Brazilian inventiveness

BBC put out an article on a Brazilian man who created a plastic bottle light, aka the Moser Lamp, to be used in low-income family homes. All one needs is a bottle, water, a little bleach and sunlight. I had heard about it before but didn’t know it was a Brazilian who invented it. Pretty creative.

If you can get BBC World Service (iPlayer), listen to an interview with him (minute 35) here, though it just repeats what’s in the article.


Turista Aprendiz

“The musical expedition made ​​by the group A Barca, formed by musicians and researchers of folk traditions, continues to rediscover traditional Brazilian music. From December 2004 to February 2005, they traveled through Pará, down the coast to Bahia, Minas Gerais and later arrived in Sao Paulo. Throughout the course, they collected and recorded groups of local traditions and culture.

To produce the Collection Turista Aprendiz, A Barca visited seven groups selected to have their own CD, considering the excellence of the repertoire, virtuosity of the artists and the strength of traditions. They are: As Cantadeiras do Souza (Jequitibá-MG), o Bumba Boi Brilho da Sociedade (Cururupu-MA), O Grupo da Quixabeira (Lagoa da Camisa- BA), a Irmandade do Rosário de Justinópolis (Ribeirão das Neves – MG), o Redandá (Cipó Guaçu – SP), os Kariri Xocó (Porto Real do Colégio – AL) e a Casa Fanti-Ashanti (São Luís – MA). The collection also brings together a DVD with seven short films of about fifteen minutes on each group. “

Escola do Frevo – Pernambuco

In the comments of my recent article on Carnival and Frevo in Recife (you can find a link to it a few posts down from this one), a video was posted about a Frevo school in Pernambuco which won 2nd place at an international dance contest in New York. Excellent stuff!

“Olha o Globo!” – Brothers, Biscuits & Beaches

(with Two Brothers in the background)

Ask any beach-going Brazilian that has been to Rio de Janeiro what images come to mind when they think of Rio and I’d bet Biscoito Globo is one of them. The famous doughnut-shaped powder biscuits are as common a sight as the sunbathers in Ipanema applauding the beautiful sunsets, silhouetted by Two Brothers hill. Speaking of brothers, three from São Paulo deserve some applause, too, as they are responsible for another pleasing sight, one that can be sweet, like catching some rays, or salty, like the sea itself.

The brothers’ success lies in the simplicity of their product. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Two flavors – Sweet or salty
  • Easy to recognize – Always the same packaging
  • Easy to open – Good for kids (though bad for those who want to close it, meaning you should eat them all)
  • Strictly word of mouth – No advertising costs and savings passed on to the customer
  • Great with another favorite – Often sold with soft-drink Matte-Leão (and vendors wear Matte-Leão shirts)
  • Easy to remember – Globo is a name everyone knows

The rest is history (or, at least the next part is)…


According to the Biscoito Globo site, it all started in 1953 when, after their parents separated, the three Ponce brothers went to live with their cousin who had a bakery in Ipiranga, in São Paulo. It was there that they learned to make powder biscuits with their cousin, which were sold on the streets of downtown São Paulo.

In 1954, taking advantage of a large religious conference in Rio de Janeiro, the brothers decided to sell their biscuits in the carioca capital. With their recipe for success, the Ponce brothers foresaw that, given the biscuits characteristics, Rio de Janeiro would be the ideal market for what they were selling.

The powder biscuit was given the name Globo in honor of the bakery contracted to make them in Botafogo. The year was 1955 and the biscuits were sold in the Globo bakery and in seven others, owned by the same people. Realizing the large demand for them, the Ponce brothers started to sell them to other bakery chains and in 1963, they formed a partnership with a Portuguese baker, an expert in breads.


There are other positive aspects that accompany a bag of Biscoito Globo, such as the fact that it’s perfect for making one’s stomach believe it’s fuller than it is. After all, who wants to swim on a full stomach? Other associated benefits mean the customer receives something that is low in calories, low in fat, without neither coloring nor preservatives.

The biscuit vendors are called ‘ambulantes‘ and they can buy a package for 60 cents then turn around and sell it for an average price of R$1 on the beach. A pretty good deal where everyone walks away happy. Since the famous snacks don’t contain the aforementioned preservatives, they aren’t sold to the supermarkets, meaning the customers must seek out the individual vendors if they want to get their hands on the biscuits. On the beaches of Rio, that’s not a hard thing to do because the vendors are omnipresent, the packaging is unique (save for a few imitators), and the holler is the same…”Olha o Globo!”

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

The Killer Beauty of the Alamoa

(Pico rock in the distance)

The inmates of the old prison on the island of Fernando de Noronha used to say that on the night just before a big storm would come through, right at about midnight, an extremely beautiful woman would appear. She was tall with long blonde hair and completely unclothed, dancing to the sound of the crashing waves. It was only when the lightening flashed would her presence be seen. Her feet looked as if they floating in mid-air, above the sandy shore. According to popular belief, a blonde woman like that could only be German and so she was called an alamoa, a corruption of alemã (German).

Her story always differs but some versions of the legend say she was once the queen of the island and was angered by the fact that humans had begun to live there. Other versions point towards a religious allegory that shows her as the first woman to be betrayed by her husband and from there, she somehow turned into the alamoa, punishing any married men that might come her way. For the men she would attract and seduce, they fell under her spell, seeing her become a skeleton before their eyes. For others, she was just a lost soul, looking for a strong man to help her dig up a hidden treasure.

It is said that she still lives in a place on the island known as Pico rock. On Friday nights, the rock sometimes splits open, revealing a door from which a light emanates. From there, the beautiful alamoa can be seen, dancing to attract her victim. Those that enter would believe they had entered Venusberg, the palace from a German legend of a mountain where the goddess Venus resided. When the men entered the opening in Pico rock, they would soon be horrified by her transformation. Her beautiful and bright eyes would become two dark holes and her head would become a ghastly skull. Right then, the rock opening would slam shut and the poor soul inside would never be seen again, though his screams could be faintly heard for the next few days.

Some researchers say the story goes back to the Dutch occupation in the early 1600’s and that her story is a convergence of various mermaid legends. The idea of a supernatural woman that attracts and seduces men, transforming herself soon after, is common and recurring in popular folklore throughout the world, thus, the true origin is virtually impossible to determine. Origins aside, I’m not entirely sure I’d want to be caught lurking around at midnight on the eve of a storm. After all, where storms brew, so does trouble.

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

Picanha – The Brazilian Brand of Meat

The rear of the steer (or heifer) is the most sought-after piece of meat in Brazil. In fact, I’d bet that Brazilian scientists have dreamed of one day creating an animal that only produces such meat.

One might not know it by its name in English, a cut of beef whose technical denomination alternates between the ‘rump cover’ and ‘rump cap’, but in Portuguese it’s called picanha. The reason Americans might not know about it is due to the fact that American butchers generally divide up that region into other cuts like the rump, the round and the loin. That being said, there isn’t much of a point in discussing what picanha is and isn’t because there’s a very slim chance of finding a single American cut in your local supermarket to define it.

For such a great piece of meat, it has an unusual name. One story behind the name speaks of a once important Brazilian industrialist, named Francisco “Baby” Pignatari, who used to eat at a churrascaria called “Bambu” in São Paulo and his favorite type of meat was the top sirloin. On one occasion, the restaurant served him another kind of meat by mistake. Not initially noticing the difference, he ate it and loved it, at which point he asked the Argentine server about the region of the animal that the meat came from. The Argentine said it came from the part “donde se pica la aña“, which is apparently Argentine Spanish for “where one brands (the cow with the hot iron)”. From there, it is said the name picanha is derived (pica + aña).

A more simple, yet slightly-related explanation comes from veterinarian Pedro Eduardo de Felício, at a university in São Paulo who says that in the south of Brazil, the branding iron is called a picanha. Over time, the area of the animal that received the branding was called by the name of the instrument that did the branding.


No matter where the name comes from, the main thing is that you enjoy every single piece! There are a few tips for doing just that. When buying picanha, experts say it should weigh less than two and a half pounds. Anything more and it is most likely you will be paying for part of the “coxão duro” (silverside), which is a tougher meat located next to the picanha cut. The layer of fat on the bottom of the piece of picanha should be about one centimeter thick, otherwise the bovine was raised and fed in an unfit manner. Also, the color of the fat should be either white or light yellow, if it’s yellower than that, it means the animal was most likely old and the meat will be tougher than normal.

As for the actual cooking part, picanha is cooked over high heat, so if you are a fan of black pepper and don’t want it to burn up in the process, add it afterwards. All the picanha I’ve ever had was well-salted while it cooked but it’s important to use rock salt instead of sea salt because the latter will most likely ruin your picanha. The best tip of all, though, is to watch a Brazilian do it!

Below is a video (in Portuguese) that you can watch with a Brazilian and learn how to choose the right piece. By browsing Youtube you can watch a variety of videos on all aspects of picanha, although if you’d rather just eat it, many major cities have churrascarias where you are able to eat until the cows come home!

Another one in English

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

Enem vs. Vestibular

The vestibular is one of the selection methods utilized by institutions of higher education in Brazil. The Enem, on the other hand, is the High School National Exam (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio), which was created by the Ministry of Education to evaluate the knowledge of students who either are finishing high school or who have just finished. The Enem started out merely as a way for the government to rank high schools nationally based on which school had the overall brightest students, but its purpose in recent years was expanded to act as an alternative to the vestibular. The reason for the expansion was to level the playing field for lower-income students who couldn’t afford both the price of the expensive vestibular prep courses, called cursinhos, as well as the cost of taking the actual test (one for each university the student applies to). The vestibular registration costs generally range from R$70-90 each, which can easily add up to R$500-R$1000 per student, depending on how many universities they are applying for. The ‘cursinho’ costs anywhere from R$60-R$300 or more. The Enem, however, costs on average about R$40, though I’m unsure if there are prep courses for it.

From what I can gather, both require the answering of questions (multiple choice and short answer) and essays (called redação in Portuguese). More specifically, the Enem is composed of an essay and “180 multiple-choice questions, equally divided into four areas of knowledge: languages; human sciences; natural sciences and mathematics. Due to the size of the test, it is applied in two consecutive days” (Wikipedia), one lasting for 4 hours and 30 minutes, and the other lasting for 5 hours and 30 minutes. As for the vestibular, “several Brazilian universities follow the FUVEST (University of São Paulo’s entry exam) pattern, which is divided into two stages or “phases”. The first stage consists of around 80 multiple choice questions, including subjects such as Portuguese Language, Portuguese and Brazilian Literature, Math, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Foreign Language. The best scoring candidates from the multiple-choice stage proceed to the second stage, which contains write-in questions about subjects related to the candidate’s major (Wikipedia)”. More on some other differences later on.

In recent years, institutions have used the Enem score in substitution of the vestibular, thus, if a candidate has a certain score on the Enem, his or her acceptance (into a specific university) is practically guaranteed – it only depends on the availability of the vacancies and on the other candidate’s scores. As a compliment to the Enem, the federal government last year created the SiSu – System of Unified Selection (Sistema de Seleção Unificado), which is exactly that, a new system of selection. Using the score from the Enem, one can apply for a vacancy at any one of 59 federal universities. So, depending on where a student intends to study, the Enem is fundamental.

As I’ve neither taken the Enem nor the vestibular, I can only relay information via second parties (sites that specialize in such tests and opinions of those who have taken them). One student summed the differences up by saying the vestibular is a test of knowledge you “should” have (or can attain), while the Enem is about testing to see what knowledge you have (attained). In other words, the vestibular is about memorization while the Enem is about using your logic and about interpreting texts. While in Brazil, I saw a list of the kinds of subjects students study when preparing for the vestibular and let me just say it’s no walk in the park.

Problems w/ the Enem

In 2009, the Enem was somehow made available on the black market, which made the MEC (Ministry of Education) push the test forward two months from October to December so they could redo the test. A few months ago, detailed personal information on students who took the exam in previous years was leaked on the Internet. Then, this month the actual template used for the test contained errors and thus it was suspended again.

Thanks to Fábio for suggesting the topic.

Related Info

Affirmative action in Brazilian universities

When Technology Democratizes Music

Quite an interesting 15-minute talk by Ronaldo Lemos on the digital music revolution in Brazil.

For more on the subject, I happened to catch a longer speech of his titled “Free Culture in Brazil” back in April.

Jornal do Brasil – News Without The Paper

“Starting today, one of Brazil’s oldest newspapers will be available online-only. Due to mounting debts and low circulation, the Jornal do Brasil has stopped publishing a print version, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reported.

“Quality. Interactivity. Respect for Ecology. Alignment with the future. Innovation,” the publication stated in defense of its switch to online-only. The decision was the result of lengthy analysis and a reader survey. “In these last weeks, some readers of JB – and especially many non-readers – have expressed legitimate and democratically in favour of maintaining the paper version of the newspaper … In their arguments, there have been references to the story of JB, its great characters, the glorious career as a space for freedoms. The fact is that these assets are not lost, but expanded again in the electronic medium,” the article states. “They can not choose to close their eyes – not to the future – but to the present media around the world: the way, relentless and increasing the digital age … The JB will still exist – agile, modern and influential.” – Source