Theron Catering has been catering for a variety of events and functions at the Embassy of Brazil over the years. We decided to find out about Brazilian culture and share our insights with you. In this blog post, we feature an interview with Maila-Kaarina Rantanen, Director of the Brazil-Finland Cultural Center at the Embassy of Brazil in Helsinki (Centro Cultural Brasil-Finlândia/Embaixada do Brasil em Helsinque) that aims to promote the Brazilian culture in Finland. The Center organises a wide array of events and activities for all, from Portuguese language courses to food events and literature nights to children’s events. This year the Center’s cultural programme has the 100 years of Finnish Independence in focus and ‘100 Years of Friendship between Brazil and Finland’ is being celebrated. Hurra!

Brazil Finland flags

Photo by Hannu Hurme

Maila is bicultural (and multilingual) as she was born in Brazil to a Finnish father and Brazilian mother. She embodies and embraces both cultures and she is the ideal person to lead the Brazil-Finland Culture Center with her strong educational and professional background in journalism, international relations and the arts. Read in her interview the focal role food plays in the Brazilian culture, how international influences are contributing to the colourful and mouth-watering Brazilian cuisine as well as what are Maila’s favourite dishes from both Brazil and Finland!

Interview with Director of the Brazil-Finland Culture Center

Maila-Kaarina Rantanen

Chryssa: Could you share a bit of your background and your connection to Brazil?

Maila: I was born in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro. We lived my first years of life in Penedo, which is a Finnish colony in Brazil, in the city of Itatiaia, in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro State. I lived my life in the middle of Brazilian and Finnish culture so I really feel I am both, Brazilian and Finnish.

From 5 to 32 years old, I lived in the city of Rio de Janeiro, where I studied Philosophy,  Music and International Relations. In 2009, I moved to Finland and since 2012 I have been the director of the Brazil-Finland Cultural Center.

Chryssa: What are some of your fond memories of Brazil and its people?

Maila: Brazil is a warm country in all senses; climate and people. Brazilians usually smile a lot, talk a lot and enjoy partying. However, there’s a bad stereotype labelling Brazilians as if they were just it. Brazilians are very hard working, survivors, people who are always finding a way to endeavour. Life is not easy there: huge social differences, not so much opportunity for all, despite that, after a long week of hard work people still have energy to open a big smile, get together with their friends on weekends, barbecue, play music, sing and go to the beach.

Chryssa: Does food play a key role in the Brazilian culture (at home, at work, during business meetings)?

Brazilian food

Maila: Yes! Food is present in basically all social happenings. We meet each other to eat and make food, and this is part of the culture in all segments of society, from the poor to the rich. We go to the beach and take food with us, we invite friends over and offer food, we barbecue a lot, all you need for that is someone with a balcony or a porch at home. Friends just gather, each person brings something to eat and share and this is how the party goes.

At work in Brazil we have a full hour for lunch. Usually we eat together with our workmates. It is also common to have business meetings at restaurants during lunch or dinner time. Food is a really important thing to bond.

Chryssa: How would you describe the Brazilian cuisine and what are your favourite Brazilian dishes? And, how about Finnish cuisine and your favourite Finnish dishes?

Maila: Brazilian cuisine is a real melting pot. I would say it is the real fusion cuisine. You can find pretty much anything from any country in Brazil but always adapted in a way that the dish almost becomes Brazilian. It is very curious and interesting. We have big influences from the food of Africa, from the indigenous peoples of the country, but also a lot of European and Arabian influence, especially from countries as Portugal, Italy and Lebanon. Actually, in every region of Brazil the food is different however some special dishes are present all over the country as, for example, the habit of eating black beans and rice.

Brazilian food

I think it’s easy to find in Brazil the best food you have eaten in your life. I will give you my three favourite dishes, one with meat, one with sea food and one with chicken:

Meat – Feijoada: It is a stew made with black beans and several meats, basically pork and beef, seasoned with garlic and different spices depending on the region.

Sea Food – Bobó de camarão: It is a delicious dish made with shrimps, cassava, coconut milk and palm oil.

Chicken – Frango à Gabriela: This is not an easy recipe to get on the internet. It is a very specific dish from the North of Minas Gerais. It is a stew of chicken and okra seasoned with garlic, onions, spices and palm oil. Exquisite and unique!

About Finnish food I love the way smoked fish is made here. I would say smoked salmon and smoked white fish are things I really love to eat. I also like Karjalanpaisti made in the traditional way very much. The best meat in my opinion is moose. I think I’ve never eaten better meat than moose meat. Delicious!

Chryssa: How many Brazilian expats live in Finland at the moment? Can they find key food ingredients at the local stores? If yes, what is the foodstuffs Brazilians crave and miss from home?

Maila: I would say there are around a thousand Brazilians in Finland. Nowadays it is possible to find Brazilian food key ingredients in Finland. Not everything, of course, but we can find beans very easily for example. There#s a company called Mundial who provides Brazilian products and distributes also to some supermarkets, besides having an online store.

It is difficult for me to say what Brazilians crave and miss more from home since it is a huge country and every region has its habits. In my case I would say I miss the variety of fruits and vegetables, besides quality meat for a good price. We have over a thousand fruits and countless types of vegetables and greens in Brazil. I really miss it.

Brazilian food

Chryssa: Is Brazil a travel destination for Finns? What do Finnish people know about Brazil?

Maila: For sure! I have met many Finns who have been to Brazil or would like to go there. They usually love the beaches, the food and the night life. Also, the cultural differences inside the country for those who have the opportunity to go to more than one region, for example: the Northeast and the Southeast.

Chryssa: How does the BFCC help to promote Brazilian art and culture? Could you mention any upcoming events open to the general public?

Maila: We promote the Brazilian culture in Finland in many different ways. We offer Brazilian Portuguese language courses, we give lectures about Brazilian history and culture at Finnish universities and we promote at least one event every other month, open to the general public. Last March, from the 21st to the 23rd we made a movie festival. In February, we organised a Brazilian Dances workshop for children, for the Tampere Guitar Festival in June we are helping to bring talented Brazilian guitarist Andre Nieri, we will also have a literature event in September, movie sessions in our center, food events, as well as events for children and families. This year our cultural program has the 100 years of Finnish Independence in focus. We are celebrating ‘100 Years of Friendship between Brazil and Finland’.

I would like to add that our center is open to partnerships for cultural initiatives with other centers, associations, schools, organizations, NGOs, all institutions which could help us not only to promote the Brazilian culture in Finland but also to strengthen bonds between our countries.

Follow Brazil-Finland Cultural Center on their Facebook page for more updates on the events and courses being organised.