Five years ago, we celebrated our honeymoon in Brazil. The weather was amazing, the people were friendly and the food was worth returning for.
There were fruit juice stands and tasty fried delicacies on every corner. Arabic food was new, exciting to us, and Churrasquerias were a big highlight, a virtual orgy of barbeque’d meat that put us into a coma of joy nearly nightly. To top it off, we sat on the beach daily, surrounded by the splendor and rich life of Rio de Janeiro, sipping from cold young coconuts and eating grilled cheese.
So we were excited to return, this would be like a new honeymoon. Somehow though, our trip to Brazil felt more like an amicable divorce settlement. Nothing was really bad, no one was really unhappy, but we paid a lot of money for something not really great.
An excitement to find architecture blended with the landscape of the country, a unique social heritage and culture, has propelled us through our trip so far. Sao Paulo is a big city putting its mark on art and design worldwide, and Fortaleza exists in a perpetual summer along the ocean. But where are the hearts of these two cities? What makes them unique and memorable, a place that the traveler feels outside themselves? The historic center of Sao Paulo seems to filled with stores selling chinese knock-offs and Fortaleza’s food was mostly drowned in flavorless sauces.
We don’t mean to be cruel or self righteous. Brazil just gave us the impression of a country that was slowly selling out its soul and heart to McDonalds, Coca-Cola or Nestle. The bountiful fruit stands had been replaced with Minute Maid concentrates at the supermarket, the national soda, Guarana Antarctica, seemed to be replaced by Coca-Cola brand Kuat guarana soda.
Even Bob’s fast food had been tasty fast food 5 years ago. The hamburgers had a distinctive Brazilian flavor and the self-serve soda machines dispensed coconut water. In America, Carl’s Junior has a “thick juicy 6 dollar” burger that costs about $3.50, it’s bigger and topped with mushrooms, or onion rings – something above an average fast food chain.
Today in Brazil, Bob’s burger is small, tasteless and actually costs over $6 dollars. What happened Bob’s?
There were some highlights to our trip. Canoa Quebrada was a beautiful sleepy little beach town we enjoyed immensely, doing nothing but sunning on the beach and drinking coconuts.
We found a neighborhood restaurant in Fortaleza that served tasty little crabs steamed in a wine sauce for less than $2 a pop.
We made a mess of ourselves cracking them up with wooden sticks.
Fortaleza is also home to one of the epic ice cream shops of the world, 50 Sabores, which gives you free reign at the do-it-yourself sauces station.
Sao Paulo is home to one of the largest populations of Japanese outside of Japan, and a market in the Liberdade district was working at full speed feeding the crowds.
The people of Brazil are friendly and have a strong sense of community, crowding onto beaches and into bars to bask in friendship and family. They appear happy.
We could be jaded by travel, overwhelmed with the wealth of food and culture from Mexico and Peru. It could be that Sao Paulo is just a big city that is difficult to pierce and requires a local, like our experience in Lima, or even what its like to visit Los Angeles. Maybe we have become too single-minded in our pursuit of a type of “experience” to bend to what might otherwise have been an amazing trip. Maybe Rio is still the amazing travel locale we remember it to be and we tried to force the rest of Brazil to feel the same.
And yet, the travel book recommended Habib’s fast food as good Arabic food in Fortaleza.
There’s more images from our time in Brazil here on flickr.
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