Caipirinha – a mix of sugar cane spirit (cachaça), crushed lime, white sugar and ice – is a big hit among foreigners who visit Brazil. It is pretty much everywhere in the country and many Brazilian families own the special wooden mortar used to prepare the beverage.
Caipirinha and its variations, such as caipiroska (with vodka) or saquerinha (with sake), are just a tiny sample of popular Brazilian drinks.
Follow me in the discovery of other national specialties. Most of them carry cachaça (also known as pinga, aguardente de cana, caninha or “a brava”/”the nasty one”):
1. Batidas – This mix of cachaça, fruit, ice and lots of sugar is a favorite in the kiosks that line the Brazilian coast. You name the fruit – maracujá (passion fruit), coco (coconut), morango (strawberry). In fact, caipirinha is just one more type of batida.
2. Meia de seda (probably named after pantyhose because it is a girlie drink) – Those with a really sweet tooth can try this mix of 1/3 of gin, 1/3 cacao liqueur (made with the fruit, not cocoa), 1 spoon of sugar and cinnamon (some recipes abolish the gin or substitute it by rum). Sort of old-fashioned, a souvenir of the golden fifties.
3. Aluá – There are several recipes for this drink popular in the Northeast states (Bahia, Ceará and Pernambuco, among others), that may or not be alcoholic. You mix one pineapple’s peel, two litters of water, brown sugar, cloves and grated ginger. The skin of the pineapple should be kept in water for a whole night to get fermented. The longer it remains in water, the more alcoholic the beverage. This water is strained and mixed to the other ingredients.
4. Cachaça pura – Cachaça, the Brazilian equivalent of rum, is made of the fermented sugarcane juice. There are probably a few thousand brands, some extremely refined, some too bad to be mentioned. A recent contest promoted by cachaça experts chose the best artisan brands produced in the state of Minas Gerais (which basically means in Brazil). The winners were Diva (from Divinópolis, a white cachaça), Pirapora (from the city of same name, an aged cachaça) and Áurea Custódio (from Ribeirão das Neves, a premium cachaça).
Also Playboy magazine published a cachaça ranking (here ordered from first to fifth place): Anísio Santiago/Havana (from the city of Salinas), Vale Verde (Betim), Claudionor (Januária), Germana (Nova União) and Magnífica (Vassouras). They are all from Minas Gerais, apart from the last one, from the state of Rio. And here you find a large list of Brazilian cachaças, including their origins and alcoholic degrees: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anexo:Lista_de_cacha%C3%A7as_do_Brasil
5. Think Green – This complex cocktail, by Rogério “Rabbit” Barroso, considered one of the best Brazilian bartenders, was one of the finalists of the latest edition of the World Cocktail Competition. It includes Bacardi, Marie Brizard Lemon Grass, Midori, champagne and pineapple juice.
6. Porradinha – A classic among college students. Grown-ups tend to be ashamed of drinking this in public. You should fill half a metal cup with cachaça. Add a small amount of Sprite or some similar soda. Cover the cup with your hand, lift it and hit the table (that movement could be described as porradinha). The volume of the drink will grow quickly, so drink it in only one sip.
7. Submarino – Typical of the Southern states, mixes a dose of Steinhäger (a beverage made of juniper) and a cup of draft beer. Originally, German immigrants would drink both spirits separately, but simultaneously. In Brazil, we turn the cup with Steinhäger face down inside a larger cup. Then pour beer inside. The Steinäger “escapes” into the beer.
If you don’t drink alcohol, there are a few Brazilian drinks that have merits of their own:
1. Guaraná – The national soft drink is made of guaraná, an Amazonian fruit that is an energy booster – it has twice the caffeine of coffee beans. Guaraná, the soda, has very small amounts of guaraná, the fruit, though, unlike guaraná powder, sold in vitamin shops.
2. Juices – In the Amazon, try the ones made of cupuaçu, bacuri or açaí. In the Northeast, the options are limitless. Mango, cashew (the fruit, not the nut on top of it), siriguela, jaca (jackfruit), cajá. All of these are available in major cities all around the country (made of frozen pulp, in most cases).
3. Garapa – For those with a sweet tooth, the sugar cane juice is available in street markets practically everywhere in the country. Sometimes lime or pineapple are added to the beverage.
Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil – www.deepbrazil.com.