive oil just as Americans top just about everything with ketchup. It ties to the country’s Portuguese heritage and we saw it on every table alongside salt and pepper. I’ve been taught to cook with olive oil but Chef Simone doesn’t. She explained the oil is most effective and best when it’s cold and uses other oils to cook.
Not only did we learn about cooking, but we discussed everything from fashion to men.
We enjoyed eating and drinking throughout the class but the main course, either a seafood moqueca (which is what we had, with fish) or feijoada (almost like Cuban black beans and rice), with side dishes is a huge portion. I wasn’t able to finish it all and I usually have a hearty appetite.
At the conclusion of class, everyone is presented with a diploma to put on their refrigerator to remember the tasty class. Chef Simone sparkles with personality and I could easily see her on Food Network or the Cooking Channel with her own cooking show. She easily dissected what could be a complicated meal into something easy to recreate. Although I haven’t done it yet, my sister cooked up a Brazilian meal shortly after our return.
When traveling to Rio de Janeiro, book a class with Cook in Rio, you won’t be disappointed nor will you leave hungry! At publication time, classes are US$75 (R$150) per person with cash or in advance with PayPal. This was a delicious way to experience Brazil’s culture and would love to take the class again.
Although I could have made the reservations myself, I reserved this and my whole itinerary including airfare, hotel, activities and ground transportation to/from the airport with Brazil Vacation Club based in the Atlanta, Ga., area. Being my first trip to Brazil, I allowed these Brazil travel experts to guide me and would recommend them to book your vacation to Rio de Janeiro or anywhere in Brazil.
Cook in Rio
R. Raimundo Correia, 68
Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro 22040-040
Tel: +55 (21) 8761-3653
Tel: +55 (21) 8894-9857