Bom Apetite! A Bunch of Brazilian Bites

Since my first visit to Brazil in 2007, it occurred to me that I still didn’t know much about the culinary landscape in that massive country.  Sure, there’s the crowd-pleasing açaí, and the churrascaria that makes you walk at a 90-degree angle after indulging a bit too much, but what else is there?  A second visit to Brazil in 2016, via Manaus to visit Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro, helped me learn just a bit more about the vast Brazilian culinary landscape.

Manaus, Brazil - Cupuaçu Juice
How nice of them to place it in a measuring cup; is that how nutrition labels are done in Brazil?

As I mentioned above, my layover in Manaus – the largest city in the Amazon basin – was not only long, but also from 22:30 ’til about 05:00.  With those hours, and without having visited the city before, I decided to wander around the mostly deserted streets looking for snacks to check off the list.

Finally, I ended up at some casual late-night outdoor cafeteria with a welcome list of tropical fruit juices and shakes.  Though acerola was tempting, it’s rather easy to find added to drinks in Japanese convenience stores.  So, cupuaçusem/não açúcar (without/no sugar, as usual) was the easy choice.

It wasn’t a terribly memorable flavor though.  Somewhat creamy, slightly sweet and sour, but nothing too inspired.  What the heck, Amazon??  Even the Brazilian tap water had more going on.

Next.

Pão de Queijo Manaus Brazil
Pão de Queijo, Manaus Airport, Brazil

Pão de queijo, aka cheese bread, usually made from cassava flour and Minas cheese.

This is by no means an ad for the above chain; it wasn’t good.  However, it’s my only surviving photo of pão de queijo, taken at a time where sleep had been missing from my schedule for nearly 36 hours.

In short, they’re savory.  They’re addictive.  They’re unhealthy.  Demorou! (Heck, yeah!)

No wonder they made it onto the list.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Brigadeiro
Brigadeiros desserts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

BrigadeirosSupposedly, they were created at a time when fresh milk and sugar were hard to come by, so someone decided to mix sweetened condensed milk, butter, and chocolate.  But then, what was in the chocolate?

In any event, these too, are difficult to stop eating.  If they were all mashed together into one giant pie, I wouldn’t have even tried them this time.  Damn their convenient take-away size.

Tapioca Vegetarian Sandwich Açai Shake
Tapioca Vegetarian Sandwich and Açai Shake, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A couple of friends had mentioned that I should check out a casual Rio chain called polis sucos to have a glass of açaí.

After trying it a few times during that trip, I really didn’t take to açaí. The flavor transported me more to the Pacific Northwest of the US – which is usually a good thing for food – than to anywhere tropical, though it was by no means as dull as the cupuaçu.  Also, the tapioca sandwich was grainy and probably has a cousin in sandpaper.

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil - Churrascaria
Churrascaria (Brazilian All-You-Can-Eat), Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Thankfully, the exchange rate between US dollars and Brazilian reais was still favorable.  Consequently, I had to try one of the all-you-can-eat barbecue places.  In addition to the numerous cuts/types of meat, they also had some Lebanese/Syrian and Japanese items, likely due A) to the influences on Brazil by immigrants from those countries, and B) to common places of origin of tourists.  The drink is cashew apple juice.


Do you think a comida foi na moral (the food was better than expected)? What would you try?

The Borojó Fruit (Ecuador)

market borojo fruit
Borojo (Borojó) Fruit, Mercado Santa Clara, Quito, Ecuador

I have good food memories of the Mercado Santa Clara (Santa Clara Market) in Quito, Ecuador.  Not only did I try a delicious ceviche with fresh squeezed lime, I added a new food to my glossary, the borojó.

The borojó is native to rainforests in Ecuador and Colombia in South America, and has also been found growing in Panama.  The etymology of the word comes from the Emberá (aka Chocó) language, in which boro means “head,” and {ne-}jo is “fruit.” Borojó requires constant high humidity, plenty of rain, and warm temperatures, hence being relatively limited to the tropical climate zones of northwestern South America. Its trees can reach heights of up to ~16 feet, and last for roughly 4 years (via Candelaestereo).

Among its culinary uses, the fruit is generally mixed with milk and sugar to produce marmalades and preserves, and makes for a good batido (shake) if you you blend it up with coconut milk.  For more moribund purposes, it is used to embalm corpses in Atrato and San Juan, Colombia, and for budding casanovas, it has mythical aphrodisiacal properties.

In terms of health benefits, borojó contains a good deal of phosphorous – useful for your teeth, bones and much, much more – amino acids, protein, and vitamins C & B.

Want to try it?  It’s a cumbersome fruit, so I recommend you either visit South America, or try a bottle of this.


Have you heard of the borojó?

Jabuticaba, or the Brazilian Grapetree

Native to the Brazilian states of  Minas Gerais, Goiás and São Paulo, the jabuticaba, jaboticaba, or Brazilian grapetree (species Plinia cauliflora), is known for fruit that bear purplish skin and whitish pulp; interestingly, the fruit grows right on the bark. Jabuticaba a tropical tree that thrives in sunlight, reaching nearly 10-33 feet at its highest; yet, it is also commonly found among bonsai collections. The name comes from an extinct Brazilian language called Tupi, whereas jaboti means tortoise and caba means place; though, others have translated the meaning to be “like turtle fat,” in reference to the jabuticaba’s white pulp.

Jabuticaba (Brazilian grapetree) 嘉宝果 – Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China*

Unusually, I first noticed the jabuticaba in Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China, a place most famous for its innumerable quartzite sandstone columns.  Walking through a local market, I encountered the 嘉宝果 (jiābǎoguǒ), or “joyful treasure fruit.”  If you’re wondering how that name was chosen for a food native to Brazil, my suspicion is that the 嘉宝/jiābǎo was nearly homophonous to the “jabu” of jabuticaba, and in keeping with Chinese naming practices for foreign words, it sounded like a lucky coincidence.  It grows in subtropical parts of China, namely in parts of Guangdong, Yunnan, and Fujian provinces.

I asked the vendor for a taste, and sure enough, the fruit tasted like grape candy.  Jabuticaba are often eaten raw, are used in preserves, and to make liquor.

*In case you were wondering, the first two characters of the description of the fruit are 深山 (shēnshān), which simply means “deep in the mountains.”

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