For the sports enthusiast, the appeal of the Summer Olympics is obvious. It’s less so for the food enthusiast. Still, the Games present an opportunity every four years to take a closer look at a world cuisine.
Olympic competition may well have whetted your appetite for Brazil — and there’s nothing like a caipirinha (the national cocktail) to liven up the preliminary heats and gymnastic compulsories. If you’ve ever been tempted to try sweet popcorn, grilled meats served on skewers or guaraná soda — or if you’d like to learn how to pronounce caipirinha — read on.
DINE LIKE A BRAZILIAN
The cuisine of Brazil is not well represented on Long Island, but many of our Portuguese restaurants feature two very Brazilian traditions: A rodizio is an all-you-can-eat restaurant; churrasqueira refers to the charcoal grill on which churrasco (barbecue) meats are cooked.
Typically, the grilled meats — a variety of cuts of beef, pork, sausage and perhaps a bird or two — are brought to the table on skewers, along with rice, black beans and other sides. Before the onslaught, you will be offered a number of salads and appetizers but try to resist; you want to save your appetite for the main event.
Beverage note: All these restaurants serve the caipirinha, the Brazilian national cocktail, made with cachaça (distilled from sugar cane), sugar and lime.
Brasa Rodizio, 100 Herricks Rd., Mineola, 516-280-8000, brasarodizio.com
Churrasqueira Bairrada, 144 Jericho Tpke., Mineola, 516-739-3856, churrasqueira.com
Carvalho’s Restaurant, 2700 Sunrise Hwy., Bellmore, 516-679-3300, carvalhosrestaurant.com
Luso Restaurant, 133 W. Main St, Smithtown, 631-406-6820, lusorodizio.com
SNACK LIKE A BRAZILIAN
While these sweet and savory treats may not be the fuel for a world-class athlete, they’ll power your enthusiasm as you’re watching the highs and lows of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. They’re relatively easy finds on Long Island — on the shelves of international markets and in shops in Mineola and Farmingville. Here’s what to look for:
Cocadas: Coconut candies “come in all forms and consistency can range from chewy, to crunchy to creamy,” says Marie Elena Martinez of a favorite Brazilian sweet. The Syosset native would know: as the founder of the website New Worlder, a Latin American go-to for the savvy traveler, Martinez covers travel, culture food and drink, from Michelin-starred destinations to the most popular street carts. Coc Festa Tradicional is one variation of the candy, with a hard exterior and creamy interior. It costs $2.29 for a 17-ounce bag.
Pipoca: Yes, the bag of Pipoca Vovozinha reads “sweet popcorn,” yet has the consistency of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal with a slightly chalky finish. Some snackers pour condensed milk over the treat, says Martinez. If doce (sweet) isn’t for you, consider salgado (salty) varieties — with cheese and bacon among them. About $1 for a 2.1-ounce bag.
Rosquinhas: The name translates to “doughnuts,” and each cookie is shaped like one — perfect for dipping in coffee or milk. According to the company’s website, Sao Paulo-based Marilan produces about 60 million biscuits a day in 90 variations, such as Cracker Snacks, sweet, buttered, doughnuts, sandwich biscuits, Turmix, wafers and special biscuits. $1.99 for a little more than 14 ounces.
Chocolate: A box of Garoto translates to “Boy,” with variations such as peanut butter and wafer inside chocolate, mini-chocolate batons, white chocolate with cashews, coconut or banana flavored. A box is about $8.
Sorvete: Sorvete is a reference to both ice cream and frozen fruit pops, and also is called picolé,” says Martinez. “The latter are really popular on the beach, where cart vendors pass by all day long offering a fruity ice in a stick.” Try acai sorbets from Sambazon, the California-based company harvesting and processing organic ingredients in Brazil for $6 to $9 a pint.
Biscoito Globo: A variation on Cheez Doodles, these donut-shaped puffs comes in sweet variations in a red package and salty ones in green. Around since the ’50s, there are many copycats of Globo biscuits — but the key is that they’re made from cassava or yuca flour. They’re so popular, the brand has inspired beach towels, bags, umbrellas and bikinis. A variation on the doughnut shape is Biscoito de Polvilho, also made from manioc (cassava) flour, but shaped like packing peanuts. Between $1.17 and $2.99 for a 3- to 7-ounce bag.
Biscoito Piraquê: These Parmesan-, ham- or pizza-flavored snacks were a design-geek’s favorite treat for 20 years, because the packaging was created by Lygia Pape, a visual artist and founding member of the Neo-Concrete movement, whose intention is to include art in r4everyday life. The Rio native died in 2004. In 2014, manufacturer Piraquê changed the packaging, causing an outcry, though what’s inside the bag — the snack looks like oyster cracker-shaped Cheez-Its — still holds the attention of loyalists. Packages are about $1.50 for 3.5 ounces.
Guaraná Antarctica: First on the market in the 1920s, Guarana Antarctica is a super popular soft drink in Brazil that’s celebrated for the guarana, with an apple-like flavor and guaranine. Made from the guarana plant harvested in the Amazon rainforest, guaranine delivers a concentrated amount of caffeine. Aside from the original flavor, there’s Guaraná Jesus, which tastes like bubblegum and is named for the inventor, Jesus Norberto Gomes. Each can runs about a dollar — less for a six-pack.
Europa Market, 215 Mineola Blvd., Mineola, 516-248-7491
Mineola Food Market, 269 Willis Ave., Mineola, 516-746-6637
DRINK LIKE A BRAZILIAN
Brazilian cuisine has had limited success on the world stage, but the country’s national cocktail, the caipirinha, has been a cult favorite for years and, as the Rio Olympics continue, is poised to hit the even bigger time.
A powerful concoction of fresh lime, sugar and the Brazilian spirit cachaça, the caipirinha’s origins are obscure, but the name, the diminutive of the Brazilian Portuguese word caipira — an affectionate term for a peasant or yokel — implies that it was born in the countryside and not at some swank salon.
The soul of a caipirinha is cachaça, a cousin to rum. Both are made from sugar cane, but rum is usually distilled from molasses, a by-product of the sugar-refining process. Cachaça, on the other hand, is distilled directly from fresh sugar-cane juice.
We pause here for a lesson in Brazilian Portuguese: Caipirinha is pronounced kye-peer-EEN-yah. Cachaça is pronounced ka-SHAH-sa.
Evan Bucholz, a partner at the Greenport bar Brix & Rye, said he makes caipirinhas regularly during the summer and that this week he’s anticipating even more. “We don’t have a TV here,” he said, “so following the games on your phone while you drink a caipirinha is about as close to the Olympics as you’re going to get.”
According to Bucholz, the choice of cachaça is key. “It can be a very earthy, vegetal spirit,” he said. “Sometimes the cheaper brands are just too raw — customers will say it tastes like tires.” Among his recommended cachaça brands are Avuá Prata and Yaguara.
A great cachaça, Bucholz said, is perfectly set off by the caipirinha’s other two ingredients, fresh lime and sugar. “For this drink,” he said, “it’s really better to use sugar than simple syrup because when you muddle the lime and the sugar, you want that friction from the sugar to really extract the oils from the skin of the lime.”
This recipe for caipirinha is adapted from “The Essential Cocktail” by Dale DeGroff (Clarkson Potter, 2008)
1⁄2 lime, quartered
2 1⁄2 teaspoons sugar
2 ounces cachaça
Fill a rocks glass with cracked ice. In the bottom of a mixing glass, place the lime quarters and sugar. Muddle to extract the lime juice and the oil in the lime skin. Add the cachaça and the ice from the rocks glass and shake well. Pour the entire contents of the mixing glass into the chilled rocks glass and serve. Makes 1 serving.