Slave Food

I love learning about the history of certain foods and meals. Where did something so unique come from? How did it start? Who cooked it first? What was happening at that specific country at this time in history? I could smell the sweet coconut and corn scent tonight and went down to my mother’s kitchen. It wasn’t a surprise to me that she was cooking a big batch of canjica. Canjica is a very old and classic Brazilian dish usually made during the month of June for the Festa Junina, or “June festival,” which celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist, is celebrated in the beginning of winter back in Brazil. This is a huge festival during the month that celebrates rural life, and was first introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial period (1500- 1822).

This dish (canjica, or also known as mugunza), is very popular during this June festival and it is sort of like a porridge made with de-germed white corn kernels, cooked with coconut milk, milk, coconut shavings, sugar, and cinnamon until tender and thick. The kernels are tender to the bite but the milk liquid is not thin or too thick like a pudding, but more in between, making this the perfectly nostalgic dish to eat during the winter. As I tasted my mom’s canjica on this rainy night, I felt so comforting and warm, it tasted to me like home and family. But where has this popular Brazilian dish come from? It is celebrated during the rural festivities, but why was it started in the rural areas? And how? I decided to investigate.

It turns out this dish is of none other than of African influence! What a shock! (sarcasm) just like the famous feijoada, canjica also has thick African roots, firstly created by black slaves during colonial times, and brought by them straight from Africa. By the way, for those of you who know nothing about South America, Brazil’s history is actually pretty similar to America’s. But that is for another blog post perhaps…

There is lots of controversy of where the term “canjica” came from. There is strong suggestion that it is derived from the term “kandjica” from the African language Quimbundo, spoken in Angola. This term in Angola is actually the name for a thick corn cooked porridge, so it makes pretty much a lot of sense it would be derived from here. Others say it could have come from Asia as well…

Whether from Asia or Africa, this famous June festival dish has become very famous in Brazilian rural areas and now all over the country and nobody can say this dish isn’t so comforting and cozy in cold days.

So if you want to try it at home, here is a recipe!

2 15-ounce cans white hominy (or sweet corn)

1-1/2 cups whole/ skim milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup thick coconut milk

1-1/2 cups of fresh grated coconut

Cloves (optional)

Cinnamon (optional)

Wash and drain hominy. Soak kernels for a few hours (preferably overnight). Drain. Add milk and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until hominy is soft, stirring occasionally. Add  coconut milk, sugar, and coconut flakes. Simmer for another about one hour until thick, stirring occasionally. Transfer mixture into a serving bowl or several small ramekins. Add cinnamon and cloves for flavor. Enjoy warm or chilled.

Keeps well in a fridge for 1 week or freezer for 3 months

Serves 10

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