Cristiano Dias lives today in Zagreb, capital of Croatia, but he comes from the federal state of Paraíba in Brazil’s Northeast. This is Brazil you may not have heard much of much, as tourism is not so developed as in southern parts of this great country. The coast features beautiful beaches and exuberant culture that blends samba, reggae and African influences. The semi-arid region inland, the sertão, kept old traditions and legends of this part of Brazil. Paraíba, a state developed as a major sugar producer, is particularly known for its wonderful beaches, and its capital João Pessoa is one of the oldest cities in Brazil, founded in 1585.
Cristiano, you come from beautiful state of Paraíba. As we heard, it is a state of endless beautiful beaches, but what else can we find there?
I was born in Paraíba, more precise in the city of São João Do Rio do Peixe, a small city dedicated to fishing and sugar cane plantations (we use it to make alcoholic sweets called Rapadura and we also make sugar with the same ingredient). It is known for rice production too. The state is well known for its Portuguese architecture and for the solstice party that we call Festa Junina, lots of family tradition and strong Forró rhythm. Besides, we have the greatness of the Candomblé religion, an Afro-Brazilian religion derived from traditional African cults, led by the forces of nature personified in the form of deified ancestors. The state is warm all year round, thus providing wonderful images and hot water for natural baths.
The position of your state gives you a lot of seafood. Do you like seafood and how do you prepare it traditionally in Paraíba?
I love seafood, especially boneless fish (laughs), shellfish and shrimp. In the state of Paraíba, we usually prepare stews with coconut milk and pepper (I don't like pepper, but in my city, most foods are very spicy) and we make a roast, all with a very aphrodisiac flavour and a lot of lemons, as we love to put lemon in fish and seafood. It helps in taste and digestion.
Besides seafood, there is food from the hinterland, from sertão. What is your favourite sertão food? What else can we find in Paraíba sertão?
I like a little bit of everything, but what attracts me the most is tapioca, be it sweet or salty. In Brazil, you can find two types of tapioca: mashed and dry. In the hinterland of Paraíba, you will find a speciality called Pirão, it is made with wheat flour, fish, plenty of vegetables and lots of peppers. Another traditional food from the Paraíba hinterland is the goat buchada, which is composed of the goat meat coated with its stomach, very clean and rested in vinegar. The visual result may not be pleasant to everyone, but the taste is inexplicable because the animal's stomach sticks the seasoning to the meat and transforms it into a new culinary experience. The area is also rich in sweets made with corn, hominy, the sweet mungunzá, and my favourite sweet from the northeast, rapadura, which is usually alcoholic but can be found without alcohol too.
What are the culinary traditions of your family? What is your favourite home food?
My adoptive mother taught me how to cook since I was 9 years old. We didn't have much contact because she lived with her family, but the little we had together helped me to be who I am today and also to enjoy the foods of the Northeastern culture more. One of the foods she taught me to do perfectly was Baião de Dois, which is usually made up of rice and beans and pork seasoned with parsley. My favourite homemade food is the traditional Brazilian lunch consisting of rice, beans, egg and a rare steak, all in the same dish. But I am very passionate about brigadeiro and pudding if I were to talk about the favourite sweet food. Everything I like I try to learn to do, as my mother would say: - If you want something well done, do it yourself.
You live now in Croatia. How do you find Croatian food and which one you like the most? Are there any similarities with Brazil?
Usually, my partner teaches me some recipes and explains the importance of each ingredient, but there are times when apps like Glovo and Wolt help a lot to find the Croatian tradition. In particular, I tried food when I got here and I don't forget the taste and sensation in my mouth; it was Sarma!
I say that there is no similarity with Brazilian food because each food has a different touch that provides a unique feeling. One thing where I found similarity here is people's taste for spicy food.
Croatians would probably know just for a handful of Brazilian classic dishes, such as tapioca or feijoada. Is it hard to cook Brazilian foods here?
Not that it is difficult to cook Brazilian foods, the difficult thing is to find the ingredients that are the key to flavour, as for Pudding we need condensed milk that is difficult to find. In Brazil, we have several types of beans to make feijoada, which qualifies the flavour of the dish and makes it stronger. We eat feijoada with a piece of very sweet orange to aid digestion. Another crucial point is the meat; most of the Brazilian dishes go with beef because the cow only provides us with the milk that we use to create cheese and other dairy products such as sour cream. However, in all of Europe, the value of beef is expensive, making it difficult to buy and prepare because we usually take specific parts for preparing culinary specialities.
How did you experience the 2020 lockdown, did you experiment in the kitchen?
Gosh, this moment that we are going through ended up making it very difficult for transportation between cities or countries for the whole world. This also generated many psychological problems like anxiety and depression that are increasing in alarming numbers. Some people don't know how to help, others find refuge in games (with me, I stream games at night for Latin and European audiences, I try to talk and make everyone not feel alone) Others find an exit in excess of food, which is not so bad but it also doesn't help the healthy lifestyle The positive side is that some people have reviewed family books that talk about cooking and decided to put it into practice, helping themselves to be distracted and try new flavours. We hope that soon everything will be calmer, and normalcy will be as it was before.
Follow Cristiano also on his Youtube channel, where he talks about his experiences in Croatia: