Category Archives: Food and health

Saturday in the Park


Sao Paulo is indeed the concrete jungle everyone promised me it would be. Every building follows a different design than its neighbor. It is not uncommon to see a small house between two high rises, connected by an overpass, simply because no one planned out how much space a business might need ahead of time. The city is always in a hurry, and it is no rare occasion that a pedestrian gets run over by a motorcycle flying around the corner, although there is apparently a movement to increase awareness. Throughout the city, there are a number of reprieves from the concrete, if not the madness, in the form of abundant greenspaces scattered throughout. Unlike what I initially thought, however, it turns out that rather than slowing down for the weekend, Paulistanos simply take their intensity to the park.

Yesterday morning, my roommates, Bruna and Maisa, brought me to Ibirapuera, the biggest park in Sao Paulo. Not surprisingly, 19.9 million other people had the same idea, and Maisa tells me it’s far worse when the sun is out. Still, as my almost maniacal smile inIMG_2181 Maisa’s action shot illustrates, it was wonderful to be running with her, far away from the city blocks and the crazy traffic. I had run to Ibirapuera once before from Tammy’s apartment, and, due to all the traffic interruptions, 2.5 miles took me about 40 minutes. This time Maisa drove us there, and it was such a relief to be running in the park where my only limitation was how quickly I could dodge the other runners and walkers. Another immense difference between running in the park versus around the city is due to a tiny, insignificant Sao Paulo fact that no one in the blogospheres seems to mention. Seriously, Sao Paulo bloggers, I want my money back! The fact is, this city is a crazy series of steep peaks and valleys, making even the shortest run a pretty unappealing proposition. My family went to Quebec City earlier this year, and Sao Paulo is actually quite similar, except with three times the area to cover and over 20 times as many people. When I first arrived, the hilly terrain was (and still is) by far the biggest shock.

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Restaurant week!

Fried polenta; middle-eastern hamburger; boteco with typical, blue-tiled walls

I’ll admit I still haven’t figured out how to navigate the restaurant scene here. Although I imagine the US is also very bewildering for foreigners, I maintain that, if only because IMG_2142of the extreme variability in the ways your tab can be tallied, eating out in Sampa is significantly more complicated. My first experience eating out was at Bella Paulista, the fancy bakery near Av. Paulista, just a few hours after I’d groggily stumbled off the plane. Upon entering the bakery, I was confronted with a turnstile and a man in a suit. As if entering a parking garage, my friend pushed a button on a machine next to the turnstyle, and a small plastic card popped out. Seeing that I was at a loss, he pushed it again, and handed me my own plastic card, indicating that I should go through the turnstyle. As I struggled with the turnstyle, the man in the suit handed out plastic cards to the people behind us.

When we entered the bakery, the chaos reminded me of Durham’s hip and super-stressful restaurant/shop/bakeries, “Foster’s” and “Parker and Otis.” However, unlike these places where everything is ordered at various counters around the shop, at Bella, we were seated IMG_1829and brought a menu. When we placed our order of coxinha, pao de queijo and fresh squeezed orange and mango juice (in honor of Paula, of course!), the waitress walked off with our plastic “comandas” (this might be a niche market for aspiring artists who want to expatriate), returning them several minutes later when our food came. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went out to breakfast at a padoca, or bakery/bar, with Tammy that I understood the function of a plastic comanda. This time the card was not required for entry, but we were each handed one when we sat down at the “bar.” When we ordered our grilled pâo de queijo, sprinkled with queijo parmesâo and filled with queijo requejâo (yes, that’s three types of cheese), the man behind the counter grabbed our cards. A few minutes later, when I ordered water, it was only after significant prompting and gesturing from Tammy, that I realized I needed to hand in the plastic comanda again. At the end of our breakfast, we hopped down from the bar and brought our comandas to the register where we were rung up.

Now that’s a classy check!

I think if that’s how all bars, café-type restaurants and padocas here worked, I might just about be able to get the hang of it. However, enough cafés here employ more familiar payment methods, that on the slightly rarer occasions I do need to use a plastic comanda, I am constantly forgetting to give it to the waitress, leaving it at the counter, or not taking it back from the cashier. This last can be particularly fun if there’s a turnstyle, since you also can’t leave the establishment without dropping your “paid” comanda in the slot. And after ordering food at the counter, I’m usually so relieved to have successfully communicated my request, that when the waitress looks at me expectantly, I still have no idea that she’s waiting for me to hand her the comanda.

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Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Borat would have been impressed
Borat would be shocked

It’s really impressive that I’ve made it this long without talking about food! I am even more surprised to find that there is a country in the Americas that appreciates cheese more than the US. In my extensive four-day experience here (I have a feeling there will be lots of food updates in my blogging future) I have found that, if it can be done, cheese, or queijo, will be baked or injected into every snack or meal. Many kinds are available, but the ubiquitous queijo here is Catupiry, a mild, creamy cheese, ideal for its chameleon-like abilities.

My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal
My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal (right)

I tried my first Brazilian snack or salgadinho at Ana’s house a month or so ago. As an appetizer, she had made coxinhas, which are fried drumstick-shaped balls of dough, filled with shredded chicken and catupiry. Piping hot and dipped in hot sauce, how could I not instantly fall in love? I learned the hard way when I made them for my Brazilian party though, that they are also quite time intensive, so I was excited to get to Brazil where I could leave it to the experts. Needless to say, a giant coxinha was an integral part of my first meal here at Bella Paulista. The other component of my first “meal” was pão de queijo. These are, of course, made mainly from cheese (although not catupiry) and cassava flour, making it the ideal healthy gluten free snack, in much the same way that nutella is a healthy part of this complete breakfast. My pão de queijo was served with another white cheese grilled on top, and of course, the first breakfast I ate was parmesan-cheese encrusted bread, smothered in grilled cheese. I am not complaining (queixando?! If only that x were a j, that would be much more clever).

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