Raising an Adventurous Eater: A Bevy of Brazilian Treats

From now on, I want all of my meals in clay pots. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

In the last (and first) installment of Raising an Adventurous Eater, my family and I checked out Senegalese. This time, we went for Brazilian.

We had been to a nearby Brazilian steakhouse more than a few times, so we originally weren’t too sure this would be unfamiliar territory. I’m happy to say that we were wrong—dead wrong.

As mentioned in my last installment, I am a pretty adventurous eater, but not a meat eater. Well, sort of. I haven’t eaten red meat or pork in over 15 years now, and I’m not planning to do that anytime soon. That was one of the reasons I was a bit nervous about Brazilian. My previous experiences at the steakhouse were pretty limiting. It was usually meat or chicken and fish wrapped in other meat. However, it turns out that Brazilian cuisine offers a bevy of different options. Even better, they don’t typically come on the gigantic spool of meat I’d previously seen at that steakhouse.

For this adventure, we opted for a place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called Muqueca. This restaurant is famous for serving dishes in clay pots, which are made from clay and mangrove tree sap. They also come all the way from Vitória, Brazil, where they are shaped, dried, and fired up to perfection. At least, I have to assume they are perfection. I’m not exactly a clay pot expert, but I can tell you that they are the perfect cooking vessels.

Fiery deliciousness. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

To start, I opted for a Caipirinha, which is supposedly the national cocktail of Brazil. According to the menu, “the word ‘caipirinha’ is the diminutive version of the word ‘caipira,’ which refers to someone from the countryside, being an almost exact equivalent of the American English hillbilly.” When I asked about what was in it, the waitress informed me that it was like drinking vodka. I don’t drink much vodka these days. In fact, I don’t drink much at all. She assured me that it was delicious and came in a variety of flavors, including my chosen passion fruit. It arrived with about 10 limes chopped up inside and the potency of a sledgehammer. It was like a party in a tall glass. Yum.

For an appetizer, we ordered Salgadinhos, which are basically little fried balls of deliciousness that you can get stuffed with cod, shrimp, or chicken. We chose the latter. It also seemed to have a thin layer of mashed potato or maybe even yucca on the inside. My son, who hates potatoes in any shape or form (with the exception of chips), devoured these things and proclaimed their awesomeness. I informed him of the presence of potato and he sort of shrugged it off. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: It’s hard not to love anything that’s fried.

My son got to “cheat” a little bit here, since there was an actual kids’ menu at Muqueca. He chose the grilled chicken, but it was marinated in a savory little sauce to make it stand out from your typical kids’ meal. It also came with fries (which he shunned—whose kid is this?), as well as plain white rice and a hearty portion of savory black beans. He’s never been a huge bean fan, but he tried it. He said it wasn’t his favorite, but that it wasn’t bad, either. I consider that to be a win.

For the adult entrees, we discovered that Muqueca isn’t just the name of the restaurant; it’s also a national dish with seafood that’s poached in a broth with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, olive oil, coconut milk, dendê oil (palm oil), and a natural coloring seed called annatto. It’s sort of like seafood stew—and it’s downright fantastic. I opted for Shrimp Muqueca, while my husband got the Arroz com mariscos, a seafood casserole with shrimp, mussels, squid, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, coconut milk, and rice all in the same bowl. Mine had rice and a separate fish sauce on the side.

Each entree was cooked and served in clay pots, which keep the dishes nice and hot. In my family, we would devour my father’s pizza the second it came off the hot pizza stone, so I wasn’t afraid of scalding a few taste buds. It was so worth it.

And speaking of scalding: This restaurant offers hot sauce as a condiment and it was exactly the type of spice I was hoping for when we chose Brazilian. This is not the kind of hot sauce you’d find at the grocery store or even in a bottle. It’s made on the premises. I doused one of my shrimp into the sauce and immediately found that not to be such a wise decision. The Caipirinha wasn’t exactly the best chaser, either. It was like trying to put out a campfire with lighter fluid. The heat sort of reminded me of wasabi, but it was a different kind of pain. I later asked the waiter what was in the sauce. He said it was a mixture of Brazilian malagueta peppers and different kinds of hot sauce. He also said we came in on a day with a weak batch. Thank goodness, because, well… I need that skin on my lips, okay? He also mentioned that if he ever had a cold, he could just smell the sauce; it doubles as a remedy for being stuffed up. It was oh so hot, but very yummy.

May cause simultaneous tears of joy and pain. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

All three of us enjoyed our meals and, with the exception of the fries, we cleaned our plates. My son was super happy about the kids’ meal option, but still tried something different. My husband thought his was very hearty and full of flavor. I didn’t really see mine as a stew, but I did find it to be fantastic. It came with plenty of shrimp and they weren’t the sea-monkey kind that I see a lot of restaurants trying to pass off in their shrimp dishes. The fish sauce (called pirao) really wasn’t necessary. It was fine, but the liquid that the Muqueca sits in was delicious all on its own.

Our second eating adventure was another awesome success. Now where can I get myself a set of those clay pots? I need to start serving our meals in them immediately!