We chat to Fernanda de Paula – the host of This is Brazil! – about a freshwater fish she calls the best meal of her trip, a not-so-humble flair for cooking moqueca (fish stew), and why Brazilians will continue to samba gracefully through life.
April Smallwood

5 May 2014 - 8:58 AM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2015 - 9:26 AM

What prompted you to leave Brazil? I wanted to learn English. When I really got the urge to move, I met Eduardo [my husband]. I was actually planning to go to England, and he said, “Why don’t you come to Australia?” My mum gave me enough money to last six months. Eventually, I said, “Okay, I’m staying and getting married.” She panicked. Is it difficult to go back and see the life you left behind? It’s very hard. But I really like living here. I’ve been very lucky in terms of the people I’ve met.

What was for breakfast? Eduardo makes breakfast. I didn’t feel like much so I had plain toast and a coffee. I was really nauseous for some reason. Because you’re…? No, I am paranoid about worms. I always think I have worms. I grew up in a third world country, we talk about it all the time. We take pills to get rid of the worms in Brazil. Actually, because of me the whole crew took worm tablets. Besides the threat of worms, what was the toughest part of filming a TV series? By far, sharing my country and sometimes hearing someone poke fun at it. That broke my heart to bits. I never realised I’m so protective of Brazil. I was like, “I’m a daughter of this mother nation – and you’re not!”

Tell us what you most love about your country. I love the ability Brazilians have to have a good time. It’s something that took me ages to appreciate. How so? I always thought it was silly that we were so happy when the country was so twisted. But I realised it’s not – all countries have problems, but Brazilians just have the energy and grace to push through those troubles. This is the thing that I like. Would you say you’re a typical Brazilian? I think so. What does that mean? It means I’m very family oriented; I like to look after myself; I like to cook; I love my house; I’m a decent human being in general. Brazilians are very decent and hard-working people trying gracefully to samba through life.

Best food experience on location? The flavours in Brazil are generally pretty good. If I had to pick one, it was the barbecued tambaqui, which is a freshwater Amazonian fish with really thick bones. It’s really moist and juicy; best fish ever. It was cooked by a lady in a fishing village of about 60 people. Served with? Chopped tomatoes or something very basic like plain rice.

What broke your heart to see while filming? Beauty always breaks my heart more than tragedy. For instance, I went to a beach in the north east, and there was this really poor guy who was a labourer, I think. He must have been 60-something, but time has taken its toll. I remember his lunch was too small. I glanced over and thought, “That’s not much food and he’s working so hard in the fields”. When I approached, he politely said, “Good day, lady. Would you care for some lunch?” He was willing to share it all and he didn’t have enough. That’s the beauty I see in my people.

What do you love to cook? Brazilian or otherwise. I love to cook Brazilian and I’m not very humble about it – my moqueca? It’s good. I can tell you that much; the thing works [Laughs]. Moqueca is like a fish stew from Bahia, with chopped capsicum, onion, garlic. You put a bit of palm oil, dendê oil and top it with blue-eyed cod cutlets or any sort of firm flesh fish.