In the 1920s, Brazilian artists and writers published the Antropofagia Manifesto. They were unconvinced by the way the Brazilian elite – in a show of low national self-esteem – attempted to deferentially imitate European and U.S. culture. The writers instead proposed a “cultural cannibalism,” a “devouring” of imported cultural expressions that would be chewed up and “reelaborated with autonomy and converted into export products.”
A century later, on the other side of the looking glass from Brazilian antropofágicos is British musician Tom Ashe. You’ll find him by going up a ramp from a busy drag of the bohemian neighborhood Santa Teresa. Continue around the tropical-themed graffiti mural and down into a quiet favela overlooking Guanabara Bay. That’s where Ashe cooks up Indian lunches each Sunday at the “Curry Club” in the bachelor pad-cum-free children’s music school where he’s made his home in the small community.
Ashe grew up in Yorkshire and lived in London for four years in what he calls a predominantly Indian neighborhood. That meant that when he followed his love of Brazilian music down to Rio, there was one important thing the city was missing.
“You just can’t get Indian food here,” the smiley and curly-haired Brit said as he rolled out puri with an empty wine bottle. Otherwise, he said, Rio has everything.
(We gringos in Rio deeply sympathize with Ashe’s gastro-emotional predicament. We also take this opportunity to point readers and eaters to the Rio-based home cook extraordinaire Rashmy Naik, who will be the subject of a future post.)
At the weekly Curry Club, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, diners sat on squishy couches in Ashe’s living room. Green vines crept into his glassless window. Guests lined up to be served at the small balcony in front of his messy kitchen. Inside, the brass musician cooked tall pots of chana masala (stewed chickpeas, tomatoes and onions). Other dishes he might serve include dal (curried lentils) and chicken tikka masala. Along with the main course, Ashe offers a lassi (we had a delightful passionfruit version), as well as the carioca staples beer and caipirinha. In the cultural roulette that brought diverse gringos and Brazilians alike to a favela on a Sunday for Indian cuisine, we spotted a bemused group of English tourists curiously attempting to pronounce the word caipirinha, guessing how to fit the h sound in it. (The nh in Portuguese is like the Spanish ñ, pronounced nyah.)
In addition to the weekly curry club, Ashe has set up a small music school to teach brass instruments to kids in his neighborhood. Across his living room were posters with food vocabulary like bread, cheese and Italian cured meat to teach kids to count musical notes (one, pão, two, que-ijo, three, mor-ta-della). Ashe leaned out the window and played a bugle call to summon the neighborhood kids for a Sunday samba performance for the curry diners.
As the lazy Sunday afternoon started picking up, a Frenchman in a plaid button-down started belting out samba lyrics (“Mais que nada…”) along with the child musicians and professional Brazilian adults. We’re reminded how the preoccupation over “authentic” cultural productions is a contrived one that would detrimentally limit our culinary options anyway. Like the antropofágicos, we believe in eating and recreating whatever comes our way.
(photos by Nadia Sussman)
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