Discovering Brazil Through Food

I traveled solo in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year and later met up with my friend Rodrigo in a smaller Brazilian town. Throughout our adventures in Brasilia and Goiás, he introduced me to so many foods that I doubt I would have known about on my own.

For example, he would pick a fruit off a tree and I would stand there watching in shock. When he clearly didn’t die from eating it, I ate it, too (and also didn’t die)!

Some of the new foods I tried are native to Brazil. Others are common elsewhere and eaten the same in Brazil, while some are eaten differently. I’ve included all these foods on my list because they are part of my Brazilian experience, whether I had eaten them before or had never seen them anywhere else…

Corn & Cheese

Pamonha: (aka sweet corn mush) These things are one of my favorite new foods! It’s mashed corn that is served inside the husk, with cheese and butter mixed in. I think cheese is an optional addition. To eat them, you remove the rubber bands from the husk and then peel the many layers of the husk away until you reach all the mashed corn. I laughed when I realized I was mashing mine more with the fork as I ate it, while Rodrigo cut his neatly as he ate it.

Fried Pamonha: I’m not sure what the correct word is for this fried mashed corn. Some had cheese mixed in like the pamonhas.

Pão de Queijo: We would find a supermarket and stock up on these cheesy bread balls in the mornings. Cafe’s also sell these or similar baked goods. Perfect for breakfast or a snack on the go (I didn’t take any photos of these because I ate them too quick)!

Grilled Cheese: We had many grilled cheeses for breakfast before leaving for our adventures each day. We cut french bread, stuffed it with cheese and smushed it into the sandwich press for a few minutes. Rodrigo would add sliced ham to his, I stuck to classic cheesiness.

Fruits

Jamelão Fruit: This cute little purple oval was my favorite fruit! It tastes sort of like a blueberry, but with a similar texture as a cherry. I eat so many blueberries at home, so that could explain why I loved these fruits, too! We would pick a jamelão off a tree, eat the fruit and spit the small pit onto the ground. Each fruit that we splatted onto the stones added to the purple artsy-looking stains splatted by other fruit eaters before us.

Goiaba: I later learned these are called Guava in English… The green skin on this fruit is a soft texture like the juicy pink inside. I was not prepared to see bright pink inside! The seeds are a similar texture to pomegranate seeds with the same kind of gel-like layer surrounding it. The seeds are edible if you happen to eat some when you take a bite, but too hard to purposely eat many.

Ata Fruit: When Rodrigo told me the name of this fruit, I had no clue what he meant. Naturally, I typed it into google translate, but the word did not translate directly from Portuguese. I later typed “ata fruit” into a regular google search and learned it is called a “sugar apple” in English. This particular ata fruit was not ripe enough to eat, so I can’t personally say anything about the taste.

Green Oranges: Oranges with green skin are the best for making juice. If I hadn’t learned about these in Brazil, I would not have thought to look for similar oranges back home to squeeze my own juice from. I have yet to find green oranges in the US (I’ve looked mainly in NYC), but I have found some in an orange/green color. I don’t often squeeze my own oranges because they are more expensive than the packaged orange juice. But once covid-19 started spreading in the US, panic shoppers cleared the shelves of all the good orange juice brands for two months. So I was grateful I had acquired this knowledge when I had to squeeze my own juice.

Coconut Milk: Coconuts are sold by street vendors and you drink straight from the coconut with a straw. I first encountered these in Rio. I think they look comical when carried around, so I would sometimes carry one. I’m not a fan of coconuts though, so I didn’t often drink it.

Beans

Coco Macauba: These nuts grow in large bunches on palm trees. I’m not sure if they can be consumed or, if so, how.

coco macauba

Cacao Bean: These beans are used to make coffee. With Rodrigo’s Brazilian accent, it seems to be pronounced similar to the word “cocaine.” I’m not a fan of coffee, but I definitely wouldn’t want to accidentally bite a drug. So I had to double check with google translate to make sure I heard “cacao.”

Other Foods

Lasagna: Rodrigo’s mom made lasagna for dinner one night. It had cheese, meat, corn and sauce. Corn is a common ingredient in many Brazilian foods, I’ve learned. Even foods like this that are common in the States, do not normally have corn in them (at least not where I grew up).

Burgers: Another food that is common elsewhere. In Brazil, chips are stuffed into burgers for added crunch.

Pastels: Dough is rolled out, stuffed and fried. Some were filled with only cheese, and some also had meats and other ingredients. Rodrigo’s family made these on their farm (stay tuned for a post about my farm experience) and we enjoyed them as an afternoon snack. I was not a fan of the meat ones, but I loved the plain cheese ones!

Pizza: We ordered pizza on my last night in Brazil. One half was “Portuguese pizza,” which has onion, ham, cheese and olives. Apparently it normally has egg, too. I didn’t see or taste any egg on ours, though. I picked the onions off my slices because I don’t liked those in general. Thankfully they were big onion slices and easy to spot.

In Old Forge, Pennsylvania (near where I grew up), the pizza often has tiny onion bits baked into the sauce. One of the many problems with Old Forge “pizza,” in my opinion. It is impossible to pick all the onions out. I have tried and failed every time. Even if you don’t see any or if you order pizza without onions, you will inevitably feel the crunch of hidden onions in at least one bite.

Farm Lunch: Before our pastel snack, we had a big lunch that included vegetables, fish, noodles and rice. I drank pink goiaba juice for the first time! It tastes similar to fruit punch in the States, but healthier and not overly sweet.

The farm cats kept meowing at us for scraps of our food. Eventually, someone threw them a bone with some meat on it and two of the cats fought over it. One cat was a lot skinnier than the other, so the bigger one easily won the food.

Sugar

Sugar Cane Juice: At the stand where we got fried pamonhas, they also sold sugar cane juice. They used a big grinder to make the juice. It was too sugary for me, but Rodrigo loves it!

Ameixa de Queijo Caseira: I’m not certain if that is the actual name for these snacks, but it’s what the box said! They tasted like sugary cheese balls, which I thought was a weird combination of ingredients. I was not a fan.

Meats

Raw Meat: Raw meat is popular in Brazil. Most often, I was offered it as a snack at someone’s house. I am an especially picky eater with meat, so I couldn’t bring myself to eat it raw. Even at home, I have to eat it well done to banish the thought of getting worms, or some other infection or disease.

Chicken soup: On my last day in Brazil, we went to a local food festival in Jaraguá. They sold many meats, fruits and vegetables. They also sold drinks and ready to eat foods. One of these was chicken soup served in a plastic cup. The cup was really hot because of the soup inside, so we held it with napkins while eating. I think those chip things on top were pork rinds. They were not crunchy enough and also not soft enough for my taste, especially in soup. I expected them to be similar to croutons, but they were not.

Chicken Hearts: A new food I tried at the food festival was a chicken heart. I use the word “tried” lightly because I spit it out fast. I couldn’t bite through the skin casing, probably because of my relatively weak teeth. I normally can’t eat sausages, hot dogs and other meats with similar skin casings. Though it is also possible that the thought of a chicken heart in my mouth contributed to my inability to bite it.

Of all the places I have visited so far, Brazil has offered me the most variety of new foods and new ways to enjoy old favorites! Some foods I will crave when at home (where they are unlikely to be available), and others I doubt I will try again.

After this coronavirus pandemic ends, I look forward to exploring more new places and discovering even more foods! Have you discovered any new foods (good or bad) throughout your travels, whether near your home or across the globe?

Up next: Part III of my Gioás, Brazil trilogy; my week in Peru; my last pre-pandemic European trip; NYC life updates

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