This weekend was offered the opportunity to practice my tropical plant identification skills by going to a friends family farm in the northeast region of Rio. While being nowhere near my home state of Minnesota, it reminded me lots of my experiences growing up and going to the cabin. The many long summer weekends spent with family in a small house, with no Wi-Fi, to just simply relax around a small town for a few days. It was lovely. Over the weekend, we went to the glorified yard space that my friends dad called a farm and romped around, harvesting Brazilian cherries, eating Jumbo fruit, and tending to budding orange trees. It was so lovely to see the carefully mapped space thrive with all the biodiversity.
By the end of the day I could identify how cocoa, cashews, pineapples, mangoes, oranges, limes, bananas, raspberries, cherries, and cinnamon were grown all without leaving a half-acre plot. The capacity the tropics have to produce food is incredible, but I was also reminded that nature is designed with a purpose. After trying an utterly tasteless apple the size of a plum, my heart panged for the delicious apples of home. (Not everything is meant to be grown everywhere! In fact, if too removed from an original habitat, a species can not only lose flavor, but nutritional value as well. For more on this, read Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan.) For dinner our first evening, we were treated to home cooked churrasco, complete with four different types of grilled meat, two salads, rice, beans, and farofa. The most classic meal anyone can think of in Brazil is churrasco and feijoada, so to have it homemade for the first time was probably the most authentic Brazilian food I´ve experienced thus far. Homemade anything is better in general, but this felt like a treat.
To be honest, I’ve found most of the food in Rio to be slightly underwhelming. Which, after hearing the hype of Brazilian food before I left, was disappointing. I was expecting loads of flavor in meat and bean dishes, tropical salads, and beautiful desserts but instead have gotten plain dishes with too much salt and oil. Most of the time a vegetable isn’t even in the discussion and black pepper is a myth. I have found more French fries and chicken fingers than I ever expected and for the most part, nobody seems to want to deviate. Lots of restaurants offer the same thing at around the same price and they all seem to be doing well in business, which is surprising for me. The picture above is the most common meal I´ve had here which is white rice with black beans, fries, and fried chicken.
Common beers here are called chopp and are the Brazilian equivalent to Budweiser or Coors Light. Guaraná is the soda of choice here, and admittedly is actually very good (think apple juice in soda form). Juice bars are EVERYWHERE in Rio and have every type of fruit you could ever want, ever. At night, the choice drink is cachaça and is mixed into a fruit cocktail called a caipirinha. There are also places similar to buffets here where you pay for food by the kilo. Those tend to have many more options and nutritional diversity, and were the places I made my first brazilian food impressions. Another very fun thing to eat is pizza rodizio, which is all you can eat but in pizza form, and waiters whisk around you with all different types including dessert pizza. Some of the toppings are weird to me still, like minced ham or shrimp, but in general, its a great place to go. Some surprising things I have found is that Brazil really doesn’t have a strong coffee culture, even though the crop grows here, and tapioca is eaten in way more ways than just pudding.
Now, if you’re a Brazilian reading this and are feeling slightly offended, don’t. I’m not saying all Brazilian food is bad! I’ve had amazing, flavorful food here and I’ve learned lots about the Brazilian food system, I’m just saying the “food attitude” in Rio is not as lively as I would have wanted. Throughout my travels to São Paulo and Minas Gerais, my perspective about foodie culture has been challenge greatly. From those trips I now understand that Rio is not a representation of Brazil in terms of food (or anything else for that matter). In Minas I was surprised with the best pão de queijo I’ve ever had, gently shredded chard dishes, preserved fruits, a slew of different stews, and sweet doce de leite paired with soft white Minas cheeses. In São Paulo my mind was literally blown by how good the Japanese food was, French pastries were actually made correctly, and they killed the game at restaurant diversity. A strong food attitude does exist in Brazil, just maybe not in the way I was originally anticipating. I’m sure when I go home this Christmas I will find myself missing some food, excited to return to my new normal surroundings in February. Until then though, I’m excited to return to the land of apples and coffee shops.
Until next time!