Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Curitiba
Upon our return to the hotel, some of us walked to a mall that is parallel to our hotel for some waters and to check out a Brazilian mall. It reminded me of a cross between mall, flea market, and outdoor South American market. Tons of people walking about with the happy chatter of the Portuguese-language all about us; loud electronic stores and car salesman of some sort trying to sell us an odd-looking VW by the food-court. Oddly, people keep speaking Portuguese to Ashley. I think everyone thinks she’s Brazilian. I know it seems crazy – but I think she does look a little like the blonde-haired, fashionable glasses-wearing Brazilians that maybe one doesn’t see as much in comparison to who they’d typically imagine seeing when thinking of a Brazilian. Anywho – we hit a store called “Americanas” which is basically a small store modeled after a Wal-mart of sorts. It’s set up like a Wal-mart, only completely condensed into a store the size of a small apartment. Nonsensical flying helicopter kits are setup across from chocolate bars, next to the underwear for boys and potato chips. We grab our waters and head out.
Dinner is a very short walk from the hotel, and alongside basically everyone but Nick (he was sleeping), we head into a local Churrascaria. This is what one imagines when thinking Brazil-chow, dudes in dress-shirts and vests with sword-skewers of delicious animal, carving it off onto your plate until you have heart-failure or have developed gout. All you can eat you say? This seems to be my kind of country.
There is a salad bar – and Paolo and I think that maybe it ain’t such a bad idea to get some fruit and vegetables in to balance all that meat-feasting out. They had hearts of palm, broccoli, beans covered in farofa, potato and vegetable salads, ubiquitous black beans and rice, and lots more in the healthy-department. Before I even take my seat, a dude in full chefs-whites comes by with a drink cart with a bowl of limes and some bottles of cachaça (sugar cane rum) and I know exactly what he’s here for. I raise my hand and say “yes please!”
It is well known that I am into a good cocktail. I have had my share of cocktails all over the world in speakeasies and cocktail bars and New American restaurants and all that (Brazilian) jazz. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink. It consists of limes, sugar, and sugar cane rum. I’ve tried it in a couple spots around the world – never Brazil. The caipirinha I drank at this steakhouse whose name escaped me was – and I state this with no exaggeration – the best cocktail I’ve ever had. Ever. Flavor-wise, it lies somewhere in between a margarita, mojito, and aviation? With just three ingredients – a liquor, sweet, and an acid – it’s about as simple as you get when speaking in terms of cocktails. Imagine the first time you had a lemonade as a kid on a hot summer day… it’s like that.
I remember when I was really young, in the summer time, I was doing a project on the planets of the universe… working diligently away as a third or second-grader does, when my mom brings in a snack of sour cream and onion chips and fresh home-made lemonade. The salty snack washed down with sugary, lemony, icy beverage was a flavor that still sparks memory to this day. That’s what that caipirinha was like. Drinking lemonade for the first time in your life on a hot day after working non-stop and eating something salty. Hopefully that makes sense.
Back to Brasilia and the steakhouse. Skewers of chicken wings, sausages, beef, ham, tongue, chicken hearts, spicy sausage, linguiça and special cuts basically keep coming by until you wave the dudes away. Everything is grilled simply – maintaining key emphasis on the flavor of the meat. Salt and grill-char open the introductory flavor of each cut, and every once in a while you get a piece of meat that stands out – the ham was otherworldly. Salty, porky, cured and grilled. The chicken hearts were for the Asians only at our table (Ken and I (Ken is Filipino)) and man were they good. The sugary, limey, icy, perfect caipirinhas couldn’t have been a better match for the protein-feast; I put down around 4 or so by the end of dinner.
Besides the carnivorous flesh, there were farofa de ovo e cebolinha (scrambled eggs with farofa), fries, and a cheese-filled empanada of sorts. Trying Brazilian desert for the first time was something special too – a heavy emphasis on sugar was the key feature of the sweets. Sugary sweet was the flan and caramel/coconut pastey-pudding; tropical fruit terrines and mixtures and an açai pudding were also offered – all fantastic.
Meat coma. We all have a couple more caipirinhas and call it a night.