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Reviewed by:
  • Rio de Janeiro: A Food Biography by Marcia Zoladz
  • David McLaughlin
Zoladz, Marcia. Rio de Janeiro: A Food Biography. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, p. 146, $42.00 [hardcover].

Rio de Janeiro is first and foremost thought of as a tropical paradise, a symbol of beauty, samba, soccer, and sand, with beaches consistently ranked in the top ten worldwide. Perhaps with the exception of fruit as an additional symbol of the tropical stereotypes, food is not the first thought of the tourist set. Yet cookbook writer and journalist Marcia Zoladz demonstrates the Marvelous City's important position as a point of meetings and mashups, politically, socially, and culturally, and specifically with attention to the history of food. Rio de Janeiro: A Food Biography is part of the Big City Food Biography Series which prior to this volume only touched on food traditions within the United States (including San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, New York, Portland, and Kansas City). A Latin American city as the first choice of a food city outside of the U.S. is a nice recognition of the importance of the region, and pushes against the stereotype that food happenings of note do not only originate in Paris. This edition was followed by a volume on Madrid, and volumes on Naples, Rome, Barcelona, and Paris are also recently available or forthcoming.

From the introduction and Chapter 1, Zoladz situates food and agricultural production in a historical fashion, offering brief but informative vignettes mostly connected to settlement and urban design as it pertains to food production and export back to Europe. She paints a solid picture of Rio and Brazil during various important moments in their development. For example, she details the development of the sugar industry and its demands on other natural resources and describes the trial and error of coffee production, which began in small backyard plots.

Zoladz includes recipes from the varying cultural influences of Rio— African, Amer-Indian, and Portuguese. These recipes offer a glimpse into the culinary palette of the region and illustrate modes of preparation and ingredient choices that have changed over time. As Zoladz mentions in her introduction, a penchant for fresh food still lingers from a time when bacteria growth could spread a number of diseases that have been prevented in the modern era with vaccines, antibiotics, and technological advances like enhanced refrigeration.

In chapter 2, Zoladz examines the influence of each unique group, exploring their influence on food as well as social structure and culture in the first centuries of Rio de Janeiro's development. Zoladz concludes this chapter with a section entitled "Portuguese and African, but Completely Carioca." That title highlights her larger argument in this chapter, and perhaps in the book: that food in Rio is an amalgam of the city's cultural influences, which are vast due to colonization and slavery and the cultural clashes and encounters they represent. Indeed, all involved, whether by choice or by force, necessarily brought something to the metaphorical [End Page 369] communal table that was the project of building a new space. Scholars would frame this as an example of transculturation or anthropophagy.

Zoladz briefly illustrates some effects of various waves of immigration to Rio in chapter 3, noting how even the same recipes made with flours or other ingredients grown in a different soil created new dishes. She points to this phenomenon being the basis for adaptation to the new location, and examines rice and beans as a household staple before exploring the development of Brazilian versions of farofa, couscous, and kibbeh. "Markets and Retailing," the fourth chapter, walks through supply lists on lengthy intercontinental journeys, the development of the backyard garden, green markets, bread making and bakeries, and finally, supermarkets.

Chapter 5 examines the history of restaurants in Rio, including several still-existing family-owned locales frequented by local politicians who, through suggestions, helped shape their favorite dishes, only to have them named after them later. Zoladz also details the influence of Italian, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants, as well as surf culture and fast food culture on the development of restaurants in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Chapter 6 examines several historical cookbooks, beginning...