Thoughts from São Paulo

It’s 2 degrees outside. Fahrenheit.

Montana, it’s only October, would you mind waiting until December to do this?

I am firmly planted inside, wearing thick socks, hoping that my car will start for me to get to work later. In the meantime, I dust my negatives from Brazil in Photoshop and think back on my two trips there this year.

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First, I never imagined that in my life that I would find myself as far South and a place as foreign in my mind as Brazil. It wasn’t until I was seriously dating Logan that the reality that we’d go down there solidified. I’d eventually meet his family and his friends back home, wouldn’t I? I couldn’t imagine what it looked like, smelled like, what Portuguese really sounded like. What sort of animals would I see? Is it really that hot down there?

After spending over two months this year there I can firmly say that I love spending time there. By there, I mean the state of São Paulo, or south-central Brazil. Brazil is a huge country, roughly the size of the lower 48 states in the USA, so making big generalizations is foolish and sloppy. It’d be like bunching people from New Jersey and Wyoming together, which Americans know would be strange and potentially hilarious.

That being said, a few things became apparent to me.

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Most people are friendly and helpful. Not everybody (because they’re HUMAN), but most folks we met seemed genuinely stoked to let me try my sloppy, weird gringa Portuguese. I went shopping by myself in São Paulo for a few hours and all the stylists I met were funny and kind. I was able to ask for what I wanted in my size, ask questions, and reply, and while I know I speak like a child right now, I loved interacting with people. When I met Logan’s friends, a lot of them spoke really good English but those that didn’t were still so kind to me, even though I had a hard time communicating. We went to see a few bands at Al Janiah, and after one of the bands was done, Logan asked them some questions and then introduced me to the women in the band. I never once felt like somebody was annoyed by my questions or my slow pattern of speaking.

While at university in Switzerland that was not my experience: most of the Swiss people I met were too efficient and didn’t want to make the time for me to practice my Italian (I had one man literally say “it will be faster for us to just speak English” at a market in Lugano). It was frustrating going to bookshops, clothing stores, the grocery store, etc. because most people didn’t have the time or patience to let you stumble through. The thing is, in order to learn a language you NEED to stumble. My Portuguese is not great but it’s not bad, either, because I have been able to practice with real people on the ground, make mistakes, even embarrass myself a little (a lot).

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The food scene in São Paulo is unparalleled. It is a city of 20 million people and there are immigrants from every corner of the world. You want to eat Middle Eastern food in a Palestinian restaurant that has a staff made up of immigrants and refugees and later see an all girl punk band? (Al Janiah!) You want to eat incredible Thai food in a tiny joint where the owner speaks more English than Portuguese? (Thai E-San Restaurante) Do you want to eat Michelan-starred oxtail soup, mocoto, tongue, intestines? (Mocoto!) Do you want a meal that will make you need to nap for four hours after? (Feijoada will do the trick, it’s a specialty Wednesday and Saturday at a lot of restaurants.) Are you an expat from the States looking for a good burger and fries? (Meats or Hamburginha!) Are you just STARVING but also lazy and don’t want to walk more than a few blocks? São Paulo is the city for you. We ate dim sum, Lebanese food, comida de Nordeste (northern Brazilian food), a fabulous French dinner, classic kilo meals, hamburgers that were perfectly medium-rare with buns fluffy as clouds, and lots and lots of juices.

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There is more art than you can imagine being made, everywhere, by everybody. São Paulo is a massive city but everywhere we went on the metro, in Ubers, etc. there was street art. Giant murals, small tags (one particularly memorable tag all over the city said “Rice and Beans and Ganja”), epic landscapes, portraits, social criticisms. A stairwell hidden in the Pinheiros neighborhood memorialized Marielle Franco, who was murdered for being an outspoken female politician who loudly protested police violence and was probably shot by police. Live music, while hard to find, is there and flourishing. Jewelers, leather workers, painters, and ceramic artists have their works in so many galleries, shops, and markets.

We went to a few markets and I bought some gorgeous earrings made from imbuia wood by a wonderful artisan, a leather bag handcrafted by a wife-and-husband team, and had to steer away from the dozens of other stalls because I didn’t have that much money. São Paulo is also home to MASP and the Pinacoteca, both of which are world-class museums, one devoted to art from all over the world, the other completely focused on Brazilian art. Brazil is full of artisans to this day who do things in slower ways. Logan’s grandparents have a front door made of rosewood from a long time ago that is carved with beautiful flowers, and textured glass windows that I’ve seen nowhere else. Entire buildings are covered in tiles (tile and cement are big because they help keep surfaces cool in the omnipresent heat) and there are small companies in São Paulo that make tiles for homes in centuries-old ways. Art seemed to be woven into so many things everywhere we went, and the art historian in me felt so happy seeing it all.

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I have so many jumbled and half formed thoughts about my time there, but one thing I feel wary about is writing about the bigger situations and issues that are going on in south-central Brazil. There are similar parallels to the States in that young people can’t get good jobs, wages suck, a lot of people still live at home, there’s police violence, racism, sexism, and very real fears of climate change and the future. However, I don’t speak Portuguese well enough to be able to do these parallels justice and talk to people who live these experiences in the deep ways I want to.  I’m not prepared to paint complex social, political, and ethical issues in broad strokes without more research and talking to people who live those experiences. Even talking about Brazilian food delves into race, history, social structures, and class structures (a lot of what we think of as Brazilian dishes are Afro-Brazilian in nature, for example). With time, research, and patience, I would like to learn so much more about south-central Brazil, because I’ve gotten a crash course in traveling there that I don’t think many people get, thanks to Logan. 

 

The Food in Brazil Post

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Holding a heavy, ripe avocado in my hand, I marveled at the smooth skin. Before I arrived, Logan had told me about the heft and the sweetness of avocados here, much different than the Mexican ones I found in my American grocery store. These were bright green, and had fallen from the avocado tree in Alayr’s backyard that day. We cut one up and used it in a salad for lunch. Inside, dozens of guava fruits sat in a woven basket. Three pots of food (one rice, one beans, one pumpkin) sat on the stove, keeping warm and filling the small kitchen with a rich smell.

Almost every day that Logan and I were in his hometown, we ate lunch at his grandparent’s home with his family. Without fail, there was rice and beans. Sometimes there was carne seca, a re-hydrated meat that you eat with beans and rice, and bright yellow chunks of mandioca (cassava) sat ready to be squashed with your fork and salted and mixed with salad or whatever you wanted on your plate. The bright spice of fresh watercress surprised me constantly, as it just looked like spinach leaves, and the arugula was more aggressively flavored there as well. I tended to mix them carefully with lettuce because my taste buds were overwhelmed.

The general rhythm of Brazil to me felt like things were either done slowly, evenly, and in unchanging ways, or done quickly and haphazardly. There seemed to be no middle ground. Rice is cooked slowly, kept warm on the stove, and beans are left to soak overnight and then cooked the next day. Avocados are cut open, the mandioca boiled, the jar of salt laid out, the plates brought out at the same time each day. Everybody serves themselves, and after lunch strong black coffee is brewed and served in tiny cups. Sometimes dessert follows, with super-sweet little flans or a small wheel of cheese from Minas Gerais would appear, to be paired with goiabada (guava paste). This was our daily ritual. A small television in the back corner would blare out soccer games and the news. At various times the news focused on different disasters, from the Brumadinho dam collapse to the deadly fire at the Flamenco FC club that killed several of their youth team members. The news, no matter where you are, has the same depressing information.

If you go to Brazil, please try to eat with a family or make some Brazilian friends to eat with. There is no shortage of amazing things to try, and if you do your trip right you will be eating almost constantly, but finding friends or a family to eat with will guarantee that you’re taken care of. I cannot express how amazing it was to be so well fed and welcomed by Logan’s family, and how taking part in so many meals made me feel very lucky.

A typical breakfast there is often toast, coffee, and maybe some yogurt or cheese. Pão de quiejo (cheese bread made with tapioca flour) is also a frequent breakfast companion, and if you feel like sparking some serious heartburn, go for The Trifecta: Pão de queijo, fresh orange juice (suco de laranja), and strong black coffee. It’s absolutely delicious and you might feel like dying later but there’s nothing like it. See the photo below:

You will find pão de quiejo almost anywhere: in cafes, in gas stations alongside the road, in restaurants, etc. and I highly recommend eating a lot of it. The chewy middle and crunchy outside are delicious, and the cheesy flavor is addicting.

If you’re traveling or in a city, one of the most common types of eateries you will encounter will be a kilo restaurant, or a kilo buffet. They’re basically large cafeterias, where you make your own plate and pay by the kilo. They vary in cost and quality, but I love them because you can eat as much or as little, as healthily or as unhealthily as you want. They’ve usually got a salad bar, a couple kinds of pasta, different cuts of meat, rice and beans, and farofa. You’ll see everybody at a kilo to, from ladies stopping in from shopping to businessmen to construction workers. My favorite thing about the kilos is that they ALWAYS have sliced tomatoes, which I usually would bulk up on and just eat on their own. Kilos are also very common inside large rest-stops, which I love because when you’ve been on the road for hours on the slow, toll-clogged roads outside of São Paulo it’s nice to stop, stretch your legs, and eat a healthy meal.

I don’t really have any order or reason to the foods that are discussed here but I just remembered how good all the juices (sucos) are in Brazil. There are a ton of different mixes, and most places have a “Sucos” section in their menu of just juices.

My favorite is “abacaxi and hortelã” which is pineapple and mint. Fresh squeezed orange juice is also delicious. Lots of places feature juices called “detox” which are usually a combination of ginger, mint, and a couple of juices, and is actually delightful, not some cleansing bullshit meant to taste bad.

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Seafood in Brazil is delicious. Shrimp (camarrão) and fish (peixe) and crab (carangeuijo) are abundant. Fresh fried fish, baked shrimp, shrimp pastel, etc.- it’s all there.

Fair warning: Sushi is becoming more common in Brazil but they tend to use farmed salmon and import tuna from very, very far away, and we found that the sushi rice is often way too dense and squishy. If you have to have your sushi, it might be best to wait until you’re in a major city. There are some high-end restaurants that are using local Brazilian fish and seafood in their sushi which means you’re getting fresh ingredients. There is also a decent, well-established Japanese population in São Paulo as well as other large cities and Japanese food in general is plentiful!

Fun random Japanese food fact: Ramen is called “Lamen” in Brazil! It’s easy to find in the cities, and although we didn’t get the chance to have any, I’ve heard it’s delicious.

If you’re invited to a friend’s home for a meal, the odds are you’ll eat outside. One of the most common sorts of get-togethers is a meat and beer dinner. A couple people will be responsible for picking up crates of bottled beer, cuts of meat, and some bread/butter/etc.

Most Brazilian homes have outside grills and barbecues, and you’ll sit around tables chatting, drinking beer, and eating lots of little bits of beef (there WILL BE at least one *good* friend who will refill everybody’s little glasses when they’re not looking, and if you don’t get very drunk at a meat and beer party then you’ve got bad friends).

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A meal in Peiropolis, Minas Gerais, at one of the many kilos we ate at. Little pickles, fries, pasta, rice and beans, etc.- it was so good!

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Another typical Brazilian breakfast, this one at a little paderia, with french loaves quickly pressed on a griddle with butter, coffee, and pao de quiejo.

Fresh coconuts! These are super common, especially on the beaches, and some people love using their straws to scrape out the flesh from the inside (not me!)

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Ripe guava fruits from Logan’s grandpa’s garden. They smelled so good! I think they were made into goiabada later.

Also, I have to talk about pastel. PASTEL. Fried goodness with palm hearts (palmitos), cheese (queijo), shrimp, whatever. A good pastel place will fry them to order. They’re served piping hot and with lots of napkins to soak up the grease. Here we had them at the counter at a little shop in Uberaba marketplace. Apparently drinking a full-sugar Coca Cola is a thing with pastel (I didn’t mind!).

Pastel, coxinha (shredded chicken with cheese inside a breaded fried exterior), fried pork belly, etc.- Brazilians love fried foods that are perfect with cold beer. I heartily encourage y’all to dig in and order some of everything when you’re at a bar. Also, remember that nobody gives a fuck about how your body looks. You’ll sweat so much there it won’t matter anyway.

Acai is a super common treat everywhere, and acai shops are all over. You layer the acai with a bunch of things, like condensed milk, Nutella, granola, honey, powdered milk, various fruits, etc.

My favorite was acai with powdered milk and strawberries, because I know you all care about my personal favorites.

Other foods to eat PLENTY of: 33422711138_328c701bd4_c

Lebanese and Palestinian food! When Logan and I were in Portland we went to a Lebanese restaurant and Logan told the proprieter he was from Brazil. The dude responded “Brazil is like a second Lebanon!” and that is very true. Lebanese food and culture is well-established in Brazil, and good hummus, kibe, baba ganoush, etc. are everywhere. If you’re feeling adventurous there’s a Palestinian restaurant called Al-Janiah in São Paulo that serves the most incredible kibe and is run by a Palestinian refugee. Its become a gathering place of sorts for immigrants, intellectuals, fringe folks who want to have good beer and eat fantastic food, and hear five or six languages in one spot. There’s also frequently live music. If that’s not your vibe, Brasserie Vittoria is AH-MAZING, and they’ve been around for over 70 years. Plus, they serve Cerpa beer which…I will talk about in my liquors post.

As you read this, remember that I spent six weeks in Brazil, and I mostly ate southern Brazilian food, and remember that Brazil is crazy-diverse country and that the food histories there are as complex and differing. I basically barely scratched the surface! 

I will add to this or make another post when I get my 35mm developed and scanned! I took so many photos of meals with film that I do want to share! But, for now, that’s all folks!

So you want to go to Brazil…

Hello comrades,humans, collections of star dust and other assorted material!

I could finally afford to visit Logan this year in Brazil (it’s all that Millennial avocado toast spending I do, I tell ya!). I was lucky enough to travel around the interior of the state of SP, the coast, as well as a bit of the southern part of Minas Gerais (see map below). To be fair, this is like if I went to the USA and traveled just to New York City, part of the New Jersey, and went to Maine for a bit. I’m not an expert, but I did learn a lot and wanted to share what I know!

Before I start, my biggest single recommendation is to have a Brazilian friend or family member there to meet and travel with. It’s a really hard country to get around if you don’t know what’s going on.

1. BRAZIL IS HUGE

  • Brazil is an enormous state with a ton of historical diversity and bio-diversity. Southern Brazil, like in Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, is arid and where a lot of ranching happens. It’s also where a lot of beer is brewed, and a lot of German and Dutch people settled there so there are fun touristy towns that do German-esque celebrations.
  • Northern Brazil is usually seen as poorer and lesser. A lot of Southern Brazilians see Northerners kind of like how Americans have stereotypes about Mexicans (just to clarify, fuck that). It’s not good. Northern Brazil is typically seen as poor, super rural, and there’s not a lot of opportunities there so many people head south to the bigger cities to try and start over. However, there are also a lot of beach resorts and vacation spots in the North (around Recife, Salvador, etc.), because that’s where the most famous beaches are, so a wealth divide is pretty apparent in a lot of places.
  • Where Brazil meets Paraguay is pretty much as sketch as you can get, perhaps minus the Venezuelan-Brazilian border right now.
  • The states themselves are massive. Minas Gerais is like the Texas of Brazil. Each state has a unique history and culture.

2. If you’re American, you NEED a visa.

  • If this makes you want to sigh, I’m going to tell you that it is incredibly difficult for Brazilians to get visas to come to the United States and they’re SUPER expensive, and also require two in-person appointments at the US Embassy in São Paulo, along with HOURS of waiting. In comparison what we have to do is nothing.
  • Americans pay like $45 for our visa, and you apply online. (They changed the restrictions last year and made it way cheaper and easier.) It’s a breeze. Brazil needs tourism so instead of being spiteful about Americans forcing Brazilians to go through a hellish process they’ve decided to make it easier for us.

3. Brazil has a complicated history. Know it, use The Google Machine, because it’s important.  

  • Brazil was “settled” (lol, the Portuguese showed up uninvited) in the early 1500s, but there were already hundreds of thousands of indigenous people called the Jiquabu who lived in dozens of different nations all over the country.
  • The Portuguese quickly killed a lot of indigenous people through disease introduction and labor, so started importing slaves. This did not end until 1888 (yeah, that’s late). As a result, Brazil has a huge population of Afro-Brazilians. Much of the food and culture of Brazil comes from the descendants of slaves. Anthony Bourdain (RIP) has a GREAT episode where he goes to Minas Gerais and learns about the history of Brazilian food and it’s African roots, and I highly recommend it.
  • Today, Brazil is a hugely diverse place. There are a large number of Japanese immigrants in the cities, and Nigeria’s second biggest population lives in Brazil. Lots of people from Angola come over as well. 43% of Brazilians self-identify as mulatto , which is mixed-race, and 8% identify as Black, which means it’s a majority non-white country.

4. Do NOT count on people speaking English everywhere. Also, Portuguese is really hard to understand even if you already know other Romantic languages. 

  • If you’re limiting yourself to traveling in large cities like Rio or São Paulo, or going to a beach resort in Bahia as many Europeans do in the winter, then you’ll probably be okay. Because the Olympics were hosted recently, many of the subway systems in Rio and SP have announcements and signs in both Portuguese and English. A lot of restaurants have English menus too.
  • However, if you are traveling in the interior, learn some Portuguese. Once you’re outside of the city, the odds that you’ll encounter English are fair, but not great.
  • Very few Americans bother to try to learn Portuguese before they arrive, but just learning how to say “hello” (bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite), “nice to meet you” (prazer), “thank you” (obrigado/a), “please” (por favor) and “goodbye” (tchau) will be much appreciated.

5. Brazil is not SUPER safe, don’t be an idiot, but you’ll probably be okay.

  • Keep an eye on your shit. Don’t wear flashy clothes, nice bags, or look like you’re worthy of theft. Be smart about how you get around- if you’re traveling alone as a woman, take taxis or Ubers at night rather than walking or using the subway.
  • Travel with a purpose. If you’re walking around the city, move. Don’t linger, don’t be on your phone, pay attention.
  • Street harassment is common for women. I was with my boyfriend the entire time which really cut down on that stuff, but there is a lot of that bullshit present. Being grabbed in bars, clubs, etc. is also really common.
  • If you’re traveling in a group, loudly speaking English makes you very obviously foreign and more of a target. Be smart and have common sense about where you are, how you appear, etc.

6. Brazil has a lot of racism, just like the USA. 

  • There is still a lot of racism in education and governmental systems and a lot of other barriers to keep people in place. It’s real and it’s endemic, and with Bolsonaro in power, it’s unlikely to get better (#EleNão).

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Now, more fun/practical things to know!

  • If you want to save money, go in May/June/July. 
    • This is Brazil’s winter. Prices for things are highest in December, January, and February, because this is when Brazil’s summer break is, so lots of families are traveling and vacationing. Brazil’s winters are also A LOT more manageable temperature wise (I nearly died being there in January and February!).
  • WEAR A TINY BIKINI AT THE BEACH!!
    • Brazilians give NO fucks about body types at the beach. Rock whatever you fancy. I myself have never felt comfortable rocking a tiny bikini before but went for it and it was AWESOME. 60 year old grannies were rocking smaller bikinis than me! And nobody cares!
  • Cold beer is like a goddamn religion. Take part. 
    • You typically buy 600 ml bottles that are put in protective “beer condoms” (that’s what they’re called I swear) and you sit around plastic tables and drink out of ideally cold little glasses.
      • If you’re beer is not cold, you can refuse it. Cold beer is taken that seriously. Most fridges/freezers have little temperature monitors on the front so you can see that your beer is ideally at about -1 or -2 C when it leaves the freezer.
  • Being called a gringo or a gringa is not an insult!!!! 
    • It’s not. I promise. Get over it.
  • You typically do not tip after meals. 
    • A 10% gratuity is automatically included, unless otherwise noted. You also don’t tip after things like manicures or pedicures (which are DIRT CHEAP so get one!)
  • If you go to a party or a gathering, it is common to greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON THERE. (It’s rude not to!) 
    • A kiss on the cheek and a “tudo bem?” (everything good/how are you?) is common. If you’re meeting somebody, a kiss on the cheek and a “Prazer!” is perfect. (Prazer means “pleasure”.)
    • You do this again when you leave a party. It’s exhausting and not ideal for introverts or those who like to slip away. It’s seen as rude if you do slip away. DO NOT BE RUDE. If I, an extreme introvert, can do this, you can too!
  • Abortion is illegal in Brazil. 
    • People *can* get pills and stuff but it’s usually through back channels, so be extra safe with your sex. Condoms are super easy to get there, and birth control is also pretty readily available, so be smart!!
  • Marijuana is notoriously poor quality and also just really ethically dirty there, (also illegal), so just avoid in general.  
    • If you’re an American and you’ve been in Colorado or Washington and taken part in our green goodness, I would suggest you not do so in Brazil. It is widely known that the quality of any weed in Brazil is going to be bad. It’s also illegal. Also, much like buying cocaine in the USA, by the time a lot of marijuana reaches you there’s probably been a fair amount of violence and really bad shit done so that you could partake, which is selfish and shitty on your part. Be ethical about your drug use people! 

I have SO much more to talk about but I’m going to break down my time there in a bunch of posts, so please STAY TUNED!!! (There will be at least one solely devoted to food and beverages!)

In the meantime, I recommend looking at Shannon Sim’s Twitter if you want to learn a bit more about being an American in Brazil: https://twitter.com/shannongsims

Here’s a neat video that I-D did with Grace Neutral about feminism and women’s movements in Brazil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cja_ND2iIWI

Tchau until next time!

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