I arrived in Brazil tired, hungry, and overwhelmed. It was the 26th of 26 countries after nearly 365 days of traveling, and the strings keeping me grounded, happy and alert were starting to fray. I teetered slowly down the street, the humidity slowly suffocating my tired shoulders, the quiet of the street in the early morning serving as the calm before the daily storm of endless activity.
Eventually, I arrived at the street where my couchsurfing host lived. I looked up at the building towering above me, noticing the worn outer walls decorated with mossy branches, and assaulted by overgrown tree limbs. “Just message me when you get here,” my host said on WhatsApp before I got on my plane from Buenos Aires. I cursed at myself for assuming there would be any easy way to access WiFi around me. I’d been in South America enough to know that things don’t open early, and 9 am is definitely considered early. I sat down on the sidewalk, needing to give my shoulders a rest from my pack. I noticed as I sat there that the city smelled hot, like it too, was suffocating underneath the people and the overgrown trees. It was in between breaths that I also smelled the sweet scents of a bakery mixing with the faint smells of simmering meat, the hint of daily recipes, a quiet but essential undercurrent keeping the city alive. Maybe some people – the bakers, chefs and food artisans – were awake … they just hadn’t opened themselves to the chaos of the city yet.
As I always did in a new country, I settled in within a couple of days. The blocks around my temporary abode became familiar, the corner fruit stand and crumbling sidewalk a welcome sign that I was close to a temporary reprieve from the heat and humidity. I toured the must-see sights around Rio de Janiero, including Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana Beach, and Escadaria Selaron. I also found myself wandering through quieter neighborhoods, peering in dusty windows of bookshops skipped over by passersby.
Eventually, I made my way to Sao Paulo, an endless concrete jungle that is one of those cities that might easily be skipped over, but has so much to offer for those who are willing to enter the concrete labyrinth. Admittedly, from the top it looks gray and sterile, but from below is decorated with incredible street art and trendy yet approachable restaurants serving some of Brazil’s finest delicacies.
Which brings me to some of the most memorable moments of Brazil: food.
As I wandered through the country, enraptured by the art, music, colors and smells that dictated the feeling of each distinct neighborhood, food was always in the background. How could it not be?
From feilojada to perfectly barbequed meat, to acai, my mouth watering from the scents and sights of classic Brazilian dishes pulled me forward on even the hottest and most humid of days.
For breakfast, I would find fresh acai sorbet, topped with granola, banana and coconut flakes, the sweetness of the whipped and frozen berries opening all of my taste buds simultaneously. The bowls were so deliciously refreshing that it was oftentimes hard not to have an audible response to the morning treat.
Barbecued meat was on the menu for lunch. At the time I was traveling, I was almost entirely vegetarian, but found myself having to make some concessions in order to enjoy all of the culinary offerings of cities, especially in South America; both Argentina and Brazil claim to hold top prize for their meat-cooking capabilities. In Brazil, “premium cuts are seasoned with no more than a liberal shake of coarse salt, before being grilled to perfection over charcoal.” And these delicious but heavy meats were the perfect precursor to an afternoon siesta.
Afternoon snacks were frequent – walking miles and miles around Brazil’s expansive cities worked up an appetite. Brigadeiros – Brazil’s chocolate truffle – in all of their intoxicating sweetness – were almost always what I would find to satiate me.
Brazil is a country that travelers can keep going back to time and time again, and find something new to discover every single time. And, you don’t have to go all the way to Brazil to get a small taste of what it’s culinary pride has to offer. Cafe Brazil in Denver, located in the Berkeley neighborhood at 44th and Lowell, offers Denverites a taste a Brazilian cuisine from the comfort of our own backyard:
“Highlighting dishes from Bahia in Northern Brazil as well as many specialties from the coast of Colombia, Cafe Brazil offers you the best of both land and sea, creating a marriage of freshness and flavor which can only be described as “mouthwatering.” Cafe Brazil brings South America to your plate and palate.”
Next time you’re in the mood to “travel locally” give Cafe Brazil a call, and allow them to transport you to South America, if only for a night:
Cafe Brazil Address: 4408 Lowell Blvd. Denver, CO. 80211.
Cafe Brazil Phone Number: 303-480-1877
Hours of Operation: Wednesday-Saturday, 5pm-9pm. Takeout starting at 3:30pm
To read some of our other blog posts, please go to https://www.thesameplate.com/journal/0