By Ed Sikov
“Portuguese is easy,” Chipper explained. “All you do is speak Spanish through your nose.”
Hilarity ensued. “That’s so bogus,” Craig managed to get out through heaves of laughter. The other boys – Dan, Paolo and me – were too convulsed to say anything.
“No, really!” Chipper insisted, and he proceeded to demonstrate: “!Buenos dias!” he cried while holding his nostrils shut. It was certainly adenoidal, but Portuguese it wasn’t.
“I happen to know a bit of Portuguese,” Paolo announced, “and that’s not the way you say ‘good day’ in Portuguese. It’s ‘bom dia.'”
“That’s what I said!” Chipper protested to no success. “Comeme!” he snarled, once again pinching his nostrils and sending the rest of us into spastic fits of amusement.
We were enjoying this especially inane discussion on the Saturday evening of a lovely spring weekend at Fire Island Pines; we’d all gotten together to open the beach house and launch another glorious season of hot sand, hot men, and – as far as Chipper was concerned – hot air. The particular topic suggested itself because I’d stopped at the amazingly well-stocked Pines Liquor Store and picked up a bottle of cachaca, the Brazilian firewater distilled from sugar cane. In Rio they practically give it away, it’s so cheap. The Pines Liquor Store charged a bit more, but it was worth it.
Cachaca is very, very strong. Drinking it neat would be asking for trouble – big-time trouble. It really must be mixed with something else to be palatable. Thus the Brazilian national cocktail, the caiprinha. (It’s pronounced KYE-pa-REEN-ya.)
To make a round of great caiprinhas, you need a lot of very juicy limes. This can be a problem in most of the United States and Canada, because in all but the warmest locations, limes are shipped to stores on the basis of their appearance, not their taste. How many times have you grabbed what looks like a perfectly ripe lime and sliced it open only to find desiccated, lifeless pulp? For this reason, I recommend that you augment your fresh limes with bottled lime juice. You’ll get whatever fresh flavor your limes will yield – and the rind is actually full of flavor and aroma – but you won’t be dependent on the probably low quality of the fruit inside.
Another peculiarity of the caiprinha is the fact that it’s better when the sugar you add doesn’t dissolve entirely, thereby giving the cocktail a slight crunch. Usually I recommend using superfine sugar when mixing drinks. (And to really milk the experience for all it’s worth, you have to say “superfine” the way the guy says “Super Fly” in the theme song from that great blaxploitation film from 1972.) But superfine sugar dissolves completely, and you don’t want that in your classic caiprinha. There should be a granular quality in each sip, if for no other reason than to remind you that you’re drinking sugar can liquor. Here’s the classic caiprinha recipe, modified to increase the lime juice by way of a bottle:
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. cachaca
Slice the lime into quarters, and place the quarters pulp side up in a wide glass. Add the sugar and lime juice, the mash the lime quarters down with a pestle or other similar muddler. Add the cachaca and crushed ice and stir. Do not remove the lime pieces from the drink; this cocktail should have a rustic quality.