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!

How to avoid getting sick on a Plane

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You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.

Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.

Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.

Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.

On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.

If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.

Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.

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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Pão de Queijo

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In my opinion, Pão de Queijo is one of the best foods Brazil has to offer.

Pão de Queijo translates simply as “bread of cheese”, but it is so much more.  Imagine the rolls from Red Lobster (TM), but more moist, and with a soft exterior.

Pão de Queijo is very common in the region of Minas Gerais in Brazil, but can be found anywhere. It is not made with wheat, as its history comes from a time and place where wheat was in short supply. Instead, it is made with a base mostly of Cassava and Tapioca – both staple crops in Brazil. The actual cheese used varies from place to place, but brand name stores, such as the Casa de Pão de Queijo (TM) will be the same across locations.

Pão de Queijo used to be more difficult to make in Canada due to the difficulty in finding Tapioca or Cassava Flour, but the increasing number of individuals with gluten sensitivity (celiac disease or otherwise) has created more of a market for wheat flour alternatives, so tapioca flour can now be found at places like Walmart.

Ingredients:

500 g of Tapioca Flour or Sour Cassava Flour
250 ml of water
250 ml of milk
125 ml of oil
2 eggs
100 g grated Parmesan cheese
salt (as desired)

Instructions:

1. In a pan, boil the water and add the milk, oil and salt.

2. Add the flour, mix well and remove from the heat. This is also a good time to begin to preheat the oven to 350 F.

3. Begin to knead the dough.

4. While the dough is warm, add the parmesan cheese, the eggs and mix well.

5. Using your hands, create small balls of approximately 2 cm in diameter.

6. Place the balls on a non-stick baking dish, leaving a small amount of space between them.

7. Bake in the oven (at 350 F) for about 40 minutes.

 

Brigadeiro

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Brigadeiro is one of the preeminent desserts in Brazil. Every party, from kids birthdays to weddings, is expected to have a large supply of brigadeiro and other docinhos (sweets). Brigadeiro is incredibly simple to make, but can then be used in many different ways. My personal favourite is to put it on top of ice cream as a topping, but, even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, it is not too sweet to even be eaten on its own. I think that the most common way of eating it, as any search online will inevitably show you, is in mouthwatering cup-cake like balls of brigadeiro wrapped in sprinkles.

When I first saw it, I was sure I had eaten it before as a child, but despite all the wonderful reactions evoked when I took my first bite, nostalgia was not one of them. I didn’t recognize the smell or taste, despite the fact that smell is strongly linked to memory.  I have thus concluded that I did not ever have brigadeiro before – given how similar it can look to other desserts, I think it is more likely just a common way of presenting desserts.

If you live in Toronto, there is actually even a brigadeiro place where you can try it out, Mary’s Brigadeiro. However, if you are feeling more adventurous and want to try your hand at making it yourself, as I mentioned, it’s very simple:

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 4-7 table Spoons of Chocolate Powder (optional – the more you add, the more chocolate flavour the Black Brigadeiro will have, White Brigadeiro has no chocolate)
  • 1-2 tea spoons of butter
  • Toppings (see below)

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Toppings

Common choices include Chocolate sprinkles, powdered milk, dehydrated cocunut, or granulated sugar.  Please note that sugar does tend to be quite sweet, and the brigadeiro will not keep as long.

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Directions

1. Combine the condensed milk, chocolate power, and butter in one pot on medium heat.

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2. Stir the ingredients constantly until the mixture stops sticking to the bottom of the pot.

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3. Pour the ingredients out onto a large plate or tray (be careful, it will be hot)
4. Wait for a little bit for it to cool to room temperature.
5. Put a bit of butter on your hands (to help you roll)
6. Using a tea spoon, scoop a small amount of the mixture, and roll into a ball.

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7. Have a small bowl (or mug) filled with sprinkles, dehydrated coconut, powdered milk, or sugar. Drop the rolled brigadeiro inside and shake the bowl to cover the brigadeiro in the topping of your choice.

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8. Plate and serve.

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Makes 30-50 brigadeiro (depending on the size you roll them).