Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jiló in Brazil, garden egg (ntroma) in Ghana

A few weeks ago, a Brazilian friend and I went to lunch at an award-winning cafe in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. One of the featured items on the menu had "jiló" (pronounced zhee-LO) in the name. "What's that?" I wanted to know. "Oh, it's a vegetable especially popular in Minas Gerais. It tastes wonderful" she assured me. She held her thumb and forefinger almost together to make an oval, and said "It's shaped like this, and about this size."

I decided to order a different dish for lunch, but the next time I went grocery shopping I picked up a "jiló" to try. When I cut it open, I was surprised to realize it was an unripe garden egg, the beloved little egg-shaped eggplant vegetable used in Ghana and other places in West Africa. I added it to whatever stew I was making that night, and found it more bitter than I remembered the garden eggs in Ghana. Interestingly, Brazilians find the ripe fruit bitter and the market will only accept the "young, sweet" green jil
ó. It's true that's the only kind I've seen here in the 3 months I've been in Brazil. I generally substitute eggplant in the U.S. because I don't have access to fresh garden eggs, though I have seen some Japanese eggplants in the stores that look similar. Jiló, too, can be used interchangeably with eggplant.

It turns out that there are 2 kinds of jiló
(Solanum gilo), both from the Solanaceae family: the kind popular in Belo and other parts of this region (comprido verde claro, or "long light green") and a rounder, more bitter type called morro redondo). Jiló is originally from Africa and found its way to Brazil, though not other Portuguese-speaking countries, via the slave trade.

It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected the world is!

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At 8:18 AM, Blogger admin said...

I'm Ghanaian. I'm curious as to how such food made it's way to the diaspora. Did the slaves carry them onto the ships to consume after arrival?

It is fascinating how food from Africa has found it's way into recipes around the world. It is equally fascinating how ingredients not originally native to parts of Africa (e.g tomato) has been adopted and integrated into the culture, spawning local innovations in cuisine.


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Fran said...

Prempeh: Thanks for your comment. (I wonder why it didn't show up yet on the main page.) I don't know for sure how garden eggs got to Brazil, but I expect that it was via the slaves who came to work in the gold mines in Minas Gerais. Yes, isn't it fascinating to chart the global migration of foods, especially Ouro Preto. I learned a lot about foods in and from Africa when I wrote Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa for Greenwood Press in 2005.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger B in B said...

Oi! I just found your post while searching for information on jiló. I'm from the states, KY, and we recently moved to Brazil in August with my husband's employer for a 2 year assignment. We are in the south however, Maringa in the state of Parana.
I'm always seeing jiló at the weekly feira and was trying to find out more info. Thanks!
I'm a nutritionist so I find your project very interesting. I have a blog of my experiences as well. blondieinbrazil.blogspot.com. Most of it reflects my day to day adjustments, but I do mention a lot about food. I love to cook and have already tried some Brazilian dishes. I hear that the food experiences in the North and South can be quite different. I look forward to traveling to the Bahia area at some point in our stay here. Thanks again for the info.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Ria said...

I'm originally from Suriname South America and now living in the USA (Virginia) for almost 19 years. I have been looking for Jilo for the past 19 year and finally found it by accident in an African grocery store. Jilo was brought to Suriname from Ghana when slaves were brought to suriname by the Dutch (when suriname was a colony of Netherland). When i saw Jilo at the store i wasn't sure if that was the same thing so i only bought a few. Once i got home, I cooked it with some salted beef ( that is how it's cooked in Suriname). Yes!! it was the Jilo that I have been searching for.

At 3:58 AM, Blogger Nina said...

Hi Fran, I have been following your blog in Brazil, and earlier, and would love to meet up with you when you come to Ghana early next year.


Nina Chachu
Accra Ghana

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Fran said...

Nina: Thank you for the kind words. I'd love to connect with you when I get to Ghana in January. By the way, I posted some more info about garden eggs (in Ghana and Suriname in today's post--Nov. 21, 2007).

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Sausnuray said...

Hi I love ur blog it is SOOO great!!! I am Zimbabwean and Native American. My fiancé is also Shona and I just love cooking him traditional dishes!! I really love African food its truly amazing! Thanks for the great blog I will add it to my bookmarks!

At 2:18 AM, Blogger clabrazil said...

I am Brazilian and although I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, jiló is part of my memories as I went to visit my grandma in Minas Gerais. There it is indeed very popular, although a lot of people hate it for its bitterness.

Living in Europe for 8 years, you can't imagine how surprised I was to find it in an international grocery store in Frankfurt, Germany, where I currently live. I had it yesterday fried in olive oil with a bit of rosemary. Voilà!
Loved your blog!

At 7:39 AM, Blogger matabrava said...

I'm from Brazil, living in the USA,and I've been searching for Jilo for the past 34 years. I just saw that one of your bloggers , ria, said that she found it in African store in VA, and I would like to know the name of the store, or at the location, I live in MD.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Ria said...

Matabrava,sorry I just saw your posting, I haven't been keeping up with this site but just today I checked it again and saw your posting.

I live in Woodbridge VA and I have a African grocery store named Ghana imports. IF you live in MD there is a big Caribean market on New Hamphire Ave next to an hotel can't think of the name right now.

YOu can email me at ria.bruyne@gmail.com for more info on the stores.

Thank you.


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