Author's Note: Thanks to the Brazil Tourism Board and Semana Mesa, I got the chance to check out the food and drink of Sao Paolo last month. Here are a few of the highlights of my trip.
I recently spent five days eating my way through Sao Paulo, Brazil, where, in addition to consuming many thousands of delicious calories, I got a crash course in essential Brazilian ingredients.
If your only real experience with Brazilian food has been the churrascaria, you might assume eating in Brazil means all meat, all the time. Meat certainly plays a large (and delicious) role but understanding the cuisine means getting acquainted with other key ingredients as well. To the extent that one can generalize, the basic philosophy is something along the same lines the churrascaria imparts: food is meant to be enjoyed, and it should be rich, satisfying, and packed with flavor. Why go small when you can go big? (And in many cases, why not add extra butter when you can add extra butter?)
This "go big or go home" philosophy centers around flavors and on making dishes comforting and satisfying while still being creative. Sao Paulo chefs in particular have a huge number of influences to work with—the city is known as Brazil's food capital and offers excellent examples of the country's Portuguese, African, Italian, and Japanese influences, not to mention the differing regional cuisines within Brazil itself. As in other countries, chefs are focusing more and more on sustainability, and often advertise what region their ingredients hail from, and sometimes the specific farm or producer.
No matter how a chef might choose to use manioc, beef, or cheese, the best results are often simply prepared and showcase the fresh, high quality of the ingredient. Adding a spoonful of hot peppers or a dusting of crunchy, salty farofa should be accentuating a dish, not distracting from it. Extra points if it goes well with a caipirinha.
The appreciation for complementary flavors and textures was a given across the culinary landscape of Sao Paulo, from the haute cuisine to the street food. I never stopped seeing new ingredients, but here are nine that provided a useful, delicious introduction to the staples of Brazilian cuisine.
And for dessert? 10 Great Sweets from Sao Paulo »