When visiting Rio, many new arrivals come armed with a “must-see and must-do” list to make the most of their time in this utterly beautiful city.
The list goes on.
Food-wise, Rio offers a wealth of options. From its ever popular lanchonetes that offer a no-fuss feed to its daytime workers, to more polished venues where you can get swanky with fancy food and wine list to match.
But rather than sit and be served, why not interact with a local and learn a thing or two about Brazilian food? Why not get in and help cook some of it? Cook in Rio is one experience that should to be added to the Rio list of things to do.
Tucked away in a leafy Copacabana side-street, this intimate space is where chef Simone de Almeida holds her fabulous cooking classes. It’s not all about cooking, either. Simone educates all of her guests about Brazilian food, its history and sprinkles it with carioca philosophy; tossing in her vivacious and comedic energy to make it an experience to remember.
There are two separate classes on offer at Cook in Rio. The Moqueca class and the Feijoada class, but lucky for us, Simone combined the two for our small group of five. You may as well see which dish you’d prefer to make, right?
Brazil’s traditions stem from three cultures – Portuguese, African and indigenous Indians; vastly different people that melded and created what the country is today. The same thing happened with the food.
When it comes to feijoada, this traditional dish from Rio was invented by African slaves. The Portuguese forced them into Catholicism, and when they had their free Saturday to attend church, the slaves got a pot of feijoada on in the morning while they were out. On Fridays they even went as far as hiding the ingredients in salt, digging them out the following morning to cook with.
Once the Portuguese noticed how good it smelled whilst cooking, they were soon eating feijoada themselves. The traditional African version began to change thanks to the Portuguese adding their own ingredients like sausage and good quality meat; developing the dish to what it is today.
Black beans, salt-cured meat, smoked ribs, linguiça, pork hock, loads of bay leaves, an orange and a good glug of cachaça and water. These are the ingredients of Simone’s feijoada.
The smell of it as it cooks is out of this world, so while that simmers away, it’s time for a drink.
Simple to make and so effortless to drink, Brazil’s national cocktail has just three ingredients. Four if you count the ice.
Small chunks from half a fresh lime in a glass, two teaspoons of sugar and a firm muddle with whatever you can get your hands on. Fill the glass with ice and then do a 5-second pour of cachaça over the top. That’s right. 5 seconds. Give it a good stir and then get stuck into it. We even added some fresh maracujá (passionfruit) pulp to it.
As a small appetiser we sliced up a few calabresa sausages while Simone knocked together a salsa of onion, coriander leaves, chilli sauce and fresh lime juice. The calabresa gets a quick toss in a hot pan, some cachaça is added, and boom! Time to make a fire.
The sausage is absolutely delicious drenched with the salsa.
A little more prep for a couple of sides to go with the feijoada. Finely shredded collard greens which will be sautéed with garlic, and some toasted farofa mixed with banana.
And perhaps another round of caipirinhas?
Moqueca is the other dish that guests can take the cooking class for. Originally from Espírito Santo in the northeast as well as the state of Bahia, this easy fish (or shrimp) stew can be put together in no time.
The first step is to get the fish marinating in a simple spice mix that can be found in many Brazilian kitchens. Cumin and black pepper. A little salt is added, some fresh lime juice, and it’s put aside for no more than 10 minutes.
In the meantime some rings of capsicum are gently sautéed over low-medium heat in golden dendê oil. Coconut cream joins in on the fun, then the fish is drained and added to the pan. A light simmer, a hefty dose of coriander and it’s done!
Dessert-wise, we sear some freshly sliced pineapple and guava in a skillet with sugar, sprinkle over a little cinnamon and our sweet ending to a fun-filled evening of food and meeting new people is over.
A big thanks to Simone and Cook in Rio for sponsoring our visit. It was a blast!
If you want to partake in one of Simone’s fab cooking classes, check the details below for prices, more information and to book your place.