It has been several years since I spent two exciting weeks in Brazil. I joined four other food writers and journalists on an adventure that took us all over this vast and passionate country.
Brazil's passions for life, food, drink, music, sensuality and art are manifested during their famous Carnival, one of the world's most renowned festivals.
There are similar celebrations throughout the world, but the African-Brazilian culture has resulted in a unique experience that is a showcase for the soul and spirit of this South American country.
Although I was not in Brazil during Carnival, I got authentic glimpses into the costumes, music and dancing that occurs during the holiday. On visits to numerous samba clubs and a tour of the costume shops and at numerous clubs, the spirit and hedonism of the energy and spirit of the Brazilians became apparent.
It was the food of Brazil that fascinated and intrigued all of the "foodies."
Each region of the country was a unique dining experience. In rural areas, many times we were invited into homes, and in the cities we experienced sophisticated, traditional dishes.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, we had our first culinary adventure. At Barbacoa restaurant, we encountered "rodizio," which is the method of serving Brazilian barbecue.
The waiters pass through the room with about 20 types of meats on skewers, including buffalo, numerous cuts of beef, chicken, turkey and fish.
Accompaniments included hearts of palm, numerous vegetable dishes and fresh fruit.
In Recife, we had a splendid dinner at a private home, a 300-year-old colonial house.
After touring the house and gorgeous garden and visits with our hostess, we sampled the traditional food of the regions; "Galinha de Cabidela," chicken in the Portuguese style and a special custard, "manteiga de garrafa."
Each city and town offered a new surprise, and in the Bahian city of Salvador, we were introduced to Brazil's national monument, the plaza in the center of the old town.
The city was the first capital of the country and is known as the birthplace of African-Brazilian cuisine and culture.
Bahian food is a sensual blend of African, Portuguese and Brazilian Indian tastes and seasonings. Coconut milk is an important ingredient, along with palm nut oil and manioc root. Fresh coriander is used generously as well as bush pepper (pimenta malagueta).
Bahians love their food spicy and hot, including a popular traditional seafood dish, bobo de camarao.
This mélange of shrimp, cassava (yucca root), olive oil, coconut milk and flavorful onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro is a creamy, luscious masterpiece of gastronomic creativity.
My travel companions and I agreed that no experience could match these feasts of the best Brazil could offer.
We were wrong. Our final foray into Rio (Cidade Maravilhosa, or marvelous city) was spent at the spectacular Caesar Park hotel, on Ipanema with a magnificent view of the famed beach.
We were fortunate to be in Rio on Saturday to partake of Brazil's national dish, feijoada. And the feijoada at the Caesar Park is considered the finest.
Feijoada began as a slave meal, and its history is closely related to African religious rites. The dish is said to originate with Ogun, the god of iron and all who work with it, from warriors to jewelers to taxi drivers and airline pilots.
Ultimately, with the arrival of African slaves, this bean and pork dish became a part of Brazilian cuisine.
Food historians say King John VI of Portugal, who fled to Brazil during the first decade of the 19th century, originated the dish.
When he arrived in Brazil, the dish was in existence and contained nothing more than beans and various parts of the pig allocated to the slaves. Ingredients such as pig's ears and feet, collard greens and manioc flour were used in the original dish.
King John and his cooks embellished the original recipe with dried beef, salt-cured pork, bacon, sausages, beef tongue, oranges and vegetables, and the modern feijoada was born.
If you now have an overwhelming urge to indulge in Brazilian cuisine, I have good news: On Jan. 16, the Guadalupe Center is sponsoring a Taste of Brazil at the Naples Botanical Garden. This exciting evening (6 to 9 p.m.) will offer authentic food, music and silent auctions. It's $500 per person. Call 239-657-7711.
Doris Reynolds is the author of "When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet was Fried." They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a four-part DVD, "A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds." Contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.