Postcolonial Portugal: Exploring the Brazilian Community in Lisbon | Culinary Backstreets
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Editor’s Note: Though integral elements of Lisbon life, communities from Portugal’s former colonies can sometimes be an invisible presence in their adopted land, pushed out to the periphery. With our “Postcolonial Lisbon” series, CB hopes to bring these communities back into the center, looking at their cuisine, history and cultural life. In this installment, we dive into Lisbon’s Brazilian community.

Despite Brazil being the largest of Portugal’s former colonies, the presence of its people in Lisbon has only been felt recently. During the 1950s and 60s, Brazilians in Portugal were limited to small groups of students, a few migrant adventurers and those Portuguese descendants born in Brazil who decided to return to the motherland.

However, since the 90s, a more regular coming-and-going has been taking place between Brazil and Portugal. This pendulum-like swing of migration is a consequence of their respective political and economic crises and moments of growth. At the beginning of that decade, many Brazilians moved to Lisbon in the wake of the difficult inflationary crisis that was affecting South America’s biggest nation. By 2005, they formed the largest foreign community settled in the Portuguese capital, with more than 30,000 residents.

Brazil in Lisbon: Taste

An earlier arrival to Lisbon is Mr. Oliveira da Luz, known to locals as Juca, a trade unionist who escaped from political pressures in his homeland in 1976 to settle down in the Portuguese capital. Two years later he opened Brasuca in Bairro Alto. It wasn’t the first kitchen serving Brazilian dishes in the district, as a few other tascas – particularly those with Portuguese owners who had connections to Brazil – had incorporated some Brazilian staples in their menus, particularly the feijoada, a dense meat and black bean stew, but it was the first Brazilian restaurant opened in Lisbon by a Brazilian.

The restaurant’s four rustic interior rooms, decorated with plants, wooden figures of parrots and masks, as well as vintage posters of touristic Brazilian destinations, form a kind of spatial-temporal island inside Bairro Alto.

As Senhor Juca told us, the neighborhood, now a hub for bars and fashion stores, was very different when he arrived. In the late 1970s, there were 115 restaurants huddled along the sloped 16th-century roads, and all of them were buzzing. It was the time when productive activities took place in central districts of the city; newspaper headquarters, banks and even a metallurgic factory sat among the narrow multi-family houses. In the 1980s the situation changed: worsening salaries led to less disposable income and many businesses were forced to close as a result. “Bankers suddenly were eating at the snack bar instead of my restaurant,” Juca tells us. “However, I resisted the crises of 1998 and 2008. Now I have customers from all over the world.” Tourists are behind the boost to this resilient restaurant, more often than not attracted by its retro sign on the corner of the building outside.

By 2005, Brazilians formed the largest foreign community settled in the Portuguese capital.

Born in Caxias do Sul, a city in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, chef Juca learned to cook to feed himself and his siblings, as his parents worked long hours. He brought to Lisbon some specialties from his region, a few of which had reached his neck of the woods in the first place due to 19th-century Italian and German migration. Ch’arki is one example – given that Rio Grande do Sul was the first and largest area the gauchos were farming, this dried and salted meat made of horse, cow or llama is common to the area, and can also be found in Argentina, Uruguay and the Andean region.

At Brasuca, a special mention goes to meat dishes, in particular picanha – a cut of beef, whose thin line of fat confers incredible flavor during grilling, accompanied by white rice, fries, black beans, chopped turnip greens and the omnipresent farofa – the toasted cassava flour mixture present on all tables. Other condiments include the classic piri-piri and a sauce of raw onions, green peppers, vinegar and oil.

Food from other regions is also on the menu, such as the famous moqueca, a stew of salt-water fish or meat, tomatoes, onion, garlic and coriander, typical from the southeastern state of Espírito Santo and the northeastern state of Bahia. At Brasuca, the Bahia-style prawn moqueca is our favorite among the fish dishes: the prawns are cooked in palm oil, peppers and coconut milk and accompanied by pirão, a dense soupy side made of cassava flour boiled in a fish broth.

As may be expected, the feijoada, perhaps the most widely known Brazilian dish, is another star of Brasuca’s menu. Some make the claim that this dish was created by slaves in Brazil who would mix the beans with the pork leftovers (feet, ears and tail) given to them, while certain scholars argue that black beans were a staple food of the European colonizers. Whatever the origins of feijoada, the stew of beans, beef and pork (chorizo and blood sausage) was immensely popular and later introduced in other former Portuguese colonies, with variations of the dish becoming widespread in Macau, Angola, Mozambique and Goa. And it’s still eaten by all sections of Brazilian society as a celebratory tradition.

In 1970s Lisbon, it was difficult to find these famous black beans, and several other ingredients necessary for a Brazilian kitchen. Senhor Juca would get them sent from Paris, where many Brazilians were living at the time, or look for them at Casa de Angola. Today, they’re easy to find, with shops popping up to serve the wave of new emigrants coming to the capital city. Brasuca, here from the beginning, will likely outlast this latest boom and stay a while longer.

Read more about the Brazilian community and history in Lisbon – as well as one more spot to get a taste of Brazil – in the dropdown below.

Published on June 27, 2022

FAQ

Learn more about the history of the Brazilian community in Lisbon
Only a small number of Brazilians had made their way to Portugal by the 50s and 70s, many of them travelers, students or descendents of Portuguese folks. By the mid-2000s, however, Brazilians made up the largest foreign community in Lisbon. Most of them were young adults, with many working in the call centers belonging to European companies that wanted to expand their business in Brazil or attract Brazilian clients. The community was, until today, mostly concentrated in the municipality of Algès (a suburb located on the mouth of the Tagus river), as well as Benfica and São Domingo, which were home to a large number of restaurants and supermarkets stocked with Brahma beer and Yoki baking mixes. More recently, they have spread closer to Arroios and Anjos.

After 2008, Portugal’s financial crisis resulted in a high unemployment rate, the highest in Europe, bringing the boom of Brazilian immigration to an end. Many decided to leave, lured in part by the (deceptive) economic boom Brazil was experiencing at the time. By 2013, Brazilians in Lisbon numbered at around 10,600, over 10 percent less compared to 2008.

Nowadays, you can catch many different accents from South America’s largest nation while walking through Lisbon’s cobbled streets: an indication that, in 2017, the route has once again reverted. Considering the dire political crises in their country, many Brazilians are adopting Lisbon as their new place of residence, seeing it as a safe city to live, study or look for work and entrepreneurial opportunities. Lisbon’s new global outlook and Brazil’s linguistic proximity suggest they are in the right place at the right time – a more privileged class are attracted not only by the convenience of the golden visa program, but also by the fact that Lisbon is becoming a new showcase for design, fashion and luxury lifestyle in general.

Learn more about Brazilian cultural spots in Lisbon
Among the many bars of raucous Bairro Alto, Casa do Brasil is a steadfast nighttime institution for Lisbon’s Brazilian community, hosting concerts and cultural events in a non-profit capacity. This two-floor venue is the place to chat, drink, eat and dance to a myriad popular rhythms from the homeland, all performed live: the festive accordion-drone of forró, the fast, happy chorinho or 1960s bossanova, as well as samba, rock and maracatu. The grungy ground floor, which mainly functions as a bar and dance floor, also hosts poetry sessions, film screenings and gastronomic events.

Usually held on Mondays, their dinners provide the ideal space for getting to know the regional specificities of Brazilian food – its 26 states occupy more than half the South American continent, meaning it will take more than a couple of visits to get a full sense of the national palate.

As well as promoting Brazilian cuisine and culture, the association also offers social and legal support to Brazilian immigrants. “Since 1992, when it was created, Casa do Brasil has been a point of reference for the community, as we provide information about regularization, visa, documents and in general what people from our country need to do when they land in Portugal,” says staff member Lina Moscoso. On the first floor they also have a space that works as a welcome office, for people to come and talk about difficult situations ranging from stress and integration issues to experiences of racism.

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