Brazil 101 – Culture + Food

It’s a touchy subject…

It’s well-known that Latino culture is warm, vivacious, and hospitable. Brazilians are no different. This becomes evident in a myriad of situations. It means personal space is much tighter than in North America, sometimes non-existent, sometimes personal space bubbles overlap. It means niceness is politeness and not flirtation. It means greetings with a kiss to the cheek, regardless of gender, especially among the younger generation. It means friendly touches are just that, friendly.

Don’t read into light touches, warm hugs, and friendly attention. This may be nothing more than polite attentiveness. Obviously, there are boundaries. Anything that makes you uncomfortable, make it known. Be polite, but firm.

Brazilians are hospitable, going out of their way to accommodate their guests. Are you a vegan? There will be no animal products served during your stay. If these are at all consumed, it will not be in your presence.

You declined the first and second offer for something? You’re shy; you’re being polite. We’ll continue pressing until you relent.

Don’t take advantage of this. Be extra mindful of your hosts, as they will do everything to accommodate you, and you may not notice when you are actually stepping on toes or making things extra inconvenient for them. If you really do not want something, again, be polite but firm.

Obviously, there will always be exceptions. It’s quite possible this wasn’t or won’t be your experience. These are just a few good things to keep in mind. Come back later and tell me what you actually experienced!

Eat all the things…

Travel with an adventurous palate. Brazilian cuisine is relatively mild with no extreme spices. But everything is well-seasoned and flavorful. The season will most often dictate what’s on the table, and here is my most important message:

Try all the fruits, all the vegetables. Brazil is a tropical country, exporting plenty of fruits and vegetables and importing very few. If you have the opportunity, visit a farmer’s market (feira) or produce stand (quitanda). This is where produce should be bought. You will likely be surprised at the bounty of produce varieties you find at a single neighborhood grocer. And if you visit a CEASA (essentially a supplier’s marketplace) you will be able to choose from a wide assortment of tropical fruits.

Most produce will be naturally imperfect, a nod to how things are grown. Every time I go to Brazil, I end up eating to my heart’s content and still losing weight, because the produce is real, bountiful, fresh, and local. My body always feels the difference. You try!

There are a handful of banana varieties (like how we have apple varieties in North America). Try them all and pick a favorite! You will likely find papayas, guava, mangoes, mandarins, passion fruit, fresh coconuts, and others you may never have heard of like: acerola, jabuticabas, and graviolas. Remember, in most stores, the season will determine what you find. If you’re looking for something specific and out of season, ask a local.

September is springtime in Brazil. Fruits in season will be graviolas, cashews (the fruit), coconuts, mandarins, grapes, some mangoes, bananas, and more.

Also, try something with heart of palm at least once.

Ok, so that’s the healthy part. Now, if you’re not so much into being healthy as you are into trying the local fare…here’s some more. Try: coxinha, pastel de feira, pão de queijo, pamonhas, esfihas, tapiocas, and churros. Also, try Guaraná if you drink pop.

Eat to your heart’s content. You can start the diet as soon as you land back home!

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