My brother-in-law Gunnar Heller recently returned from a business trip to Joinville, Brazil. It was his first trip outside the country and he’s been full of interesting details about local customs, driving, and of course, the cuisine.
Gunnar’s an accountant with Bluffton-based Franklin Electric, the world’s largest manufacturer of submersible electric motors, according to its website. Joinville is the largest city in Santa Catarina state in southern Brazil. It has a population of 520,000, many of whom are of German descent. (This comes from Wikipedia, but it pretty much jibes with what Gunnar had to say.)
Q. What was the most interesting thing you ate in Brazil?
A. There were a few interesting items that I ate in Brazil. The very first night we were served an appetizer of raw hamburger mixed with onion and green pepper. I remember stories from my parents and grandparents eating raw hamburger but this was a first for me. It was probably the only food that I hesitated to eat at first. Another appetizer that was served at a lunch meeting one day was palm tree. There is a particular type of palm tree where the top green part of the main trunk is cut-off and boiled. It had a texture of a raw potato and tasted like a “dull” pickle.
Q. What was the tastiest thing you had?
A. Everything I tried was very good. My taste buds were probably enhanced from my excitement of being in another culture. Eating the food was not a problem because Brazilians love their meat.
Q. What were the prices like?
A. Food/grocery prices were very comparable to the US if not cheaper. The produce section in the supermarkets put our grocery stores to shame. I saw fruits and vegetables that I have not even heard of, let alone pronounce. I was educated by a Brazilian co-worker about the 5 varieties of banana that exist in Brazil. Apparently the smaller bananas are sweeter and tastier. Anything imported is outrageously priced because of the high tariffs.
I was amazed at the prices at the mall that was attached to our hotel. Most prices marked on electronics, shoes, clothes and sporting equipment had payment plans. I couldn’t imagine buying a nice pair of Nike tennis shoes at $45/month for six months. Middle and upper class people know how to bypass the prices. They search for a cheap plane ticket to the US. One Brazilian co-worker was excited that he found a $600 dollar round-trip ticket to Miami. He figures that the laptop computer he will buy in the US for $2,000 for his brother will pay for the flight itself since the same computer can be bought in Brazil for $4,000 USD.
Q. Are breakfasts there much different than here?
A. The only knowledge I have on breakfast is limited because we ate every morning at the hotel. Pastries, fruits and juices are a big part of breakfast. I was surprised to see platters of cold meat and cheeses on the breakfast bar. Many people were eating sandwiches as part of breakfast.
Q. You said meal times were different there than what we’re used to. How does that work?
A. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Dinner is usually a light meal that seems to be eaten later in the evening between 8 and 10 p.m. Most days we ate a hot lunch in the company’s cafeteria. The buffet usually had entrees of steak or chicken. Black beans and white rice seem to be a side dish at every lunch. Drinks were either juices or water.
It was here that I was introduced to Guarana’ Juice. It is a sweet juice that is derived, I believe, from Guarana seeds. It is comparable to the taste of Kool Aide but much healthier for you. I brought some back for my daughter to try since she is not a soda drinker. Everyone in my family likes it. Other than the caffeine it is a very healthy drink. The only problem is finding it here in the US.
Q. If you were to take your family there on vacation, is there a particular restaurant you’d want to take them to or a certain kind of food you’d like them to try?
A. We would definitely visit a Brazilian Barbeque style restaurant. Here they give you an empty plate and then fill your table with a variety of side dishes. Next a train of people walk by your table with large skewers of meat such as: buffalo, lamb, steak, beef ribs, pork ribs, poultry and others. The meat keeps coming until you tell them to stop. It is this style of restaurant that you can see and taste the culture based on the side dishes.
Q. Did you try any interesting alcoholic beverages?
A. Brazil’s national cocktail is the Caipirinha. It is made with cachaca, which is a sugar cane rum. Mixed with fruit, sugar and ice it is very comparable to a margarita when mixed with lime. I quickly found out that most Brazilians do not like this analogy.
Q. Any other observations you’d care to make?
A. Keep in mind that my observations are based on the part of Brazil where I visited and my Brazilian co-workers, who would be classified as middle class. Since Brazil is the size of the US there could be many different cultural areas within Brazil.
Brazilians love their meat, seafood and fruits. They pay attention to their health. Health care is cheaper there. They pay strict attention to their dental and eye care. It’s not uncommon to have a line at the restrooms after lunch or dinner to brush their teeth. Even restaurants have dental floss dispensers in their restrooms.
Another observation is that “tipping” for services is frowned upon. Tips are figured into all prices that you would see on a menu. It was nice not to do that equation in your head as you are paying for dinner or a taxi ride. Apparently their government figured out that people can actually underreport their tip income!