Restaurants in Brazil

While your hotel will often include breakfast, you are most likely going to eat the majority of your meals at restaurants when vacationing, and there are some important things you will want to know about doing so.

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Beach front restaurants tend to have a building, but everyone sits on the beach under the parasols

At many restaurants in Brazil, they will have entrees for two, three, or even four people. While there will also be meals for one, I have found the norm to be at least two. There should be some sort of indication of the number of people each meal serves. You may have to scan the menu to find where it indicates though, as, like in Canada, menu designs vary wildly from restaurants to restaurant. If you don’t know, it is always best to ask. Most restaurants, in my experience, will have someone working that speaks English at all times, or if you have prepared your phone properly, you’ll be able to translate what you need – but worst case scenario, you can always pantomime for a question like that. Personally, I find the serving sizes are a bit small in Brazil, and I once basically ate a meal for three people by myself, but I think that’s more of a personal thing, than Brazil vs. Canada.

One thing that it always takes me a bit to remember at Brazilian restaurants, is that the servers do not come to the table unless called over. There is no checking if your food came out right, there is no asking if you need anything else. Instead, the server stays at the back of the restaurant and watches the tables from afar. You simply raise your hand and wave them over if you need anything. This is extremely convenient, as your table will not be interrupted in the middle of a story, nor do you have a server come by just as you’ve taken a bite to ask about the food, and generally the server will come by faster. As a Canadian, it feels rude to wave at the servers like that, but it really is a better system.

Taxes are included in the menu price, but the tip is not. A 10% tip is added to the end of the bill automatically, so the total of the bill will be the total you should pay – you do not need to tip anything above the amount they add. I find that I already calculate an additional amount in my head, because of the crazy Canadian system of adding taxes after the advertised price, and so I never really experience any sticker shock when the bill arrives like I assume most Europeans would. The automatic tip amount is also simpler than trying to decide if the waiter brought your drink out fast enough to warrant an extra percentage, although I still think it would be best to just pay servers a proper wage. You can ask to remove the tip if you choose, but that is just as awkward as you imagine it to be.

Food differences in Brazil

As I’ve written about before, one of the best ways to experience a culture is through their food. So much history and modern society go into meal preparation that no two places are similar. However, many people when travelling will find themselves still reverting to their old favourites – be it a type of food or drink. Often this is because we all get a little bit homesick, and whether it is just part of your normal morning routine, a quick bit to eat in the afternoon, or a late night midnight snack, food is one one of the best ways to feel at home. However, certain foods either don’t exist in Brazil, or exist in a form uncommon in Canada.

1. Diet Coke is rare. Diet coke is the second highest selling soda product (behind only classic) in America, but finding it in Brazil would be rare indeed. While places still sell Coca Cola, Coke Zero is the drink of choice for those trying to keep their calories down. If you are like me, and simply prefer the taste of Diet Coke (I find regular too sweet), you are simply out of luck to find this. If they don’t have Coke Zero, and you don’t want water, your most likely calorie free alternative to water is Guaraná Zero, which kind of tastes like ginger ale.

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This is a picture of the regular (full calorie) type.  The can even reminds me of ginger ale.  Salvarequejo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

2. Corn is saltier in Brazil. While “sweet corn” is grown in both Canada and Brazil, Brazilians tend to use a one known as maíz elote. It is more white than the corn more commonly found in Canada, and is saltier than normally found here. If you have ever had corn from Chipotle, this is more similar to what you will find in Brazil.

3. Coffee is almost always espresso only. Due to the heat in Brazil, people generally don’t want something warm to drink for awhile. While they want the caffeine effects, and (for some) the flavour, they aren’t going to want a large cup to drink over the next ten to fifteen minutes. So, most places you find will only have espresso – even getting an americcano can be hard, although it is sometimes possible to get them to dilute the espresso in a glass of hot water. You might get some odd looks, but they can easily do it.

4. Pancakes and maple syrup don’t really exist. Pancakes are more commonly found as crepes, but tend to be served with savoury foods rather than sweet. Maple Syrup truly is a Canadian thing, and even finding normal american table syrup in restaurants is uncommon.

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Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law), after trying some Maple Syrup I brought, described it as very similar to honey – which I thought was a very apt comparison.

When feeling homesick, the best way is to stick to brand name snack foods, or foods like fries, pizza, and chicken strips. As well, there is something reassuring, and yet mildly unnerving, that McDonald’s will be the same nearly anywhere you go in the world.

Journal Day 11

Day eleven in Brazil was spent exploring Pipa’s wonderful beaches. I had learned my lesson from the first day, and this time I wore more comfortable shoes that I could switch out of once I got to the beach so that my legs did not hurt walking traversing the hills to get to the beach.

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If you can believe it, the sky was even more blue than in this picture

 

Crab, along with other seafood, is inexpensive along the beach, but some restaurants try to trick tourists and have it surprisingly high in their menu. Doing a little bit of comparison between the adjacent restaurants can save you a bunch of money. I would also highly recommend you only eat at places that have the menu printed with the prices – some might try to overcharge you because you are a gringo, or, more innocently, there is far more opportunity for confusion without printed prices.

 

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Seafood in Northeastern Brazil is amazing!

Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) and I did notice that some of the prices for items from the various beach vendors would change if they heard me speaking. At least once they tried to change the price even after we’d already agreed to pay, but Minha Namorada pushed back and got the price we previously agreed – but you might not be travelling with a local like I was. That being said, the beach vendors do have products that work well – selfie sticks, underwater camera bags, beer, various types of food. Check out the stores as you are heading down to the beach, and you should know enough about local prices in order to haggle successfully. I would not recommend you buy sunglasses from any of the beach vendors though, as you can’t be sure about the UV protection, and sunglasses with no protection can actually be worse than none at all. So, it is important you buy proper sunglasses.

This day I had one of my favourite experiences to date, which was riding on a boat to see the dolphins. The dolphins were wild and just chose to swim near the people because they were as excited to see us as we were to see them. They even let you off the boat to swim in the same area, although the dolphins tended to keep their distance at that point. It was still well worth the money though, as there is something so much more majestic about seeing animals because they choose to see us, rather than seeing them in a zoo where they have no choice.

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Sadly, I didn’t get the dolphins on video, but I wouldn’t recommend you try – its too hard to capture, and you’ll end up missing opportunities to see them with your own eyes
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We found Aventureiro Pipa to be the best company for the boat tour, and they offered a money back guarantee if we didn’t see any dolphins.

We ended the day back downtown enjoying the nightlife. We stopped into a pizza place, because neither of us could decide what we wanted, and pizza is a good default food choice. What I did not expect is how lovely the local twist on pizza tastes. We had carne de sol pizza, which was absolutely wonderful, and I still find my mouth watering when I think about it. Foods like that are the reason I have to diet before I go. I think most people say they put on a pound a day when on a cruise ship, and I’m sure I’m the same when I visit Brazil.

Farofa

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User Carioca [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
Another great use for Cassava Flour, besides Pao De Queijo, is to make Farofa. Farofa is a very Brazilian dish, its simple to make, and you will find it served regularly with many different types of meals. It is sometimes used as a topping for foods (such as steaks, chicken, or hot dogs), but more commonly you will find it served as a side on it’s own. While a first-time eater might be a bit shy to try it on one’s own, it actually does a great job of satisfying a craving for a starchy side – and it is much healthier to eat than french fries. I think part of the reason why the food works well as a topping or on its own is that Brazilians, much to my personal chagrin, like to mix their food on their plates. So, many foods have remnants that become toppings for the next food. Farofa is not spicy in the least, and I find it is a good replacement for seasoning salt atop steaks (it has some salt, but less than the store-bought seasonings), or for anyone seeking a gluten-free alternative.

What you’ll need:

  • two cups of Cassava Flour
  • One third cup of butter
  • half an onion (small)
  • two cloves of garlic
  • Salt

Steps:

1. Either mince or grate the onion and garlic. Protip: chewing gum can prevent tearing while cutting onions.
2. Melt the butter in a medium size pan on medium heat.
3. Add the garlic and onion, let it fry to a rich golden colour.
4. Add the Cassava Flour and salt to taste. It burns very easily, so do not leave it unattended at this point.
5. Stir/fold the mixture regularly until golden brown, which should take about four minutes.
6. Serve either hot or at room temperature.

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I’m not sure if this is using it as a side, or as a seasoning, but its lovely either way!

Journal Day 8

Fast forward seven months, and its my next trip to Brazil. In the meantime, Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had grown much closer, we spoke every day on WhatsApp (video calling is a godsend to long distance relationships), and she had spent a large part of the summer with me in Canada.

This time, I felt much more comfortable walking into her home after a long flight, smelling terrible after 24 hours of travel, and craving a shower – this was a big sign of how welcome her family had made me feel from day one of my first trip. We didn’t hang out too much at her home though, as Minha Namorada wanted me to see the Sunset from downtown and so whisked me away after just enough time to stretch my legs and say hi to her family.

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The couple just ahead of us were speaking in English – it seemed they couldn’t understand each other in their native languages, so they used English as a universal language.   

While I did get some beautiful views, we missed the sunset by about five minutes. Downtown João Pessoa is beautiful though, as I’ve mentioned. It used to be the richest neighborhood in João Pessoa, and the architecture reflects that, but large swaths of downtown are now abandoned. The rich having moved to the coast to be right next to the ocean. Being unable to resell these properties for their values, they have now been long abandoned, and an uneasiness has settled around the downtown core.

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This is not a safe place to be at night, although during the day there are still many tourist attractions worth checking out – just start early, and leave after sunset. That being said, there are still busy bars downtown, so its not all parts that are unsafe. The basic rule is of safety in numbers still applies. If you want to go at night, make sure to check with your hotel if its a night where one of the downtown bars is having a large gathering, and then Uber directly there and back.

Downtown even has a thriving Chinatown community, where everything seemed incredibly similar to a China Town in Canada that, if not for the language. My first trip, I had barely seen any foreigners other than myself, and there are definitely less in Brazil than in Canada (for example, Japanese and Chinese restaurants tend to be staffed by ethnic Brazilians), but there are still lots of expats in Brazil. This trip, my suitcase had broken a wheel, and we went downtown to get it fixed – that is another lesson I liked from Brazil, there is a much stronger emphasis on fixing things that are broken, rather than just throwing them out and buying new. For 45 Reals (about 20 dollars) my suitcase was as good as new.

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Hot Temaki – my mouth waters just thinking about it.

I also insisted that first night that we have one thing I had been craving since I got back to Canada from my previous trip – hot temaki. Brazil has taken the wonderful taste of sushi, and they deep fry it in batter similar to chicken-strip batter, and it is one of the best tasting (and horrible for my waistline) foods that exists.

Journal Day 7

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My final day of my first trip to Brazil landed on Good Friday, and so it was a family-oriented day. One important lesson I learned that day was just how important family is to Brazilians. There is a stereotype of latinos having large families, and while Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) doesn’t have the largest immediate family, the closeness that she has with her extended family more than makes up for this. Her cousins act more like siblings, with her Tia (aunt) and Tio (uncle) were just as welcoming to me as her parents had been.

I remember when I was young sitting around the table with my extended family, my grandfather and uncle laughing, while everyone talked with everyone at once – participating in five or six conversations at once, always eager to jump into another. It is one of my most cherished memories of my family’s farm. As much as my portuguese didn’t allow me to participate in the conversations as much as I would have liked, that was the feeling I got as I sat around the table. The love of a family that are just happy to be in each other’s company. And I was not excluded for even a second, from the very beginning, I was family.

I did come to learn why Brazilians tend to drink more espressos, as I’ve never been one to turn down coffee (especially wonderful Brazilian Coffee), but it was not a good idea to have a mug in a hot apartment. I thought I was sweating before I had my coffee… A second cup was a close-fought battle between my taste buds and my sweat glands. But, I can say that I don’t know how anyone ever cooks a big meal in Brazil, because I would immediately grow to hate the excess heat from a stove or oven – I bet toaster ovens are big there.

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How was I supposed to resist?
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This is a picture of my sweat glands after the coffee

In the evening, we went to get ice cream, which brings me to another point. Brazil is not good for diets, as Canadians tend to think of cold treats as good for cooling oneself down in the heat, and Canada doesn’t tend to get so many extremely hot days.  The cold protects us from indulging too often, because its not healthy to eat those every day, but in Brazil we lose that natural protection.  This is not to mention that Nordestino (Northeastern) Brazilian fare is heavy in cheeses and breads.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was that I concluded my first (but certainly not last) trip to Brazil.

Cassava aka, Macaxeira, Manioc, or Yuca

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Amada44 [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
Cassava, also known as Macaxeira or Yuca, is a staple crop in Brazil, and is a very healthy alternative to add to the North American diet. While it is often made into flour, I find it is more like potatoes than wheat (although it can substitute for both). One of my favourite meals when out with Minha Noiva (my fiancee) is to have Carne De Sole with fried Macaxeira (known as Macaxeira Frita). Cassava flour is also a great alternative for those in need of Gluten-Free products.

However, you have to know how to pick one, and how to prepare it properly. Generally speaking only “sweet” Cassava is available in Canada, which is better, but it is still not safe to consume raw as it contains some cyanide (as do almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, and bamboo shoots). Processed Cassava (such as Cassava flour, or chips) will have already been safe to use as-is.

Picking the right Cassava is important – the correct way is to snap off the end and it should only be white (as pictured above). If brown specks appear, then the Cassava should be avoided. I do find it weird to go to the local supermarket and break the products in half before deciding if I’m going to purchase it, but its the only way to check a Cassava, and any store that sells them should know this – so, as awkward as it feels, it’s perfectly normal!

In preparing Cassava, I find it is best to follow the Australian Government’s recommendations, which state that:

  • To make cassava safe to eat, first peel and slice the cassava and then cook it thoroughly either by baking, frying, boiling or roasting. This process reduces the cyanogenic glycosides to safe levels. Frozen cassava and frozen peeled cassava should also be cooked in this way. Discard any cooking water after use.

Cassava can then be used in any way that you use potatoes!

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Macaxeira Frita, essentially, Cassava French Fries – Bdieu [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D
If you want to use it as a substitute for flour, buy the premade flour (which is widely available, and can also be found on Amazon), and then replace it 1:1 for regular flour. However, Cassava Flour is lighter, and more water absorbent than regular flour, so here are some baking tips:

1. Since it absorbs more water, it can end up being more dense, so you might want to add slightly less than normal and check consistencies before adding the rest.

2. It may tend to bake faster on the outside, even while the inside remains a bit doughy, so its better on lower temperatures for a bit longer time.

3. It sometimes gives a bit of a nut-flavour to your food.

4. It is very dusty, so be prepared for a slightly bigger mess.

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