Carnival is one of the most beloved celebrations in Latin America. It has its roots in Italy as a celebration observed by the Roman Catholic Church before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. From Italy it spread across Europe and then to the New World. It was introduced to New Orleans by the French and Latin American countries by the Spanish and Portuguese.
The way Carnival is celebrated varies from country to country, and even from city to city, but all celebrations have some things in common. Carnival is a time to party, to let go, and to enjoy life; to sing and to dance and to eat for a few days before the fasting and deprivations of the 40 days of Lent. Celebrations usually start at the beginning of February and last anywhere from 3 days to a month, as in Paraguay.
According to Fodor's and The Argentina Independent, Rio de Janeiro 's Carnival is one of the largest and perhaps the best known throughout the world. The Samba Schools lead the parades with people dressed in fabulously elaborate costumes that have been worked on all year.
Bolivia's Carnival, called Oruro, is also a large event that, unlike Brazil, is not celebrated in one place. It takes place in La Paz at an altitude of 3700 meters above sea level. It celebrates the three different climatic and cultural regions of the Andes, spreading over 400 square miles on the Bolivian Altiplano. Each region is represented by their traditional dress and dances. The carnival has been celebrated for more than 200 years. The UNESCO, in 2001, proclaimed this carnival one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia is also among the largest in Latin America. It lasts for 4 days and has roots in European, African, and Indian traditions. UNESCO also named the Barranquilla Carnival a "World Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."
Another important Carnival is in Veracruz, Mexico. This event has been called the most joyful festival in the world. It starts with bonfires to kill the bad moods and ends with the funeral of "Juan Carnaval".
The Carnaval Encarnaceno in Paraguay takes place in the city of Encarnacion. It is the longest lasting festival in Latin America, with 22 days of drinking, dancing and partying. It attracts an estimated 60,000 tourist every year.
The food served at each Carnival varies, with each country serving favorite, local specialties.
Margarida Nogueira shares her memories on how her family spent the Carnivals. For them Carnival is the most beloved of all traditional holidays. It is the time of the year when Brazilians express their happiness and joie de vivre three days before Lent. The Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools) lead the parades with people dressed in those amazing and colorful costumes that are crafted throughout the year – from devils and angels, to queens and pirates, Indians and beautiful Bahianas; it is a time of joy and good will, of simply letting go.
When we were teenagers, my parents preferred to leave Rio de Janeiro and go to our country home in a small town up on the hills. They knew that the Carnival there was still celebrated as a big party, in a smaller, healthier environment, where we could dance, have fun or just, as we like to say in Brazil, brincar o Carnival (horse around) and go to the parades. Besides, my brothers and I were free to bring as many friends as we could fit in the house.
I can still taste and remember all the good food my mother used to prepare with the help of the maids, who also enjoyed having all the young people around. The guests always brought special treats – cakes, cookies and preserves. For Saturday, Sábado de Carnaval, Feijoada Completa (Bean and Meat Stew) was a must. Moqueca, Picadinho, Vatapá and many other Creole dishes were prepared during those magical days.
On Mardi Gras (Terça-feira Gorda) we generally had my mother’s special Roast Loin of Pork with Farofa de Banana and a most anticipated dessert, Pudim Quero Mais (I want more pudding).
Over the years things have changed and, although the Carnival parade is still fantastic, for me it looks more like a Broadway musical. Regardless, the memories of those days are always present in my mind and in the pudding I prepare for my grandchildren who say: quero mas, quero mas!
By Margarida Nogueira.
Margarida's grand children helping with the pudding.
LOMBO DE PORCO (Roast Loin of Pork)
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
6 black peppercorns
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-1/2 to 3 pounds loin of pork boneless
1 cup sliced onions
Juicie from 1 orange
1 tablespoon orange zest
1. Place all the ingredients for the marinade in the blender and process until pureed. Place pork in a glass container, or plastic bag, add marinade, cover and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Remove pork from the marinade and reserve marinade. Put pork over a bed of sliced onions in a baking pan and bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 20 minutes; reduce the heat to 375ºF and continue baking for about 40 minutes or until golden brown, basting from time to time with the marinade. Remove roast from the pan and let it rest for a few minutes while finishing the sauce.
3. Degrease juices in the pan, add remaining marinade and the juice of 1 orange and bring it to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, stirring, season with salt and pepper to taste and add orange zest.
4. To serve, slice the pork and serve with some of the sauce on top, either with farofa de banana or mashed potatoes.
PUDIM QUERO MAIS (I want more Pudding)
Brazilian sweets are generally very sweet. I have cut down the amount of sugar in this recipe and even so, for some palates, it is still too sweet. I have also made this dessert without the caramel and found it to be just as delicious. I sprinkle some dry coconut on top and serve either warm or at room temperature.
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
6 whole eggs
1-1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup coconut milk (Brazilian coconut milk is thin)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. In a small heavy saucepan, mix all caramel ingredients. Cook over medium heat without stirring, for about 13 to 14 minutes or till you get a golden caramel. Immediately pour caramel into a 4-6 cup ring mold and turn in all directions to film the bottom and sides.
2. In a medium size saucepan mix sugar and water to prepare a sugar syrup; when it reaches a medium density, remove from the heat, add butter and let it cool.
3. In a large bowl beat the whole eggs till they begin to foam; add coconut milk, grated cheese mixed with the flour and finally the sugar syrup. Mix well and pour into the caramelized mold.
Bake in water bath in a pre-heated 375ºF oven for 1 hour approximately. Let it cool for 20 minutes before unmolding.
1. Obs Receita da minha mãe, Luisa Nogueira e que sempre fez muito sucesso na família. (This is my mother’s recipe that was always a hit with the family).
2. Margarida Nogueira lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. She is a food writer, culinary historian, cooking teacher and restaurant consultant. She has worked as a consultant with cookbook writers in the United States.