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Can food preserve culture? The Arab influence on Brazilian cuisine

Falah Restaurant in Florianopolis, Brazil (Photo: MEMO)
Falah Restaurant in Florianopolis, Brazil (Photo: MEMO)

The migration of Arabs to Brazil from the middle of the 19th century has produced a rich cultural legacy in the country: the cuisine. Arab cuisine is widespread in Brazilian society, with the distinctive and unique flavours of its spices and the quality and variety of ingredients used. You have probably already eaten maqluba or falafel, and even hummus, but have you heard of tabbouleh? Or kibbe?

Falah is an Arabic restaurant in Florianopolis set up by Falah Twassi, a Jordanian living in Brazil. It serves delicious regional food amidst impressive Arabic decorations. At first glance, you'd think that you are in an Arab country. It is famous not only for the Arabic food, sweets and teas on offer, but also the Arab collectibles such as rings, accessories, chandeliers, paintings, designs and more that are on sale.

Can food save the culture? Arab's influence on Brazilian Cuisine [Middle East Monitor]

Can food save the culture? Arab's influence on Brazilian Cuisine
[Middle East Monitor]

Twassi arrived in Brazil from Jordan's Wadi Musa in 2012, and opened his eponymous restaurant two years later. He told me that the idea of the restaurant came after studying how accepting Brazil is of Arab culture and cuisine.

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"My idea was to collect dishes from different Arab countries and offer these dishes in one place with a particular character," he explained. "Most of the Brazilian people love to learn about other cultures, especially the Arab culture. This is one of the reasons why they come to my restaurant and try Arab food." Arab cuisine, he told me, has won a place in Brazilian hearts.

"What distinguishes Arab restaurants here is the quality of food and the preparation methods. I was keen to present the authentic face of Arab food and Arab culture, and invite the Brazilian community to learn more about it."

Many once alien dishes, especially from the Middle East and North Africa, are now truly part of Brazilian cuisine thanks to restaurants and fast food outlets across the country. In Brazil's larger cities today it is easy to find Arab bread, falafel, hummus, meat and vegetable pies, and tabbouleh.

"I cook some special dishes on specific days," said Falah. "Maqluba, kebab, kibbe and falafel are all on the menu, but I dedicate a specific day to cook mansaf, for example."

How we eat here in Brazil is also influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine. The food is presented on colourful platters with intricate patterns. According to Falah, the beauty of the surroundings plays an important part in encouraging Brazilian customers to experience the Arab cuisine that he offers.

"Every Arab restaurant that they go into basically transports them to another country. My restaurant represents the oriental character of Arab civilisation, with the bonus of good quality food."

Aside from historical and cultural considerations, Arab cuisine has spread in Brazil because most of the people are open minded and accepting of newcomers. This openness extends to experiencing new cuisine.

This is helped, of course, by the fact that most Brazilian cities have sizeable Arab communities. According to the International Organisation for Migration, there are 13 million Arabs living in Brazil. There are strong family and cultural links between Brazil and the Arab world, as well as growing trade connections. This influence dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, which is reflected in the cosmopolitan nature of the cuisine.

Can food save the culture? Arab's influence on Brazilian Cuisine [Middle East Monitor]

Can food save the culture? Arab's influence on Brazilian Cuisine
[Middle East Monitor]

Many people migrate and take the taste of their homeland with them, and the Arabs in Brazil are no different. Arab hospitality is renowned across the world because they believe that food is one way that they can express who they are.

Falah Twassi is well aware that he and the other Arab Brazilians have a duty to preserve their culture. He is doing this through Arab cuisine in his restaurant, "with every dish and every bite that I serve." With his culture comes his identity, which is important for him and the generations to come who may well be Brazilian is every sense that citizenship bestow, but they will also know that they are Arabs with a rich culture and history.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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