I have been in Maceio in Alagoas, Brazil for the past few days—a gorgeous seaside city with a lot of culture and beauty—and each morning I try to enjoy something Brazilian for breakfast, which I cannot say for my travel partner who insists on finding chocolate cereal a la American junk.
It is technically winter here now, in May, though each day the weather finds itself between 70 and 90 degrees, and the sun is strongest in the early portions of the morning, between eight and ten. Eating under the sun has been incredible, because the foods one eats for breakfast—at least in this region—are wonderful for the warm, sometimes balmy weather.
For breakfast, there are an assortment of foods, ranging from grains to breads to eggs and fruit. Of course there is also a very strong cup of coffee or espresso, with warm or cold milk—in small cups. Suffice to say, I’m not sure this country is as caffeinated as Americans are (but this is something I know will never change for me).
Each day I’ve had an assortment of fruits, in particular, as the staple of my morning: I eat lots and lots of papaya, a ton of pineapple and coconut. This is great because it’s healthy, I burn through it during the day and the sugar is actually good for you, unlike most cereal bars or even fruit juice drinks in America.
On another plate I pile Brazilian cous cous, or cuz cuz, which is a fine, fine version of couscous, almost like semolina, and a just a tad harder than softer and creamier. This is usually topped with queijo fresco, a very fresh, cool cheese that is pretty typical here for daily consumption. It’s smooth, soft and sort of like tofu in a sense. Its neutral taste is an amazing pairing with foods like mango and cuz cuz, and even with any of the french-like breads served here.
Speaking of breads, there are plenty of little sorts of pão de queijo—cheese breads. It sounds heavy, but these are thumb-sized and a perfect addition to anyone on a diet or eating mostly fruit. They’re filling, delicious, widely available and small enough to ration out intelligently. You won’t be popping twenty of them. Many are hot, but some are cooled and work wonderfully with scrambled eggs, which are often served here for breakfast, mixed without much meats or cheeses.
Beyond breads, eggs and fruits, ham is widely served here—there are these little slices, which accompany the queijo, and are light and healthy.
What I love about the Brazilian breakfast is the various food groups: fruits, meats, grains, breads—tons of protein, healthy fats and sugars. I usually load up on healthy fruit drinks, which are usually made with kiwi, including the little black seeds with the whole entire fleshy, fresh kiwi floating on ice at the bottom of the glass.
Of course, by noon, I’m adding cachaca or saque to my kiwi drinks, turning them into a caipiroska—essentially a caipirinha replacing cachaca (too strong a liquor for me) with vodka or saque and made completely vibrant with kiwi or even grapes. The Brazilians make beautiful use of their natural fruits and vegetables (with or without alcohol of course) which can be found in beach huts, high-end resturants and on the street all the same.
I wish the same could be said for America. Here, for no more than a few Brazilian reais (or dollars), you can get a really lovely fruit drink that will fill you up and keep you going throughout the day. Of course, you could get a freshly squeezed orange juice or juicer juice in NYC, but you’re going to pay between 5-10 dollars for each. This isn’t to say I’m unaware of the cheaper, unhealthy fruit drinks that are available, and that I know many people have to drink due to economic reasons.
To some degree, I have been seeing a brighter, cleaner version of Brazil than most people see here on a daily basis. For every person with money, there are plenty who struggle. As I sit typing on a rooftop with a sun-filled pool, not three blocks away there are homeless children smoking crack by night fall. Eating here has made me thankful that I can attain the sorts of good foods I have been eating and has reminded me that the little things—basic nutritious ingredients—are important for the enjoyment of life.