Feijoada to Pot of `Everything Fried’: Eating in Brazil, January 2007

We lucked into our best Brazilian meals in a surprising place…a German-style restaurant in a tourist town. A patio thick with palm trees, attracted us to Foz do Iguaçu’s Bier Garten. Good food at cheap prices kept us coming back.
It was at the Bier Garten that David got to try Brazil’s national dish, a stew of pork and black beans known as feijoada. Perfectly cooked rice accompanied the rich stew. We also got a side of collard greens, cooked just enough to lose their bitter edge, with chunks of crisp bacon mixed in.
Rounding out the meal were a ripe orange and a lightly fried banana. Plenty of food for two people, this meal cost about U.S. $15.
A nice waiter tried the next night to explain the different cuts of meat available. When our Portuguese failed, he drew a cow on a napkin and marked sections with dotted lines. He tried his German, which he later told us that he learned from his grandparents. David has only a few words of German, and me, none. We just went in the end with something that our waiter seemed most enthusiastic about.
It turned out to be a T-bone steak. While maybe not the thickest slab of beef we’ve ever seen, it was delicious and big enough for both of us. It cost less than $U.S 10.

No Pig Deserves This

Our meals disappointed on many other days. We’d tried to find a good dinner our last night in São Paulo. We ordered what was listed as a tender pork dish at a pretty restaurant. We were served a pot of fried pork rinds with bits of pork meat fried into leathery strips.
No pig deserves such an ignoble end, robbed of all grease and flavor. There was at least some consolation for my husband in this dish. It was a meal about which I had nothing nice to say.
David doesn’t like rain, which we’d seen quite a bit in Brazil, and loves a good meal for a good price. We’d seen very few of those. I’m an optimist and an optimist who liked Brazil more each week. I was feeding on the sound of its Portuguese, the most warm and playful of the Romance languages to my ear. That put me in a forgiving mood.
While David complained a steady diet of sandwiches, I’d note that the bread was invariably fresh and tasty. An earlier three-hour search for a good dinner out in São Paulo ended with us grabbing roast chicken from a 24-hour place near our hotel. I pointed out that the chicken had been well marinated, as we ate it in our hotel suite’s dated and bland living room.
We’d had to grab dinner at the bus station in Florianópolis. I still wonder whether the kids working at the counter were joking when they served us sandwiches of tough meat, cold boiled eggs and peas and corn. I told David I was glad to see the vegetables, as we hadn’t had many of them lately, and proceeded to pick out the yellow kernels and soft green peas for my dinner.
You can imagine how this grated on David, and how it felt for him to finally see me crack over the pot of everything fried.

“Taste—And Price”

David and I are more chowhound than gourmets. We love to find great food for a reasonable price in a nice setting. Last year, we had a cab driver in Singapore with the same standards. Food soon became the topic of our ride, which may not be an uncommon thing in Singapore. He looked in the rear view mirror as he asked us what had been our favorite meal in the city “by taste —and price:” Few weeks have passed since without David or me repeating that line…”by taste and price.”

Our poor results in São Paulo bothered me most. People there seem the most serious of the Brazilians. That would put them at the nexus of wanting a bargain while demanding pleasure from their meals. You just know there is good food in São Paulo “by taste —and price.”
We just didn’t know where you find it. That’s why we didn’t try one of Brazil’s specialties, the endless procession of grilled meats served on swords called rodizio, during our trip. We got recommendations from a São Paulo man during a game of cards on the roof deck of our hotel for inexpensive rodizio. None of these places looked like a great deal. And, there would be little thrill in spending $U.S100 at one of São Paulo’s finer rodizio places, and much risk that the experience wouldn’t measure up to our last one.
I’d taken David a few years earlier for his first rodizio. We ate at a good place in Newark’s Ironbound district, an old Portugues neighborhood that has welcomed a lot of Brazilians lately. It cost about $U.S. 25 or 30 a person for slice after slice of excellent meat–tender beef following things such as spiced sausage, served with sides such as bacon-greased greens.

Street Food

Our trip to Brazil did end on a high note, foodwise. We headed to the Sunday food festival in Brazil’s Japanese district, Liberdade, on Jan. 14 before heading to the airport. We spent about 15 minutes checking out the food at the booths and seeing what people were eating from their disposable plates.
We ended up each with a steamed dumpling that was filled with vegetables and meat. We also split a light fluffy bun designed to sop up the different sauces available. Our food tasted of soy, something like tamarind, ginger. It tasted like the colors orange, gold, green and red. It tasted good-and filled us up for less than $U.S. 10.

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