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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Feijoada

Some less Brazil-specific finger foods I’ve enjoyed over my first few days are arancini, which likely contained catupiry, and fried chicken, which sadly I’m pretty sure did not. I am a little concerned about my arteries here. Many of the snacks are fried, although less heavily so than in the US, and the national dish is Feijoada, a stew of black beans, various beef and pork products, and lots of fat. Add to that the fact that eating sweets is clearly an obligatory cultural experience, as opposed to the indulgence I at least tried to pretend it was at home, and I will be unrecognizable even before I dive into my mom’s Christmas cookies this December. It’s ok though because I did eat a vegetable this week, and all the fruit juice here at least is actually juice from real fruit—weird, right?

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Arancini with hot sauce

I’m lucky that I didn’t choose a country that requires expertise with the use of flat chopsticks or anything like that, but there are always minor differences between countries in the way people eat. Given all the nutritious finger food I’ve been eating, one of the first things I’ve noticed is that snacks are usually eaten directly out of the napkin so as not to soil the hands. This method seems far superior to the American approach of just saying, “screw it,” I’ll wash my hands after I’m done getting ketchup all over them, but I’m currently having trouble with the logistics. While I’m capable of doing this at first, I have absolutely no idea how anyone eats the last few bites without also biting into a hefty portion of napkin. Clearly I’ve been focusing way too much on learning the wrong things before arriving.

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The search is on: are these SPs best answer to digestive biscuits?

There are also multiple differences in the ordering and paying processes themselves, but I’ll save those for another day—maybe in 3 months when I actually understand them myself! Before arriving here I’d heard that the food, in general, is good but pretty mild and a little on the salty side, maybe because of all the cheese? It’s only my first week here, but I’m already excited to sample every candy and cheese product I can get my hands on, you know, as a necessary part of my cultural education. With regard to my arteries, my friends here tell me I’ll be ok because of all the walking, and yesterday, after I declined dessert, a waiter asked me if my husband had ever told me I was fat. I had to agree; I’ve never had a husband tell me I’m fat so I think I’ll carry on with the great Brazilian food experiment.

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From top: “paçoca wars” round 1; Rejane, Ana and Lidy with mousse de maracuja; and homemade brigadeiros

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