Travelling to Brazil? Come here to Comer

Comer: (v) to eat, in Portugese.

So whenever I talk to my mom, the only thing she wants to know is what I’m eating. And I tell her not to worry, because I am eating well, a lot. Way more food than what I consume in the US and spending a looot of money on it too. So this post is for her and there’s nothing about running in here (I am sick this week and therefore off from running and NOT from eating).

When I got here I figured Brazilians don’t know the meaning of having a ‘light meal’. It’s very hard to find low-fat anything. The two types of milk at breakfast are skim (which I hate) and whole milk, and if you pour the whole milk in your coffee, you can watch the cream form in seconds. Gross.

So does everyone look like Gisele? The answer is no. At least not in SP. In Rio, on the beaches the bodies are tighter and the swimwear negligible so I wonder what they eat. Read a fellow expats musings on Brazilian food and figures here.

But the coffee is uh-mazing! I’ll get to it eventually. Let me jot down thoughts in order of meal-times.

Breakfast

Though we’ve mostly eaten breakfast at the hotel, which is delightfully exactly the same every single day, including weekends, Brazilians don’t spend too much thought on breakfast, or so it seems. It’s some runny scrambled eggs, a heap of wilty bacon (not crispy like American bacon), hot dogs (which I am afraid to admit, I like). Fortunately they do have yogurt and my Indian heart feels happy to have plain yogurt (not the sugary, fake-fruit yogurt blends you get in the US). Here the yogurt is full fat and tastes just so and I love it. I am sure my Tam Brahm in-laws would be very happy too.

I’ve mostly seen the Brazilians eat a turkey or ham sandwich for breakfast with a slab of white cheese (kind of like paneer). I tried it and it’s nothing to write about. By far the best thing at breakfast is Pão do Queijo – or cheese bread, a delightful little ball of cheese and bread. This is a versatile piece of bread and it’s served at all times of the day in any restaurant in Brazil. With coffee, with beer with everything.

My favoritie brekkie in Brazil was at a cafe we found in Rio. Hungover, tired and hungry, my expat friends and our Brazilian Everton were walking around on a Sunday afternoon for food. We all were craving a big American breakfast and IHOP was the topic of conversation. We found a Subway (with picanhã sandwich) and KFC but fortunately didn’t go in, we hadn’t gotten that desperate. Instead there was a delightful cafe with a breakfast platter – pancakes (tiny crepes), scrambled eggs, fruit (papaya, yuck), ham, the white cheese slab and yogurt with granola with cappuchino. DIVINE!!

Lunch

Lunch is a very important meal for Brazilians. At work, they take about 1 to 1.5 hours for lunch. Hard working Paulistanas, who stay in the office till 8pm sometimes to beat the traffic, study after work or spend time commuting don’t have time for an elaborate dinner. So they make the best of the lunch hour and the meal is elaborate. No working lunch here but lunch works hard. Near the office there are a large number of Lanchonettes or lunch homes. They may serve entrees/prãtos do dia (daily specials) or food by the kilo in a buffet form, with prices ranging from R$34-R$49 per kilo. Food in Brazil, especially in SP is expensive. On average lunch costs about R$30-R$40 (about $18 – $25). But its sooooo good. Traditionally, its a piece of grilled meat – chicken or steak (picanhã, Brazilian barbecued meat, very very flavorful and very tasty no matter where you eat it), rice, vegetables dunked in butter and a bowl of beans. Some of the daily specials include even more elaborate cheese, meaty goodness. Here they are in order of taste (to me):

Escondidinho: it’s a casserole kind of like Shepherd’s Pie except the meat base is carne seca or literally, dried meat or beef jerky. Topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked with cheese on top. I can’t believe anyone can be remotely productive after a lunch of this meal.

Feijoada: This is the most traditional Brazilian dish I have been hearing about since the day I landed here. Brazilians eat this on Wednesdays or Saturdays (and probably go right back to bed after). It’s a stew of black beans cooked with various pig parts, to be eaten with rice, farofa (a flour mixture made with manioca flour from the Amazonian rainforest) sprinkled on top. I was treated to Feijoada Light today with recognizable pork meat and sausage, rice, farofa and some greens and 2 wedges of an orange. The real deal has practically the whole pig. Honestly, it was okay – I like beans and I like pork and it tasted fine. Kinda reminded me of Borracho beans in Mexican food where the beans are cooked with pork, if that became a main dish. Here’s a photo:

Meat, Beans Rice and Flour

Of course, these are traditional fare but people also order lasagne and other cheesy goodness from other cuisines. Italian food is a local favorite as is Japanese.

 
One of my favorite lunch spots has become Desfrutti, a Suco (juice) bar. I absolutely LOVE that you can get fresh fruit juice or fresh fruit almost ANYwhere! Almost all local bakeries, lanchonettes and restaurants have a wall of fruit behind – mangoes, tangerines, pineapples, strawberries and yes even corn juice. A fellow expat called it drinking cream of corn but it’s very popular here. But Desfrutti serves up yummy crepes and I tried the Chicken Stroganoff crepe, which was yummy! A slightly healthier option for lunch is a bowl of Açai, which is the supposedly healthy/controversial berry mixed up with frozen yogurt (I think) and served with bananas and granola. Sometimes you can get Suco do Açai too and they serve it oddly in 1.5 glasses – you pour from the larger into the smaller (cutting chai type) glass.
açai with bananas and granola
 
Lunch always ends with a cafezino, an espresso sized cup of coffee packed with punch. I get it usually with leite or milk and sugar and it’s absolutely divine. One of the expats, Rob was comparing it to the grande Starbucks which packs a lot less punch but wakes his American brain up more than this little muppet which just makes him jittery. I think this Starbucks can try it’s way to hell to match up to the coffee you get at any local spot in Brazil.  
 
Hmm, what else….food here has been quite fabulous but there are so many little nuggets that are soo good. In addition to pão do queijo, there are little croquets of breaded, shredded meat much like what my mother used to make for tea. There’s Coixinha usually made with chicken but also with shrimp, which is a larger croquet. Here’s a picture and it tells you why my fried-food-happy-tummy is so happy. My only complaint is that nothing is spicy and pepper on the table is optional. So that can get trying but everything still tastes so good. And what’s best is that bars serve late night food just like in Mumbai. You can nibble on Coixinhas or croquets or fries with your drinks late into the night.
 
 
 
Dinner
 
I am not sure about what Brazilians eat at dinner. Our expat dinners have been as elaborate and expensive as our lunches because, well, we’re from the US and we like going out to dinner, ordering a bottle of wine and unwinding at dinner. On most nights or at least one night a week, we do a Rodizio sushi places dotting our neighborhood. The sushi is good, the sashimi is extremely fresh and plentiful. Before they bring out the sushi, the traditional rodizio does a dish of Japanese mushrooms sauteed in butter and scallions and soy sauce. This is usually followed by carpaccio or marinated fish in green onions, soy and maybe 1 sliver of green chilli (noted as spicy on the menu, LOL). Í love this one! Then they bring out the hot sushi or the rolls which are fried with batter, the gyoza and tempura batter fried veggies and miso soup. Finally they bring out an elaborate platter of nigiri and sashimi with a couple of philly rolls. They don’t have the california rolls which is understandable. Finish off with a dessert. All of this goodness for minimum R$51 – R$ 95 (about $28 – $56), which I believe is a fantastic deal for unlimited sushi and great service.
 
We’ve also done Rodizio pizza at a great little pizza place which the expats love. The pizza is great, it’s super-thin crust pizza with lots of catúpiry and various meats. They also do some veggie pizzas with mushrooms and can pretty much do what you ask them, if you can explain what you want in Portuguese. Good luck with that.
 
If it looks like it’s tough to be vegetarian, it probably is. I usually try to spot at least one veggie dish on the menu, tucking away in my mind what Bharath would eat but I fear he is not going to be happy with the local food. So my task for his trip here is to figure out the veggie friendly places in Rio. I have been told there are a few. If not, there’s always pizza – which has this gorgeous cheese called catúpiry – a creamy, soft cheese that almost tastes like thick béchamel sauce. It’s salty and heavy and they put it on a lot of stuff. Unlike the US where chicken is a poor man’s meat, the chicken or frango is actually very tasty and flavorful in Brazil as in India. There’s even a restaurant called Frangeria near the hotel with very good grilled (by US standards it’s probably fried with the amount of oil) chicken. And finally, last option is salad because the olive oil here is fabuloso, very flavorful and plentiful (even the cheap restaurants serve very good EVOO, Rachel Ray would be delighted).
 
But something tells me there are at least three things that Bharath will fall in love with – the sucos, the açai and the cafezinho!
 
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