In São Paulo, around New Year’s Eve, Mark became obsessed with orange jello. It’s a fairly common dessert in “por kilo” buffet-style restaurants, although it’s not as much as in North America (… because Brazilians have better options?)
We had the jello discussion several times in Canada. Some of his friends apparently eat gelatin but I refuse to buy Jell-O cups because the nutritional contents of his lunchbox already makes me want to scream.
But Mark was really craving Brazilian jello. One night, I promise he could have some for dessert after finishing his plate. He did, and then he almost cried because he was full and he didn’t want jello anymore.
“But, but… it’s going to be THE SAME! I will have to eat healthy food first and then I’ll be FULL!”
“Nah, you can skip directly to jello, promise.”
The following day, he counted down the hours to jello time. “The mall closes at 10 p.m.!” he kept on reminding me. Meanwhile, Feng did buy him some jello at lunch, but he hated it because it was red and only orange jello tastes good.
We finally bought a damn cup of orange jello.
“Wait… have you ever had jello before?”
“I’ve heard of it!” Mark replied, slightly offended.
He looked at it, shook the plastic cup, opened it and took a spoonful.
Fifteen minutes later, he had eaten about 1/10 of it.
“It’s not that great, isn’t it?” I asked.
“It’s… too sweet,” replied the kid who would happily eat a kilo of sugar if given the chance.
And so ended the orange jello obsession.
It’s okay, we had much better options available.
It’s almost impossible to give you a full overview of Brazilian food because it’s as varied as the country’s culture. Even without getting into specific, elaborated regional dishes, staple food looks different from one city to another. Supermarket chains change too—in Rio, you’ll shop at Zona Sul, Pão de Açúcar or Hortifruiti, in Florianópolis you’ll buy groceries at Supermercados Imperatriz or Angeloni, while in São Paulo, Carrefour is everywhere.
Brazilian care about bread. The basic one is the very light pão francês (it does get soggy with the humid weather, though!) but there’s also sweet bread, bread with raisins or nuts, corn bread, cassava bread, multigrain bread, flat bread, Italian bread, etc. The king of the pães isn’t technically a bread since you can’t really make a sandwich with it—it’s the tasty, cheesy, soft and chewy pão de queijo.
The keywords for cheap, savoury snacks are frango (chicken), carne (beef), presunto (ham), peito de peru (turkey breast), bacalhau (dried and salted cod) and camarão (shrimp). These are the most common filling for empadas (mini pot pies), pastéis (fried pies), mini-calzones or croissants, usually mixed with Catupiry (a brand of cream cheese), requeijão (liquid, cottage-cheese like spread) or ricotta. Polenghi, a brand of cheese spread much like The Laughing Cow, is also popular, but in sandwiches only. Coxinhas (fried mashed potatoes covered in batter and filled with shredded chicken) are a classic option. You can buy savoury snacks just about anywhere, including in supermarkets, in bakeries and in the many juice bars.
Brazilians love cake (bolo). When I’m queuing at the supermarket, I tend to browse the magazines displayed in the checkout aisle and the “Does cake make you gain weight?” question comes back often enough on the front page of women’s magazines, which always makes me laugh. There are cakes everywhere (and even entire stores selling only Bundt cake, like Casa de Bolos), and then if you don’t feel like having a slice of the very popular carrot cake with chocolate icing, you can always buy a doce português like a pastel de Belem (egg tart). A smaller, more chocolate-y option is the brigadeiro, a chocolate truffle.
Sick of Brazilian food? Craving fast food? Well, you could have a much better burger experience in any Brazilian restaurant—Brazilian sandwiches are pretty huge and awesome… Otherwise, go to Bob’s and picture the CEO trying to find a name for the first Brazilian fast-food chain—“Okay, we need to sound American! Let’s go with… Bob!”
In Brazil, I love going to the supermarket when I’m tired, because many of them offer free coffee while you shop. I also spend way too much time wandering around and checking out new foods and brands, but that’s another issue…
So, what did we eat? In São Paulo, we had a lot of Japanese food, mostly yakisoba (fried noodles) and lamen from the popular Sukiya fast-food chain. In Rio, I ate empadas (mini pot pies) and savoury baked pies. In Florianópolis, I had mini-calzones and veggie pies, among other foods.
Food in Brazil is cheap and interesting and I have yet to eat something I hate—but that may be because I haven’t tried orange jello…