...to eat and drink out here in Brazil.
If you ever visit a country that has endured long periods of poverty in its past (and let's face it, most countries have) be wary of sampling that ubiquitous dish which is accompanied by the phrase, local delicacy or worse still, national dish. It will almost certainly involve the least aesthetically pleasing organs from the local beast of burden served up on a bed of congealed carbohydrate of indeterminate origin. In Brazil it's called feijoada and is a stew of beef and pork products and beans, commonly served with rice. I have no intention of going anywhere near it.
But then I have no intention of going anywhere near a lot of things. Partly because our kitchenware and crockery are still in a container in the nearby port of Santos, and partly because I'm a fairly lazy chef at the best of times, our diet out here has been somewhat straightforward and monotonous for the past three months. We eat a lot of pizza, a lot of scrambled eggs and a lot of rice-and-prawn-mush. Which is sad really, seeing as how one of the major attractions of São Paulo is supposed to be the huge variety of international food on offer here. If you want it, local delicacies included, there's bound to be a restaurant serving it out there somewhere.
But we don't eat out. Well Helen does, very often, and in some of the nicest and poshest places around, but that's because she has to go and meet people in these sorts of places for work and I'm sure it's nowhere near as nice when you're having to interview people between mouthfulls. But as a family, we generally don't bother eating out because it's just too much grief. Firstly, I'm a teetotal vegetarian - not ideal in a land of wine and beef. Added to this is the fact that I have the most unadventurous palette imaginable. I've seen rare steaks with more life in them than my taste buds. As for the children, David is very much of the "What is it? Don't like it!" school of dining and will happily eat anything at all as long as it's bread. James, on the other hand, is like Helen. He really will eat anything, especially if you have to drain the blood from it first, or if you can still see the suckers on the tentacles. Sadly, he only enjoys going to places he can actually see from the house and for him, a walk of more than five minutes is really not worth the food at the end of it.
Even if we never eat out though, I have managed to add a few local items to my limited diet. First off is watermelon. It's certainly not unique to Brazil, but it's as cheap as anything and available all year round. I buy a quarter of a watermelon every couple of days and we have it for breakfast every morning. Yum.
Pão de queijo (pan dje kay-joo) or cheese bread is my standard lunch. 200g is a modest helping, so I tend to go for 300g and shovel it in. If you're lucky and get it at the right time, it's deliciously warm and light and fluffy. When it's cold it gets a bit chewier but it's still fabulous. You can get it pretty much anywhere and although I tend to buy it in the local supermarket for convenience, most cafés do it better. Surprisingly, the best I've tasted so far was at a tiny food counter at the local headquarters of the Federal Police while I was waiting for my paperwork to be processed. Possibly it wasn't actually as good as I remember, but by the time I got to eat it, I'd been there so long anything short of the paperwork itself would have tasted great. Anyway, here's a photo of the supermarket variety, artfully displayed on a plastic plate as our proper plates are sitting in a container... you get the idea.
And of course you need something to wash it down with. In Brazil, the soft drink of choice is Guarana, a mild-flavoured fizzy drink which contains enough caffeine to make coffee seem like a nice bedtime drink. Apparently, Brazilians drink more of it than they do Coke which perhaps explains why no one seems to put their children to bed until well after ten o'clock at night, even when they have to be up at six the following morning. I try not to drink too much of it these days as I think it gives me palpitations (see earlier blog for details) but it's way too nice to give up altogether.
But for me the clear winner among the local newcomers has to be this...
It's called açaí na tigela com banana batida (acai in a bowl with mashed banana) which is my preferred variation, although you can also have it with chopped banana instead, or strawberry, or mango. It's basically frozen berries blended into a pulp and mixed with your fruit of choice. It's like really rich, smooth, ice cream but is full of fruity goodness instead of dairy badness. We discovered it on our trip out here last November and the best place we've found to buy it is a little juice bar right next to the hotel we stayed in. It's a bit of a walk from the house, but well worth the effort and I sometimes go out of my way to go and have a bowl for my lunch. And best of all, it's a big hit with the boys as well. James loves it because it's like having a dessert for your main course and David loves it because even if it isn't bread, at least it's purple.
So, my diet now encompasses all the essential food groups...