Even in the most modern of cities, history is alive.
It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, according to Bourdain. However, its population of 5 million people is not well known on the world stage.
Minas Gerais was founded as a gold rush town in the 16th century when Portuguese settlers brought African slaves from overseas to search for gold. By the 19th century, resources were completely depleted and Brazil had the largest African diaspora population in the world.
The Africans were integral in forming Minas Gerais’s rich culinary tradition. The cuisine is rich in garlic and onion. Dishes that are now iconic Brazilian were invented by African women slaves.
“Everything African is fundamental to what makes Brazil awesome,” Bourdain said.
However, Minas Gerais’s African roots often go unrecognized. Throughout the episode, many guests complained that not only is Brazil’s afro population unrepresented in politics, the historical context of so many Brazilian dishes is often buried. The history of colonization took over and pronounced fine dining strictly European cuisine. Traditional meals were left at home—until a generation of Brazilian chefs came back to elevate their country’s comfort foods.
Bourdain toured Belo Horizonte’s traditional culinary scene with the chefs currently revolutionizing it. He tasted a carousel of dangerous and exotic foods: fruits that stab the tongue if you bite too deep, produce that can poison you if it expires, and meat from absolutely all parts of the animal. But the question on Bourdain’s mind as he talked to local chefs was, “Why isn’t Brazilian food recognized on the world stage?”
Although there are probably quite a few reasons for this—Brazilian food is notoriously hard to preserve, package and ship—one chef attributed Brazil’s hidden cuisine to its cultural behaviors.
“We are a very quiet people,” he said. “You have to discover us.”
But for as much as history and time-honored cultural understanding is important, the world is unpredictable. In the middle of a meal at Birosca—Minas’s all-female fine-dining establishment—a man showed up outside the packed restaurant, brandishing a gun. Cameras shake, people fall to the floor and hide underneath tables. It’s a disturbing and tense moment. And then suddenly everything is alright again.
As quickly as the danger appeared, everybody falls back into a calm pace.
“Just like that, it’s back to the food, the conversation,” Bourdain said. “Keep your glass full, and your friends around you, and you’ll make it through.”