Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Açai and Sushi Diet

"Tem Açai?"

Possibly the two most important words in the Portuguese language. Açai - the amazingly delicous (and healthy) Brazilian berry-turned-sorbet, can be found nearly anywhere in Brazil. The food-cart guy at the metro entrance sells it in a plastic cup, the local Bob's milkshake chain does it soft-serve in a cone, and the supermarket sells it by the pint. For those who thought I'd have problems being a vegan in Brazil, think again. Between the açai available on every street corner and the cheap vegetarian sushi in Liberdade, I'm in food heaven.

We got açai at Bob's in Copacobana so often, they kept running out!

Açai can't really be transported fresh, so it's generally found either as a drink or ice cream. You may remember a few years ago when Americans went through an açai-for-weightloss-and-and-solution-to-all-health-problems craze...although it turns out it's just your average, healthy colorful berry. In Brazil, however, it often comes sneakishly covered in condensed milk and granola, so if you're going to eat it multiple times per day (as I do), make sure to ask for "só açai" (açai only) instead of "açai completo" (the complete deal, which is obviously not quite as healthy).

Found açai in Ouro Preto, thank goodness. Açai = smile on my face, always

"But surely you're not just living off of açai?!" you might ask. Don't worry, my Brazilian Vegan Diet has another crucial component. Sushi. Amazing, cheap, vegan sushi, to be specific.


Sao Paulo is amazingly well connected by a metro system, and it's cheap (just over $1 per ride) and pleasant (as long as you avoid commute hours). I've been staying in the neighborhood of Vila Mariana. At least three times per week, I hop on the metro, ride it a quick 5 stops north, and hop off at the Liberdade station. Sao Paulo is amazing, because every time you get off the metro, you feel like you've stepped into an entirely new city. 

Liberdade - my second home

Liberdade is the Japanese neighborhood, and you'll immediately notice the charming red and white street lanterns and the dozens of Asian restaurants. Little markets sell sushi, tofu, Asian pears, Japanese persimmons, thirty kinds of soy sauce, rice candy, and a million other Asian snacks and foods. Most of the stores sell the identical products, and every block has at least 3-4 of these places. But it's still incredibly fun to hop from shop to shop browsing the aisles, especially when you're waiting for one of Sao Paulo's infamously sudden rainstorms to pass.

Asian-market hopping

Anyway, a sushi day goes something like this:

There's only one vegetarian sushi option at the markets (and it's literally the identical pack of sushi sold at each place), but luckily I'm not sick of it yet. For under $3, I buy a tray of about 20 pieces of sushi filled with cucumber, ginger, and squash. It comes with a little packet of soy sauce (no ginger or wasabi), and I usually buy two - one for later, of course. I wait in line a bit too long (cashiers here are slow, nearing South African level), and they give me a hard time when I don't give exact-ish change. I smile blankly as they speak Portuguese at me, then I argue with them that no, I really don't want a plastic bag. Finally I'm free. I find the closest clean-looking ledge of concrete to sit on (this city is really lacking public benches), and devour the first pack. I'm usually starving by this point because on sushi days I make sure to eat only açai in the morning. Sometimes I wander around a bit afterward, admire the huge cathedral down the street, stroll through the Japanese gardens, gawk at the skyline on the pedestrian bridge over the highway, and maybe buy a fresh orange juice - which costs more than my entire pack of sushi. I hop back on the metro, completely happy and satisfied, and if it's a sunny day and I'm not too stuffed, I might get another cup of açai from the guy with the food cart at the Vila Mariana metro station. I get back to the hostel, smiling, and no one needs to ask me where I've been the past few hours. They already know.

The dessert aisle - apparently mini pancakes are very popular

So, for those of you worried that I have nothing to eat as a vegan in Brazil, don't. I'm fine. Very much so.