Monday, May 28, 2012

Allergies Abroad

It's thrilling to travel to new places, try new foods, and experience other cultures. Where the food is concerned, it can either be an exhilarating experience or excruciating, depending on your personal taste...

sense of adventure...

...and allergies.

One aspect of going to another country that should be taken into consideration is that you've had X number of years to figure out if you have any allergies in your native environment, and if so, how severe they may be.

Of course, several of my 30-something friends back home are only now discovering allergies like wheat and gluten, so I guess you never really know. Just consider that as a part of the adventure when traveling.

Oooh! Perhaps this leafy thing will close my throat.


I honestly didn't have too many allergies back home in Texas. Mold has always been my nemesis, but as far as food went there were only three things that I was sensitive to, and two of those were man-made "flavors" (liquid smoke & "raspberry" flavoring) so it wasn't too hard to avoid them. I thought that I could eat pretty much anything. I was, by all accounts, immune to the dreaded, seasonal "Cedar Fever" that everyone else seemed to suffer from in Central Texas.

When I moved to Brazil, my whole world was turned upside down. (Wonderland, or o país das maravilhas, will do that to you.) I was perpetually ill for the first 9 months. After the 6-month mark, I determined to track down the culprits, and discovered that I am allergic to blooming (no, I'm not using an Aussie expletive) Mango trees, and a family of peppers that is used in almost every dish in this state (which also happens to be quite tasty).


I come from the land of peppers.

I bleed Chipotle sauce.

I'm that person that orders jalapeño slices on my Whataburger, and jalapeños on the side when I get a pizza, so that I can stack up a bunch on each slice. (Mmmm... Yummy!) I like my Phở [pronounced: "fuh," and said with a hint of a question mark] with a good blast of Sriracha sauce, and take my salsa hot or medium, not mild.

What I've learned is that in Texas, we mainly eat the Capsicum annuum and Capsicum frutescens families of peppers. Here in Goiás, the most common families of peppers are the Capsicum chinense and the Capsicum baccatum. It truly is a shame that I cannot partake.

Interestingly enough, the Capsicum chinense family includes one that I ate back home with no problem. The Habanero is one (which any Texan is familiar with) of many varieties of this family. As is my lot in life, in this particular region, it is actually hard to find a Habanero. C'est la vie!

Habanero closeup by Ryan Bushby (HighInBC on wikipedia)

The most common peppers, or pimentas [pronounced: "Pih-men-tuh," and not to be confused with Pimentos] in this region are the following:
  1. The "Pimenta-de-Cheiro" [directly translates to, "The Pepper That Smells," and is pronounced: "jee Shay-rdoh"] is, hands down, the most popular Capsicum chinense pepper in this region. It looks similar to a banana pepper, has a very strong smell and flavor, but no heat to speak of.

  2. Pimenta-de-cheiro
    photo found amid a great collection of Brazilian sights on Flickr

  3. The "Pimenta-de-Bode" ["The Goat Pepper"] is another pepper in the C. chinense family that not only has a strong smell and flavor, but adds a little kick to the cuisine. I haven't been able to find out why exactly the Pimenta-de-Bode [pronounced: "jee Boh-jee"] is referring to a goat.

    Think that would be an easy one, huh? Is it from the shape of the pepper? Does it, at any point in its stages of growth, resemble two little horns? Do goats like to eat these particular peppers? Does one need the digestive system of a goat to survive the experience? Will it 'put hair on your 'chin'? If I ever find out, you'll be the first to know.

  4. Pimenta-de-Bode
    by Adilson Lopes Garcia
    via Flickr

  5. The "Pimenta-Chora-Menino" [pronounced: "Shore-rduh Meh-nee-no," and roughly translates to, "The 'Cry, Boy, Cry' Pepper" or "The 'Makes-All-The-Boys-Cry' Pepper" ...There's no direct translation.) is hot — but it's sneaky. The heat from this little pepper of the C. chinense family ambushes you only after you've committed to ingesting it.

  6. Pimenta-Chora-Menino

  7. The Pimenta Biquinho [pronounced: "bee-keen-yo"] aka Pimenta de Bico (or "Beaker," as I like to call it) is another pepper in the C. chinense family that has become quite popular here. There are two types: one that has no heat, whatsoever, and another that can be a little spicy. It is actually from another region in the Americas, but was bred to flourish in this soil, which it has. These "beak peppers" are the new rage in Brazilian culinary circles.

  8. Pimenta-Biquinho

  9. The "Pimenta-de-Cumari" [pronounced: "Coo-mah-rdee"] is a small, bright, yellow pepper of the Capsicum baccatum family that has a very strong smell, as well as a bit of a kick to it. The word Cumari comes from the native Tupí language, and means "pleasurable taste."

  10. Pimenta-de-Cumari

  11. The "Pimenta-Dedo-de-Moça" [pronounced: "Deh-doh jee Mose-uh" and translates to, "The Lady's Finger"] is another pepper from the C. baccatum family that is about 4-5 inches long, and more mild than most, with a delicious flavor. They are most often seen preserved, but are used under the name calabresa when dried. This is not to be confused with the "Crushed Red Pepper" flakes that are known as "calabresa" in Europe and the United States, according to Portuguese page of wikipedia on C. baccatum peppers.

  12. Pimenta-Dedo-de-Moça
    by Mats Pettersson via Imageshack

Unfortunately for me, the "Americana alérgica," (allergic American woman) I'm allergic to the first five, and they are a part of everyday cuisine here in Goiás. They are added to almost everything! People in this region add these peppers to most dishes, including white rice. The most popular version of rice incorporates pimenta-de-cheiro with garlic.

Snack bars, or lanchonetes, usually have an assortment of snacks (all chock-full of pimenta-de-cheiro) that I now know I cannot eat, aside from a pizza slice or "misto" (grilled sandwich made with a slice of cheese, ham, and possibly a slice of tomato).

There have been some restaurants that actually refused to serve a dish without pimenta-de-cheiro because it is their signature style. In this case, I have a granola bar on standby, and only order a drink. It's been quite an adjustment. To compound the issue, allergies are seen a bit differently here, than back in The States. More on that soon!

If you are one of the fortunate ones who isn't allergic to these peppers, you'll be on a hot, spicy, and/or flavorful cloud nine. If not, bring an extra granola bar. Saúde! (Cheers!)

Stick an EpiPen in me — I'm done.

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