Fernanda De Paula on Moqueca – and other favourite tastes of Brazil

Jane Willson
24 March, 2015

Brazilian-born Fernanda de Paula is a journalist, producer and television presenter. With Shelley Hepworth, she created the cookbook This is Brazil and the SBS documentary series of the same name. She loves to spend time at home in her Maroubra kitchen with her husband Eduardo – who she says has taught her to cook in exchange for her taking care of the washing up. Fernanda is returning to Brazil in August to host a tour with World Expeditions. She says that food will absolutely be a highlight of the tour: "I'll make sure it is!"

You've been in Australia for more than a decade?

Since June 2004 – so almost 11 years now.

You grew up in the mountainous state of Minas Gerais in the south-east of Brazil. What do you miss most about the food culture there, and in Brazil more broadly?

I miss the vibrancy of Brazil. We have a culture of celebration, of enjoying life and I love this aspect of my country. As for food, I miss street food (the subject of This is Brazil). In particular, being able to buy pastel de queijo (a deep-fried pastry filled with cheese) everywhere!

Is there an ingredient/restaurant/dish that you miss most?

Minas Gerais is renowned for its good food. I miss the amazing cheese we produce there, and doce de leite – our version of caramel. It's just divine and unfortunately I can't bring it to Australia due to custom restrictions.

Where is your family based?

My father died of cancer when I turned 17. My mother and my sisters still live in Minas Gerais. It's 40 minutes by plane to Rio de Janeiro and it's inland, in a mountainous region I adore.

What about defining memories of food growing up?

Having fresh, delicious food every single day! I cherish my memories of our weekend family churrascos (barbecues) that my dad used to prepare. Our feasts would start around 10am and finish in the evening, we had a lot of fun. I have vivid memories of dad showing me new foods and explaining what they were and why they are tasty. I would usually take up his suggestions but he never convinced me to eat black pudding as a kid!

Your mother was a keen cook and your husband Eduardo taught you too?

Mum is a fabulous cook for special occasions; you can't beat her Feijoada, Cod Fish Salad and puddings. She doesn't like everyday cooking; it's a bit of a chore for her. Eduardo, my husband, is incredibly talented and he uses the kitchen as one of his creative outlets – he comes up with seriously impressive dishes. When I arrived in Australia I didn't really know how to cook so we agreed that I would clean/prepare the kitchen in exchange for his classes. It was such a great deal!

Can you pick a favourite recipe from your book? Or, at least, which dishes do you prepare most often?

I cook Moqueca (seafood stew, pictured above) and Feiojada (pork and bean stew, pictured below) quite often. They are easy, delicious and are a great way to introduce novices to Brazilian cuisine.

Where do you source hard-to-find ingredients?

Asian grocers will have black beans, cassava, palm oil; ingredients that may not be available in regular supermarkets.

What are you looking forward to most about your return trip there?

I can't wait to soak in the Brazilian atmopshere and enjoy the food, especially in the Amazon region. It will be great to taste again the exotic fruits and fish. But most of all, I'm looking forward to witnessing the travellers who are coming on the tour falling in love with Brazil.

Complete this sentence: First-time visitors to Brazil should not leave without trying ...

Acaraje, a famous street-food snack from the north-east state of Bahia. It's black-eyed peas rolled into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil, filled with prawns and green tomatoes. My mouth is watering as I think of it!

Fernanda De Paula's next Brazil tour leaves in August. 


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