Tag Archives: Eating out

A day in Liberdade

Somehow Bruna and Maisa have a sixth sense for knowing when I’m feeling lonely or sad. A few weeks ago, when I was having a particularly difficult weekend, Bruna messaged me Sunday morning, asking me if I wanted to take a walk down Paulista and grab lunch with her and Caio. Of course I jumped at the offer both to spend time with this sweet couple and to also force myself to get out of the house.

Upon my request, we headed to “Shopping 3,” where it appeared that half the city of Sao IMG_2762Paulo had flocked to look over the temporary stands that are set up every Sunday. Caio confirmed my estimate, explaining that, in the absence of a coast, Sao Paulo’s 40+ “shoppings” are the city’s answer to a weekend beach trip (Maisa had abandoned us for the real beach that weekend). Thus we spent a happy hour, meandering through the stands, Caio and Bruna helping me carefully pick out souvenirs. Upon leaving the shopping mall, Caio suggested that we wander around Liberdade, the city’s “Little Japan.” While I am not partial to sushi (way too ditzy for a gordinha like me), I was excited to see this famous neighborhood, which houses the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan.

Why, you might ask, are there so many Japanese-Brazilians living in Sao Paulo today? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is essentially coffee and slavery. After the slave trade was abolished mid-19th IMG_3316century, the Brazilian government offered subsidized immigration to Europeans in an effort to address the shortage of “cheap” labor. This resulted in a massive influx of Italians who continued to arrive until 1902 when the Italian government banned subsidized immigration to Brazil due to poor working conditions. This then paved the way for the arrival of Japanese immigrants who, having recently been released from feudalism into extreme poverty, were eager to own land and make a better life for themselves. When World War I began shortly thereafter, many countries such as the US prohibited Japanese immigration, thus further increasing the Japanese presence in Brazil. Although now, 100 years after the first Japanese immigrants arrived, the Japanese population is dwindling, the culture has still left an indelible mark on the Brazilian way of life, especially at the dinner table.

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“Flavors” of home

Biscoito de polvilho (com quiejo) = a chance to eat cheese puffs without the guilt!

Anytime you move to a new country, it is totally normal to miss not only your friends but also certain creature comforts of your home country. As much as I enjoyed the food in Seville, when I was returning home, all I wanted was to eat a pound of peanut butter and something not fried or sautéed in olive oil. This time around has felt a little different, however. Perhaps this is because I had mentally prepared for everything to be really different, so when I am successfully able to find something, I am pleasantly surprised, but I think it has more to do with the difference in place and time period. Brazil is extremely interested in American culture and, as such, many “American” products are available here, although sometimes they are produced by Brazilian companies. In addition, a lot can change in ten years; for better or for worse, products that were once confined to their country of origin, are now ubiquitous, especially in major international cities such as Sao Paulo. I say this because on the one hand, it takes away some of the charm of bringing back something unique for a loved one, but on the other, it makes transitioning into a new language and culture a little bit easier.

The biggest difference for me however, has been being able to cook for myself here. Not that I don’t want to learn Brazilian dishes (and I’m excited because Maisa told me she would teach me how to make a simple savory pie-type thing I can try to replicate at home over Christmas. Durhamites everywhere, beware!), but as an alternative to grabbing a tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying “salgadinho” from a padoca every day, it has been a huge relief to do more cooking over the past few weeks. It took me a little bit of time to get started (ok, like 6 weeks!), but I was investing this time in learning what ingredients/foods are readily available, the Portuguese translations for certain spices, where to go for certain less-common ingredients and what I can reasonably make without my extensive arsenal of kitchen appliances. This led me to a lot of fun and interesting blogs online, and I plan to devote more blog posts just to cooking and grocery shopping in Sao Paulo in the hopes that it will be interesting and maybe even help another clueless soul. For today though, here are the top five foods that have been the most challenging to find or go without in Sao Paulo.

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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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