Before arriving in Brazil I was given a cookbook on Brazil’s cuisine from my brother. Dave (my fiancé) and I had taken a look at it before we came here and were not impressed to say the least: a lot of fish, meat and black beans with bland sounding accompaniments.
Fortunately, I am completely over the moon about the food. I can’t believe how many choices there are, not to mention the freshness! You can go to any restaurant or barraca (beach shack) and taste some of the best food Brazil has to offer.
Let’s start with the rodízio; you sit down at a big table with an army of a buffet in front of you with salad, beans, sushi (at times), olives, bread etc. One go around and you are already full, I had actually thought that was the meal.
When the servers came by with little disks, green on one side, red on the other, I knew we were in store for something amazing. Each server has a piece of meat on a large skewer that they pass around from person to person at the table.
You can either say yes or no, or just use the disk; green for go, red for stop. Every piece of meat is passed around, parts I didn’t even know existed and it’s truly unbelievable.
Our favorite is the picanha, which is literally the tenderest meat we’ve ever had. It is a Brazilian specialty cut from the rump roast and marinated in salt and garlic. My other favorite is the chicken thighs that are cooked with a splash of garlic and oil. I have yet to find a rodízio that is less than perfection.
My other favorite add on is farofa, which was new to me when I came here. It’s made with manioc (cassava or manioc) flour and sausage or other meats. It adds a little salty, breadcrumb kick to the meal. By the time you flip your disk to red you’ve gained 5 pounds, but it’s well worth it.
In NY they have the Churrascaria Plataforma that is going up in price by the month. Last I heard it was US$ 44 a plate plus drinks. At these rodízios in Brazil, you can find them as cheap as US$ 6 a person all you can eat, not to mention the US$ 1 caiprinhas which are a must have!
Let’s now move to the most delicious drink of Brazil, the caiprinha. I was introduced to these by a Brazilian sushi restaurant called Sushi Samba in NY. What I didn’t know was how strong and powerful these little drinks are.
I used to down two of them within a half an hour. When I couldn’t walk straight out of the restaurant, I did some research. Cachaça (which is the alcohol and only liquid other than ice in the drink) is made from sugar cane alcohol.
The drink is prepared by crushing cachaça, lime and sugar with a faux motor and pestle. The result: a tangy, tart drink that can make your mouth water just at the sight of it. Since there is sugar alcohol and sugar in the drink, it can double as a drug. I drank 4 of these one night and before I knew it, it was 5am. That’s Brazil for you.
One of my other new favorites is açaí. It’s made from a nutritional Amazonian berry with guaraná powder/syrup. You have to drink with caution because guaraná (natural caffeine and sweetener) has recently been banned in the States due to the similarities to ephedrine (speed).
Açaí is an interesting looking, thick dark purple gritty drink. It’s one of those acquired tastes and now I’m hooked! My new favorite ritual is stopping for one of these special treats each morning during "walk hour" in Fortaleza.
There are many more foods and drinks to rave about, and I’m still getting to know the food. Amazingly, I’ve actually lost weight. Bye bye processed foods of the States!
Jessie Simon recently moved, with her fiancé, from New York City to Fortaleza to start a kiteboarding company called Kite Adventures – www.kiteadventures.com – that specializes in guided kiteboarding tours around the Northeast of Brazil. She can be contacted at email@example.com.