Brazil, July 2012, Em Breve

Estou cansada. Excuse me, I meant to say I’m tired. Muito. Very.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been in Brazil (now you’re saying “poor baby”. I know, I know).  I’m here to work. Together with chef and activist extraordinaire, Teresa Corção, I’m plugging away at my first cookbook (Okay, I’m not really plugging away. I’m not much of a plugger. Work on this book so far has been more like fast and furious spurts and then lulls that make me anxious. Needless to say, Brazil, as much as I love it, can test this New Yorker’s patience), which documents the foundational role of the manioc root (also known as cassava, yuca and tapioca, depending on where you are in the world) in Brazil’s diverse cuisines.   

Luckily for me, I’ve folded my passion for food, stories, history and travel into my (nascent) career. And I’ve been afforded some incredible adventures because of it. But still, trying to cram in enough to give me fodder for the next six months of work on the book, coupled with being on the road and switching languages constantly, has left me tuckered out.

Now that I’m at the tail end of the trip, though, I realize I haven’t written a single word about my time here.

So here’s the whirlwind synopsis of my travels with a map to help with the geography: Teresa met me in the Rio airport after a red-eye from New York. We got on another plane to Salvador de Bahia. We spent one night there, supping at Beto Pimentel’s legendary Paraiso Tropical, then spent the night at our host Chef Tereza Paim’s house before hitting the road for the interior. We drove and stopped to eat, drove and stopped to talk, drove and stopped to shop. We visited the riverside city of Cachoeira and then spent the night in a small pousada in Valença, Bahia. The next day we drove some more. Visited more. Ate some more. We waited two hours in a seemingly endless line of cars to take the ferry back to Salvador. We spent one night back at Tereza’s place, and squeezed in a visit to an international chocolate festival. The next morning, we drove to  Cira’s little roadside stand to eat what is widely considered the best acarajé in Brazil (I concur). Then to Praia do Forte, where Tereza has a home and a restaurant. Welcome respite with some time  on the beach, a gorgeous meal at Tereza’s restaurant. I even broke out my rusty capoeira moves in the street (aided by a good dose of Cachaça).

The next day, it was an early flight back to Rio. Four days of meetings down at Teresa’s restaurant in the city center (where I am always treated like a queen and fed exceptionally well). Work work work. Not much time to explore the city. Plus, it was rainy and cool. Then off again we went, this time to São Paulo, where we were meeting with a publishing house. Sampa (as SP is often referred to) is a hideous, smog-filled city. BUT, their culinary scene is one of the best in the world. We ate four extraordinarily good meals– a beautiful, traditional Brazilian lunch at Mara Salles’s Tordesilhas, a gorgeous parade of plates flaunting the simplicity of Kappo cuisine at Kinoshita, had a late lunch at Neide Rigo’s house in the leafy Lapa neighborhood, and one of the most artfully executed (and generously gifted) meals of my life at Alex Atala’s D.O.M. The next morning, stuffed and giddy, we caught a bus to the south of Minas Gerais. One night in the small city of Pouso Alegre, Minas Gerais (where we learned how to make pasteis, or small wonton-like snacks, of manioc starch and cornmeal) and then to the absurdly beautiful mountaintop town of Gonçalves, where chef Tanea Romão of Kitanda hosted us in her lovely little house and fed us ridiculously good and simple food. Then back to Sampa by car, then a flight to Rio. Two nights in Rio. Work at the restaurant. Then a 36-hour blitz to step into the activist circles in Nova Friburgo, a mountainous region about 2 hours inland from Rio, where Teresa and her Ecochefs group are trying to pilot the first CSA in the state of Rio. Then back to Rio, where we’ve been testing recipes, transcribing Alex’s introduction and planning out our tasks for the next six months (task one should be, if we’re to be logical about the whole thing, procuring book contract).

We ate a lot. And very, very well. We saw a lot of manioc being harvested, processed, packaged and cooked. We ate quite a bit of it, too. Right now, the whole trip feels like a blur of overstimulation, one I can’t make much sense of at the moment.

I have a couple days to catch up on sleep, walks, reading and writing, a nice little buffer to have before transitioning back to life in the States. I’ve got a small back porch in the flat I’m renting for this last stretch, surrounded on three sides by (slightly) tamed jungle. I’ve been sitting out here a lot. Hummingbirds keep coming to visit me. I always think they should get tired, seeing as they’re always moving and flapping those wings with such extraordinary frequency. But they don’t. I’m the one lacking stamina, at least in relative terms.

Maybe when I get back to New York and have a few days of space between this big, crazy, beautifully colorful country and me, I’ll have more reflective things to say. But for now, I’m going to hop in the shower and head up to my friend Simone’s house for one last big Brazilian lunch.

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