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.
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).
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!
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!)
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:
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!