At the ripe old age of almost 35, I have just realized I have never sat at a bar. This is a movie or book trope, right? A character sits at the bar and meets someone, hits on the bartender, finds love, gets into a fight or something, right.
Well, I missed this chance. No wonder nothing ever happens to me. I don’t drink alcohol—never developed the taste for it—and when I go to a bar, I’m with friends and we find a table. Frankly, I had never understood what all these movie and book characters were doing sitting at a bar. High stools aren’t even comfortable!
The other day, I went to a casa do suco, one of these juice bars ubiquitous in Rio de Janeiro, to grab a suco de limão. I was tired, so for once, instead of taking it para levar, I grabbed a seat and stayed.
This was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had lately. Just sitting there, surrounded by perfect strangers eating or drinking, listening to conversations, minding my own business, yet in a social atmosphere.
Street food is awesome.
I can’t recommend you a great restaurant in Pelotas, Porto Alegre, Salvador or Rio. I’m not a food critic and I have zero interest in elaborated food. What I like is street food, stuff everyone eats, popular local delicacies. Cheap, easy, tasty.
Take pão de queijo, for instance. I’d say it’s the Brazilian medialuna, the savoury snack you can find just about anywhere. The first time I tried it, I was disappointed—I was expecting bread with melted cheese inside. Forget my ignorance, this was back in 2001 where my French blood demanded cheese and bread. But now, I love it. It’s not bread with cheese, it’s cheese bread—even better! I’m addicted to both the salty flavour and its stretchy consistency. I can spot a good pão de queijo a mile away. Some even come recheado, i.e. with cream cheese filling—that’s too much cheese for me, though.
In Salvador de Bahia, pão de queijo didn’t seem to be as popular. Instead locals were crazy about the pãozinho delícia. I never quite understood what the recipe was—something something requeijão, another ingredient found everywhere here, it’s between ricotta cheese and cream cheese—but the result was a very light bread that tasted a bit like uncooked dough. Texture-wise, not my favourite—way too light.
Let’s linger on bread for a while, or rather pães. There’s very good French-style baguette bread, sweet rolls, coconut bread, corn bread, carrot bread, pão Australiano (made with three different types of flour and some honey, my favourite), cheese-filled bread, bread with herbs, soft bread, hard bread… Seriously, Brazil, open bakeries around the world, please!
I’m also quite knowledgeable about salados, these little savoury snacks. I can’t find Latino-style empanadas, but there are pastéis (square pieces of fried dough with a filling, a bit like fried wontons), pasteles assados (savoury baked turnovers), coxinhas (shredded chicken meat, covered in dough, moulded into a shape resembling a chicken leg, battered and fried), croissants with all kinds of filling and sweet rolls with a savoury filling. I like empadas, mini pot pies, which are unique to Brazil in South America.
Popular fillings are not so much ham and cheese like in the rest of Latin America, but rather chicken and cream cheese, chicken or meat with raisins, spinach and ricotta, broccoli and cream cheese, etc. Bacalhau, dried and salted cod, is unique to Brazil and Portuguese culture—it can be used as a filling or made into bolinho de bacalhau, deep-fried codfish balls. On the sweet side, the Romeu e Julieta is popular—this is queijo e goiabada, cheese and guava paste.
In the street, you can also buy hot dogs (Cachorro Quente), tapioca pancakes (sweet or savoury filling) and pop corn—oh, so much pop corn! Churrasqueira are also popular with vendors selling meat skewers in the street on portable BBQs.
Still hungry? There’s always bolo somewhere. Brazilians love cake, especially ring-shaped, baked in a Bundt pan cake. Carrot cake with chocolate frosting, orange cake, corn cake and cassava (aipim) cake are among the most common treats, along with anything with brigadeiro, the Brazilian truffle.
Interestingly, despite not-so-healthy treats, or maybe because of, there are many products labelled as “diet”.
Overall, food in Brazil doesn’t feel “weird” to a foreign eye. There isn’t any mystery meat, nothing is very spicy and except for tropical fruits, ingredients are easy to recognize. But it’s good, flavourful and varied—looking at you, pizza-meat-pasta Argentina!