When I imagined the things I would be eating in Brazil, I thought about rice, beans, feijoada (more beans), and the slabs upon slabs of meats, cooked every which way, that would be served in this city’s many churrascarias. I thought about street food, like Brazilian shish kabobs of grilled and spiced chicken or pork, and various pastries filled with Brazilian cheese. And of course, I thought about how I would follow up each of these meals with a big, warm cup of coffee. Com açucar, of course.
Most of this has come true. I may not have thrown down the wads of reais necessary to eat everything at a nice churrascaria, but over the past three weeks, I’ve definitely had my fair share of rice, feijoada, pastries (or salgados), shish kabobs, and of course, gallons of coffee.
What I didn’t think I would be eating so much of was sushi.
As much as I know Americans love eating the food of other cultures, it’s difficult for me to realize that every other country also loves adapting the cuisine of far away lands to their own unique palates. So much like Americans love eating “Italian food” at their local Olive Garden, Brazilians love eating “Japanese” at their local sushi bar.
Which means that coming to Brazil and, subsequently, eating in Brazil, has opened my eyes to two important facts. Not only is Brazil home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, but it’s also home to some of the best sushi on the planet.
And there’s sushi places everywhere. Much like in America, people here love their sushi–in trendier neighborhoods like Copacabana and Ipanema, it’s hard to walk more than two or three blocks without finding a neon sign that reads “sushi”; there’s a sushi place right on my school’s campus; and there’s even a fast food chain, Koni, that specializes in sushi.
But remember what I said about how countries love adapting cuisines to their own palates? The same goes here in Brazil for sushi. Yes, you can get “ordinary” rolls, like California rolls or spicy tuna rolls or eel rolls, but I’ve found that there are rolls that are very unique to Rio de Janeiro and to Brazil in general. For example, a popular thing to do is to fry rolls–putting them in a batter and frying it so that the roll ends up warm with a crunchy exterior, which provides a nice contrast to the colder, fishier interior.
My personal favorite? Hot Philadelphia. It’s pronounced as it would be in Portuguese–“hot-chee filadelfia,” more or less (saying “Hot Philadelphia” is a sure-fire way to let everyone know you’re a gringo), and it’s not named for the city, but for the Philadelphia brand cream cheese that’s inside of it (I’ve found that a lot of people believe the former, though). It’s salmon, cream cheese, green onion, and rice, wrapped in seaweed–and then, of course, fried in batter (that’s why it’s “hot!”)
It sounds strange, having cream cheese and a deep-fried batter in your sushi, and I was very iffy about trying it for the first time. But I won’t lie, I’m definitely hooked now.
To wrap up, I guess the biggest moral from my culinary adventures so far in Rio is this: America can learn a thing or two about sushi from Brazil, of all places.