By Zelideth María Rivas, guest blogger
This blog is part of the Gourmet Intersections program of Intersections as American Life: the Smithsonian Asian-Latino Festival 2013.
When asked to do a guest blog on my travels in Brazil, I wondered if I should go out and look for Asian-Latino food connections or just wander into their path. I did both. Visiting the newest Japanese places in town while also running into new interpretations of Asia — that is what is possible in the state of São Paulo.
First up is the area of Liberdade in the city of São Paulo. Its weekend fair reinterprets Asia through the specific lens of Latin America. Here, you can find takoyaki labeled as bolinhos de polvo and shrimp tempura featuring small, local shrimps in their shells amidst a fried concoction of chives, onions, and flour. These are lined up with skewers of codfish, beef, and shrimp balls. But if you’re feeling like sushi, walk into any por quilo restaurant in Liberdade where they make California rolls with mango instead of avocado (did you know that many of your Latin American friends would look at you aghast if you don’t treat avocado as a fruit?) and wrap tuna rolls in thin slices of cucumber instead of nori. Or, try a dessert roll with caramelized banana and rice topped with condensed milk or a fried roll with strawberries, rice, and chocolate. The por quilos mix up their Asian cuisine with staples from Brazilian food: a bean vinaigrette salad next to a wakame salad and cheese balls amidst fried spring rolls, guioza (the local spelling), and mini shrimp tempura. Temaquerias are all the rage, making their way to familial parties (note the mango again) or as a fast food restaurant that you visit to have a hand roll after a night of drinking with your friends. But don’t think that “Asian” refers only to Japanese cuisine here in São Paulo.
The increase of Peruvian immigrants has also inspired new varieties of chaufas, or Chinese fried rice. In fact, new restaurants have interpreted many parts of Asia, bringing out the Korean barbecue served with kimchi and Japanese misoshirru. The South Indian flavors of Madhu Culinária India are quick to include cashews, coconut, brown rice, and heavy cream served with chapati, parotha, or appam. The Kenko company makes microwavable popcorn specifically for the Brazilian palette, featuring cheese, bacon, chocolate, and caramel. And the company Sakura makes instant missoshiru in shitake, beef, or chicken flavors. But then again, if you’re in a rush, there’s always Cup of Noodles at the Paulista train station!
More about our guest blogger:
Zelideth María Rivas is an Assistant Professor of Japanese at Marshall University. Her research focuses on the conception of race through literature written by Asian immigrants in the Americas, as well as the representation of race in Japan in post-World War II literature and film. She is the author of “Narrating Japaneseness through World War II: The Brazilianization, Peruvianization, and US Americanization of Immigrants” (in Expanding Latinidad: An Inter-American Perspective, WVT Wissenchaftilecher Verlag Trier, 2012) and “Projecting Mixed Race: Negotiating, Nostalgia, and the Rejection of Japanese-Brazilian Biracial Children” (in Journal of Asian American Studies 14.3, October 2011).