Feijoada: Debunking the Myth of Brazil's Favourite Dish

Feijoada served with all the trimmings
Feijoada served with all the trimmings | © pajotar04 / Pixabay
Brazil’s most iconic meal, feijoada, is a slow-cooked bean stew mixed with varieties of beef and pork cuts including jerked beef and smoked sausage. The most traditional versions include pigs’ ears, tails, and feet, and cows’ tongues. It’s believed that it was the slaves who first created this dish – but is this true? Read on for more on the history of feijoada to debunk the myth of Brazil’s national dish.

Feijoada in Brazilian culture

Feijoada is a source of national pride for Brazilians. Typically eaten on Saturdays, the dish is made up of several cuts of meat that are cooked in a thick, black bean stew for several hours (the longer, the better) and served with white rice, shredded wild cabbage, pork scratchings, farofa (toasted cassava flour), and a slice of orange, supposedly to aid digestion. The perfect feijoada is served with a shot of cachaça or a caipirinha, to help boost the appetite ahead of tucking into this heavy yet delicious Brazilian dish.

The legend of feijoada

Legend has it that feijoada comes from the time of slavery in Brazil when slaves mixed black beans with the leftover bits of meat that their masters felt were unfit for consumption – the pig’s ears, tail, and feet, and the fat and tongue of a cow. The dish was so tasty that the masters eventually started eating it too, and before long, it became Brazil’s national dish. Yet, is this true?

Feijoada is full of different cuts of meat © Yusuke Kawasaki / WikiCommons

The real origin of feijoada

While it sounds an intriguing story, the legend of feijoada‘s origins has been strongly debated. Historians claim that feijoada goes back to the bean stews commonly found in the south of Europe and that it is, in fact, a Portuguese dish that was adapted to use local food resources found in Brazil.

Cooking feijoada in huge proportions © Prefeitura de Itapevi / Flickr

Feijoada‘s roots

The origin of feijoada has been closely linked to similar stews from certain Spanish and Portuguese regions, namely Extremadura, Tras-os-Montes, and Alto Douro. While these areas tend to use kidney beans, white beans, or chickpeas, feijoada uses black beans due to the abundance in Brazil. When the Portuguese colonizers arrived in Brazil, they began to cultivate black beans, as they were low cost to produce and easy to maintain – eventually they became a staple food source for the Europeans who settled in Brazil.

Feijoada served with white rice and a slice of orange © EVERYDAYLIFEMODERN / Flickr

Other countries that eat feijoada

Feijoada isn’t exclusive to Brazil – it can be found in several countries, although with slight cultural and regional variations. Other countries and regions where you can sample feijoada are Macau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and India (especially in Goa). These are all areas which have a history of Portuguese colonization, suggesting that the Portuguese brought their cooking tradition with them and adapted it to local food availability.

Despite feijoada coming to Brazil from Portuguese colonization, the urban myth that it originates from slavery is a widely-believed and far more popular story.