June 13th marks the start of the Festas Juninas (June Festivals) in Brazil, a huge celebration in the Northeast of the country that originated as a harvest festival. Food plays a huge role in the Festas Juninas, particularly corn, one of the major crops harvested at this time. One of the most popular corn-centric Junina dishes, and one you can make easily in the US, is the pamonha, a relative of the Mexican tamale. Though both are made from corn and steamed or boiled in corn husks, there are few differences: typical Mexican tamales are made with dried corn and steamed in dried husks, while pamonhas are made with grated fresh corn and cooked in fresh husks. To make pamonha you cut the corn kernels right off the cob, and Flavors of Brazil has a simple recipe for a classic pamonha. Pamonha varieties may be filled with meat, or there are even sweet varieties with coconut or condensed milk. Though strongly associated with the Northeast and Festas Juninas, pamonhas are now sold throughout the year by street vendors around Brazil. Boas festas juninas!
Tag Archives: Festa Junina
In our other lives, we are Brazilian music aficionados. As much time as we spent eating everything in sight while in Brazil, we were as dedicated to listening to as much live music as we could, including seeing the world-famous carnival parade twice: once at the technical rehearsal, and finally during the main event. We had the good fortune both times to see the eventual parade winners, the GRES Unidos de Vila Isabel (headlined, as always, by one of L’s favorite sambistas, Martinho da Vila). Vila’s 2013 samba-enredo (theme song) was the unrelentingly catchy “Água no feijão que chegou mais um;” sing along with the video below:
The song is a celebration of the simple life in the Brazilian countryside, and makes use of some creative wordplay to talk about the samba school’s job of making music using words that evoke farming, planting, and harvesting country crops (“Vila Isabel is going to plant some happiness tomorrow morning”). Once we had listened to the song on repeat 30 times, one particular verse caught our attention:
Bota água no feijão (“[He] throws water in the beans”)
Já tem lenha no fogão (“There’s already wood in the stove”)
Faz um bolo de fubá (“[He] makes a cornmeal cake”)
Question to us, then: what is a bolo de fubá, and given our self-professed love of Brazilian pastries and cakes, why have we not made one yet? A bolo de fubá is literally a cornmeal cake, but it is more than cornbread: using finely ground cornmeal (the finer than the better), you make a slightly sweet cake that is a ubiquitous accompaniment to breakfast or midday coffee. Bolo de fubá is also a popular food eaten in the Brazilian June Festivals, or Festas Juninas.
Everyone has their own take on a bolo de fubá. The most common variations are to make it a bolo de fubá cremosa (“creamy”) or bem cremosa (“super creamy”), usually by adding coconut or a creamy substitute like extra cheese or eggs. For beginners, try this recipe for a simple bolo from about.com. Denise Browning over at From Brazil to You has a good recipe for a bolo de fubá cremosa with coconut, complete with some reminiscing about some of her bolos of years past. But really, the good recipes will all be in Portuguese: try the one from Sabor Saudade (above), or this one from Tudo Gostoso (Everything Tasty).
And thanks to Vila Isabel for introducing us to a new treat: now we have a food to get addicted to as we get more and more addicted to your song. E está chegando o povo do samba!
The June festivals in the Lusophone world, commonly called “Festas Juninas,” are most associated with Brazil. But one of the biggest is actually held in Porto, Portugal: the Festa do São João do Porto. Though little known outside Portugal, the festival for São João (St. John) is one of Europe’s biggest street parties. Lasting from the night of June 23rd until June 24th, the holiday celebrates St. John the Baptist (whose feast day is June 24), and was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese celebrations are a little different, though there is the same merriment, dancing and fireworks that Brazil enjoys, along with some quirky Portuguese food-related traditions.
There is a ton of food at the Festa do São João do Porto, and one of the most traditional foods, seen on nearly every street corner, is grilled sardines, Sardinhas Assadas (and the recipe couldn’t be easier). Other somewhat stranger food traditions, whose origins are pretty much unknown, are also part of the festivities. First, a tradition is bopping other revelers over the head with plastic mallets (which were substituted for leeks or garlic flowers in former times, a tradition that is actually coming back). The other food tradition is the exchange of basil plants (manjericão) with your sweetheart. The plants traditionally even come with a romantic four-line poem:
Se eu me podesse afogar / If I could drown myself
Na tua pele perfumada / In your perfumed skin
Poderia flutuar, / I would waft away,
Viver sempre apaixonada. / Living passionately forever.
Who’d have thought a little basil plant would have such a major part in any festival?