a alma gorda

While some people view it as a nutritional substance used to create energy needed to sustain life, I see food as something much more important. Quite frankly, I love to eat. I love eating like a fat kid loves… well, eating.

I should say upfront that all of the photos in this post will be borrowed from Google, because I’m not one of those instagrammers that takes photos of every meal. In truth, this is only because, typically, by the time my meal arrives, I’m too excited to stop and take a photo, add a filter, and wrestle with Brazil’s somewhat lacking 3G service. No, usually I dive right in, and by the time instagram comes to mind, my meal isn’t quite as pretty. Luckily for me, there are plenty of people photographing food, so I’ll likely be able to make your mouth water with someone else’s photos.

The food in Brazil differs depending on the region, but there are definitely country-wide staples such as rice, beans, and meat.

Oh my god, the meat.

Oh my god, the meat.

Growing up, my family didn’t eat red meat. I don’t think that would have lasted very long if I had grown up in Brazil. The meat here is so good that they usually don’t need to season it with anything but salt.

Restaurants here mainly use 2 ways to buy food beyond the typical American style of ordering per plate off a menu. The first is rodizio, which means eat-until-you-explode, and depending on the restaurant is usually around R$35-50. They have rodizios for everything from barbecue to sushi, and are usually (but not always) set up like a buffet. The second type of restaurant, where food is sold per kilo, is more common around lunchtime. These are also set up like a buffet, but your plate is weighed at the end, and you pay (obviously) per kilo. If you love trying new foods and have to have a bite of everything like me, both are equally dangerous.

Here’s a few of my favorite Brazilian staples:

1. Churrasco

The best typical Brazilian meal you can get is churrasco. It’s barbecue, but not exactly the same way we imagine barbecue in America. You won’t find hot dog buns or hamburger patties here. And you definitely don’t eat churrasco with potato salad, collard greens and mac & cheese.

Also, nobody dresses like this.

Also, nobody dresses like this.

Barbecue here is typically served with rice, sometimes beans, vinagrete (which is basically a delicious salsa made with vinegar and olive oil) and farofa.

The first time I heard about farofa was long before I visited Brazil, in a bar in the Lower East Side with my at-the-time Brazilian roommate, Rodrigo. We had come to the bar to meet an American friend of his who had spent some time in the north of Brazil, where both farofa and Rodrigo come from. He described it to me as something that “looks like sand, and tastes like sand.” Rodrigo seemed offended, but when I finally had a chance to see it for myself… Well, I can’t lie…

It kiiiiind of does look like sand.

It kiiiiind of does look like sand.

But trust me when I tell you, it’s much better than sand. It’s made from a plant called mandioca, and the process seems to be incredibly arduous. But in the end it’s basically a flour-like substance that is fried with butter, and then bacon and other deliciously fattening things are added. I caught a glimpse of the process when I was in Belem.

This is the step of the process that smells really bad.

This is what happens to the rest of the mandioca plant after the yummy part is used for farofa. The leaves become something called maniçoba, which as I mentioned before, is not delicious.

Unfortunately, being so far from its origin means that the farofa in São Paulo doesn’t quite measure up to the farofa of the north, but that doesn’t stop my paraense friends from dumping bowlfuls onto their plates. And of course, paraenses have a tendency to request food from anyone visiting SP, or bring back coolers full of food every time they go home for a holiday, so there tends to be enough good farofa to go around when hanging out with my friends.

You just have to pay attention if you're ever eating it near the beach.

You just have to pay attention if you’re ever eating it near the beach.

2. Feijoada

You can’t write a blog post about Brazilian food and not include feijoada. It’s not necessarily my favorite, but it’s such a big part of the culture that it simply cannot be overlooked. On Saturdays and Wednesdays here in São Paulo (or Sundays in Rio de Janeiro), everybody eats feijoada.

Rodizio-style feijoada. Not exactly Hometown Buffet.

Rodizio-style feijoada. Not exactly Hometown Buffet.

Feijoada is made up of beans and pork and served with rice, farofa, and sometimes cute little smiling potatoes. When I say pork, though, I mean the entire pig. Anything and everything that can be considered edible is tossed in there.

All of the above.

All of the above.

Some places have multiple feijoada dishes labeled with each type of pork, and one pot of regular beans in case that’s all you’re into. If not, I usually stick with the farofa and batata smiles.

You think it would be difficult to eat something so cute, but it's not.

You think it would be difficult to eat something so cute, but it’s not.

3. Pão de Queijo

The first time I came to Brazil, I landed in Guarulhos at 6am and was immediately lost. My friends hadn’t arrived at the airport yet, and I was frantically trying to discover how to use the pay phones to call them, with 0 knowledge of Portuguese. With a stroke of luck, I ran into the guy I had been sitting next to on my flight and his sister, who immediately rushed to my assistance. Not only did they let me borrow their cell phone, but when they heard it was my first time in Brazil, they brought me something called pão de queijo and made me taste it immediately. Pretty much anything would taste good to a girl lost and alone in a new country, but this was more than that. It was love at first bite.

Directly translated, it means “bread of cheese,” but it’s not exactly bread with cheese on top, or cheese melted inside. It’s bread whose batter is actually mixed with a special cheese from Minas Gerais and baked into a blob of deliciousness that I can hardly explain.

Little balls of cheesy heaven.

Little balls of cheesy heaven.

You can’t go a block in São Paulo without finding a place that sells it, and thank god for that because it’s ridiculously addicting. They even sell them at Starbucks and McDonald’s.

4. Suco

I always thought juice was a somewhat boring concept before coming to Brazil. I mean, I love juice boxes (who doesn’t?) but with all the added sugars and “concentrates,” juice in America probably isn’t even that good for you.

I always assumed the main function of grape juice was to pretend you were drinking wine.

I always assumed the main function of grape juice was to pretend you were drinking wine.

But here, the opportunities for fresh squeezed juice are countless. Nearly every lanchonete or padaria has a menu with a dozen different types of fresh juice. Including fruits that I wasn’t aware could be juiced. You can’t chock it up to the abundance of fruits here either, because most of the fruits consumed in Brazil are not native to South America at all. 

Personally, I’m in love with suco de melão, or honeydew juice, which is even better than it sounds. Most of these places offer crazy mixes of fruit juices, such as abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple with mint) or all kinds of different fruits mixed with ginger or coconut water.

I love the word abacaxi so much I am thinking about buying a cat just to name it this.

Not only a delicious drink, but “abacaxi” is also fun to say!

Since salads are not exactly a strong suit of Brazilian cuisine, I love drinking fresh juice to pretend that I’m still eating healthy. Fruits might be everywhere in Brazil, but people here seem to avoid vegetables as much as possible. I must say, despite all the delicious food here, I do miss a good salad!

Até mais!

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égua maninho

As I’ve mentioned a few times, most of the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends here in Brazil are from a not-so-small Amazonian town called Belém do Pará. I’ll level with you guys: when I came to Brazil for the first time in February and people told me they were from a city in the Amazon, I pictured the same thing any American with average geographical knowledge would picture.

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word "Amazon" that wasn't an amazon.com logo

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word “Amazon” that wasn’t an amazon.com logo.

So, yeah, when I found out that there were skyscrapers in the jungle, you can imagine my excitement. Not to mention, as a self-proclaimed concrete jungle warrior, my immediate desire to visit.

And you better believe that I painted my nails in the style of the Paraense flag just for the trip.

And you better believe that I painted my nails like the paraense flag just for the trip.

Belém is quite an interesting place. It’s the 10th most dangerous city in the world (according to Business Insider’s 2012 list), but it is also home to some of the warmest (and smartest!) people I’ve met.

The entire time we were there, it was hot and humid (so, by my standards, perfect), but the weather in Belém is almost a joke. Paraenses like to say that in Belém they have two seasons: one where it rains every day, and one where it rains all day. But the funniest part for me is that, during the former, it rains at the same time every single day. Which means people actually make plans around this.

"Alright, let's meet tomorrow after the rain."

“Alright, let’s meet tomorrow after the rain.” – Actual Conversation in Belém.

Here’s a list of my favorite things about the trip, in no particular order:

1. Cairu

I lied. This was far and away my favorite part of Belém, and deserves to be right there at #1.

Cairu is a sorveteria with flavors like açaí, bacuri, cupuaçu, uxi, taperebá, and dozens of other fruits you’ve never heard of and are unlikely to find outside the Amazon. (Except for açaí, of course. That shit is at any and every smoothie place in Southern California.) The options of ice cream flavors are so overwhelming that I did what any completely rational person would do: I went to almost every location in the city, and tried as many flavors as I possibly could without exploding or pissing off the people behind the counter.

Yes, that's "queijo" as in "cheese." Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

Yes, that’s “queijo” as in “cheese.” Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

If you find yourself in Belém and don’t hit up Cairu, you better have a damn good excuse, like an allergy to deliciousness. I recommend the paraense, a combo of tapioca and açaí.

2. Ilha do Combú

Alright, I’ll admit that even as a diehard city girl, I was slightly disappointed at the prospect of flying all the way to the Amazon and not experiencing any jungle. To be completely honest, I really just wanted to see a monkey. Happily, I found my way to Ilha do Combú, a small island in the river next to Belém. To get there, you have to take a terrifying little boat across the river, leaving the skyscrapers behind. Upon arrival, you find a restaurant overlooking the river, halfway blended into the jungle beyond.

Of course by "overlooking" the river, I actually mean "pretty much inside" the river.

Of course by “overlooking” the river, I actually mean “pretty much inside” the river.

We spent the afternoon here, eating delicious fish called pescada amarela (probably caught by someone in our boat on the way there), drinking beer and exploring the jungle.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

And luckily enough, we were able to miss the “daily rain” across the river.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn't too far away.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn’t too far away.

3. Parque Mangal das Garças

I had to look up the translation of “garça” when I got home, because I’ve never seen these before. For the record, they are called egrets and all I can tell you is that they look a bit like white flamingos.

You have to remember that this is their park.

You have to remember that this is their park. Not yours.

Anyway, I loved this place not because of the birds (in fact, I’m not the biggest fan of birds in general) but because of the tower in the middle of the park that allows you to see all of Belém.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

4. Mercado Ver-o-peso

This market is probably one of the best places to go if you like cheap produce, are open-minded about trying weird fruits/plants, don’t mind things that are really dirty and want to see animals you might eat later that night in cages.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn't really matter.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

My favorite part of this market, though, was the ladies selling bottles of some sort of spiritual… well, I guess, magic… to help people achieve their goals, make more money, seem less ugly, or “win at everything.”

I'll take one "vence tudo." Just kidding, I already win at everything.

I’ll take one “vence tudo.” Just kidding, I already win at everything.

My least favorite part of this place was experiencing a plant that is, according to Wikipedia, normally meant for medicinal purposes. It is called jambú, not to be confused with Jambu, the whale from that episode of South Park, and when you chew it, it makes your entire mouth go numb. While incredibly entertaining for my boyfriend, it was not a pleasurable experience.

Jambú. Not even once.

Jambú. Not even once.

 

5. Estação das Docas.

A riverfront warehouse converted into a beautiful shopping/entertainment center.

Don't worry, I wasn't swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

This place is full of shops selling over-priced goods you can get at the market next door for 10% of the price, and restaurants with traditional paraense food like pato no tucupi (delicious), vatapá (delicious), maniçoba (not delicious), and the best farofa you’ve ever had in your life. But unlike most shopping centers I’ve been to, this one happens to have a brewery right smack in the middle of it.

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that's actually what it's called.)

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that’s actually what it’s called.)

The Forest Bacuri is a personal favorite, because where else in the world can you have Bacuri-flavored beer?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

the paraense paradigm

I have to dedicate an entire post to the people I’ve been spending my time with here. I owe them my every happiness right now, but the best I can do for now is a shoutout on this blog.

The people from Belém are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. Which makes sense, because Belém is a city in the northeastern part of Brazil in the state of Para, right smack in the Amazon. Where it’s always warm. It looks like this:

Yes, there are skyscrapers in the Amazon. I was surprised too.

Anyway, my friends here are all paraense, which means they are from the state of Para. Since they are so far from home, they tend to stick together in a big group, so between the ones I met during Carnaval in Rio and here, and the ones I’ve met since I’ve been here, I’ve got a LOT of friends.

When I say friends, I don’t just mean people I like to go out and have a drink with (although we do a lot of that too). I mean the kind of friends that will drive an hour and a half to the airport to pick me up and then spend 40 minutes looking for me after I give them the wrong terminal number, who will let me unpack my 3 giant suitcases in their bedroom, who will tell their boss at MTV about me (without me asking) so that I might one day get a job there, and who will lend me their CPF (a Brazilian identification card) in order to get a phone chip. These are, without a doubt, the nicest people I’ve ever met.

There’s a big list of things I love about being here, but here’s a few that are top of mind:

1. They feel immense pride at any ability I show in speaking Portuguese.

Immense. The typical reaction to any phrase I use correctly is laughter, followed by applause. Most of the time, I feel a bit like their adopted 5 year old being praised for stacking legos or getting the square peg through the square hole. But I love this feeling. Whenever I’m introduced to a new friend, they inform them that I am a gringa and that I don’t speak Portuguese, but they follow this quickly with “but she’s almost fluent.” (I’m not.) I have to argue that one of the most important steps to learning a new language is confidence, and I’m certainly getting that here.

A tip for anyone who comes across a paraense: say “éguaaaa” to them any time you would normally use “oh my god” – they’ll love you forever.

2. They love to share food.

I’m pretty sure this is true of all Brazilians, and probably a lot of other Latin cultures, but it’s going on the list because it’s one of my favorite things here.

A typical meal here: Saturday feijoada plus meat, rice, farofa, vinagrete, fries, and bread. In other words, I’m getting plenty of carbohydrates.

All meals are typically eaten “family style” (as we know it in America). I think there’s something profound about this – you feel so much more like a family when you share a meal this way.

But even if you actually are somewhere that you order separate things, everyone will pass their plates and drinks around so that everyone else can have a taste. And this is so common that when I asked my friend Caio yesterday if he wanted to try a bite of my quiche, he politely declined, and added, “I don’t mean to be rude.”

I finally live in a place where eating off other’s people plates is expected. #heaven

3. They hang out in big groups, all the time.

Back in New York, I always felt a weird sense of success every time I managed to get a large group of people to show up at the same place at the same time. Here, it seems decidedly less complicated. Granted I haven’t had to do the work myself of getting in touch with everyone, but I feel like every time I leave the house to go for dinner or go to a bar with one or two people, we end up having 8 or 10 or 12 people meet us. And if we’re not out, everyone will show up at someone’s house. This may not seem like a big thing to notice, but as a self-proclaimed social butterfly, I love this.

One-third of our dinner table at Si Señor (a Mexican restaurant) the other night. From left to right, Carol (my lovely host), me, Mariana, and Caio

4. They’re really freaking snuggly.

Seriously, if you go an hour without hugging someone or touching someone in some way, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not necessarily a sexual or even a flirty thing, everyone here just likes to touch people. Kissing on the cheek is not just a greeting at the beginning or end of the night, but whenever you feel like it, which for me is usually all the time. This does, however, blur the lines between being friendly and flirting. Either way, it’s quite fun.

5. They have cool pets.

Okay, so while I’m pretty sure that Mariana’s cat, Chica, is the most awesome cat I’ve ever met, the best pet award has to go to Roque (pronounced like “Rocky”) the hedgehog:

For the record, Roque is NOT snuggly.

It took me up until this moment to even believe my friend Mateus when he told me his roommate had a pet ouriço pigmeu.

Anyway, I want to thank all of these people (and my Rodrigo for introducing me to them all!) for how incredible they’ve made my first week here in Brazil.

Eu amo todos vocês já.