If you read my weird little blurb on the Meet Your Eboard page (and if you didn’t, do so), you know that I spent 5 weeks of summer 2013 in Brazil. Although I was bit weary about the impending food challenges as I flew down to the Southern Hemisphere, I was also excited for the opportunity to try some new, delicious, and/or strange delicacies that I just wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. The following is relatively unorganized babbling about some things I noticed regarding Brazilian food and eating, as well as an in-my-opinion grade:
-Buffets. Grade: A
I knew I was in love with the country on the second day, because we went to an all-you-can-eat pizza place. And no, this was not just ordinary zah. In Brazil, they go crazy; in addition to savory pizzas topped with who knows what kind of meats, they also had fruit pizza, doce de leite pizza, and CHOCOLATE pizza. Naturally, I gorged myself. (I’m always secretly proud when I can out-eat all the boys.) Also, most restaurants offer an inexpensive buffet for lunch, which is wicked popular with the locals and tourists alike. And they always had flan for buffet dessert… an acquired taste, perhaps.
-Timing. Grade: D
I would never be able to get used to the Brazilian schedule– their dinners are too late for my taste (no pun intended) and restaurants seemed to usually be closed during afternoons and on Sundays. Any time we had a formal dinner, we would start eating around 9 or 10pm, which is bad for two reasons: 1) If I don’t eat between lunch and 10pm, I will get HANGRY, and 2) If I eat anything sugary, I won’t sleep for hours afterward. It seems to work for everyone else though.
-Churrascaria. Grade: A for effort, D for vegetarians
Now becoming more popular in the US, churrascarias are Brazilian barbecue places that take meat to the next level. At your seat there is a small card that you leave on the green side if you want more meat, or you can flip it to the red side if you need a break. The friendly waiters come around to the people with green cards and cut off chunks of the meat slabs on a stick, as much as you want. One of my first dinners in the country was at a churrascaria, and I remember that the meats looked so exotic and weird. Really, nobody could tell what each slab-on-a-stick was. And sometimes, when I found out what it was, I had to hide my look of horror. Thankfully they had a ton of vegetarian stuff at the buffet– I still managed to get into a killer food coma. Rice and beans are extremely underrated.
-Social Food. Grade: A
I loveloveloved how much of a community was developed around food, and especially the interconnectedness between food, music, and partying. The first week in the city of Belo Horizonte, we stumbled upon what was basically a gigantic block party filled with food and drink vendors and live music. Everyone there was so lively and happy and exuberant and dancing, and it was just so beautiful. It turned out that the event was held every Thursday night, so that was where I tried different street foods. As a vegetarian, I enjoyed the acaraje without shrimp (a pastry kinda thing with yummy beans), but I hear from the carnivores that the kabobs of chicken wrapped in bacon were pretty bomb.
-Government Helping the Hungry: B
There is still a ton of room for improvement to help those in poverty, but I was able to visit a couple of really neat places that fought public hunger. The Restaurante Popular was a government-subsidized eatery with the mission of providing nutritious food to the less privileged for very little money. A meal there costs 2 Reais, or 1 USD. They use food from local farmers and prepare everything there each morning. It was interesting to see the kitchens, but I did not enjoy eating there that much because I felt like I was taking food from people who needed it more than me (and cutting them in line because I was in such a big group). The place was also extremely packed with people, with lines far out the doors in the back. I also visited a food distribution compound, which was gigantic and full of warehouses and storage and buildings where they sort and clean food. It was interesting to get a close-up look that the general public cannot see. They do some pretty cool things—for example, after they sort out all of the “bad”/rotten fruits, they smoosh them into a juice that they use to rehabilitate the soil. They also make juices out of the ugly (but still good) fruits that people wouldn’t buy, and they donate a whole lot as well.
-Teachers Bringing Students Snacks: A+
My Portuguese teacher, Ana, is the sweetest human being on the planet. Especially when she brought us food. She always had these cute little candies or sweets, but the best was the time she brought us acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE). Acai is super popular there– it can be more liquidy like a juice, or more frozen as a dessert or smoothie. It is common to mix it with banana, granola, and honey– to die for. Oh, and I also tried cheese ice cream.
So cheap and so yummy! I never even saw the natives look at water; they were always drinking something sweeter. Juice and smoothie stands are ubiquitous, and for good reason. You can’t even begin to imagine the sheer number of fruits that they use that as Americans we have never heard of. Made in front of you with fresh fruit and your choice of milk or water and sweetened or not, these would always quench your thirst. Plus, you can buy a coconut from a stand on the street and drink the milk directly out of the coconut. How cool is that?
I could ramble for days about my Brazilian experience, but I guess my final thought is this: If you ever have the chance to go somewhere new, jump on it– and take in as much of the authentic food experience as you can. Seriously though, if you go to McDonald’s while abroad… we can’t be friends.