Life is a series of trade-offs. In Argentina, people eat late and there is a nightlife. However, the entire country runs on grilled meat, pizza and pasta, and food can be a bit bland and boring after a while. On the other hand, there is a wider variety in Brazil and food is generally a good value, but lunch is the main meal of the day and restaurants close early (and sometimes, for the whole weekend…).
In an ideal world, I’d eat Brazilian food on an Argentinian schedule.
As soon as we entered Brazil (well, after fucking Chuí…), I met up with old friends again—vegetables. No more ham-and-cheese everything, enter new ingredients—broccoli, carrots, heart of palm, leeks, spinach, etc. Unlike their neighbours, Brazilians don’t think they are going to die if they eat something green and leafy. And cheese isn’t just mozzarella—there is requeijão (kind of like cream cheese), queijo Minas (a soft, mild-flavoured fresh white cheese), ricotta, etc.
Brazil is a huge country and each region has its own distinct cuisine. Many specialities can be discovered at one of the many comida por kilo buffet-style restaurants, but we often miss the opportunity because again, they close early and we generally skip lunch. However, I’m more than happy with “basic” food, i.e. whatever we find at the supermarket plus snacks from lanches (snack bars), confeitarias and padarias (bakeries). Many gas stations also have snacks and they are surprisingly good and fresh (and at least, gas stations don’t close ridiculously early…).
Take bread, for instance. There are dozens of varieties, from pão francês (less dense than baguette but with a crunchy crust) to whole wheat, from bread made with potato, maize or cassava flour or topped with coco to the famous pão de queijo (which isn’t technically bread…). I got addicted to the pão Australiano, a loaf made with cocoa and honey.
Common snacks come in two kinds—fried or assado (baked). Among the fried kind are kibe (bulgur and meat, originally a Middle-East snack), coxinha (shredded chicken meat, covered in dough, moulded into a shape resembling a chicken leg, battered and fried), and pastéis (thin squares of dough filled with veggies and meat and fried). In the asado section, you can get a pastel (like an empanada) of pretty much anything, pão de batata (bread with potato flour) filled with chicken or ham and cheese, empadão (small pies) or giant slices of quiche-like pies, usually filled with chicken or vegetables.
Room for dessert? Brazilians don’t really eat viennoiseries (like facturas, in Argentina) but they are addicted to bolo, cakes often baked in a tube pan giving them a ring shape. Lemon cake, bolo de fuba (cornmeal), bolo de cenoura (carrot cake), bolo formigueiro (chocolate chips), orange cake, chocolate with doce de leite filing (creamy caramel), brigadeiro (chocolate truffle made with cocoa and condensed milk) … And of course, you have doces like quindim (eggs, sugar and coconut) or pastel de Belém (much like an egg tart).
It’s also fruits paradise, with tropical fruits and produce from the Amazonas. Feng eats a mango every night! Açaí is one of the trendiest fruits and açaí na tigela (açaí mixture with bananas and cereal or strawberries and cereal) is very popular (and expensive, relatively speaking).
Okay, you gotta be thirsty. Coffee lovers, good news: coffee in Brazil is cheap and excellent. I mean, even the gas station coffee is awesome. I’ve seen free coffee being offered in hotels and supermarkets as well! Shop, drink, shop, drink… There are also hundreds of fresh juices to enjoy, most of them made with tropical fruits, as well as sugarcane juice and coconut juice.