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Signs of Summer: Finding the Perfect Brazilian Beach Food—in Chicago

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One of the things I miss the most about my native Brazil is its “beach food, ” preferably savored by the ocean, as waves hypnotically break within my sight. Stuff like crunchy fried shrimps; corn on the cob slathered in butter and salt; coconut water from an actual coconut, and its soft pulp afterwards; grilled “coalho” cheese on a skewer; and the ultimate calorie bomb, açaí na tigela. They’ll be sold by the humblest vendors at crazy low prices (especially if you’re not speaking English out loud), brought to you right where you happen to be, and they will taste like heaven. These delicacies might seem simple, but their perfect flavor, consistency, temperature and ambiance cannot be easily replicated; basically you’ll just have to drag your untanned gringo arse all the way down there—which I highly recommend, now that the Brazilian currency has lost so much value. But I hear you: it’s finally summer here, not exactly the right time to flee. So how about the next best thing, which is finding a few fairly decent substitutes within driving distance? For the shrimp and the corn, forget it. I’ve never encountered their characteristic flavor and texture on this side of the equator. The coconut you can easily find and try to crack open yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you have a knack for extreme sports and own a huge pirate-sword type of utensil—which makes sense, since you might need a hook to replace your lost hand. I always abhorred coconut water in boxes until I found the Naked brand. That is the only brand I like, and it tastes almost the same as a fresh coconut. Don’t get the small ones; call me superstitious—I’m Brazilian, after all—but the big boxes always seem to carry better product. Throw in two or three ices cubes, turn the fan on, and voilá, you’re at your own private beach. For the grilled “coalho” cheese, blow a few hundred dollars on a Lollapalooza ticket and go to the Brunkow Cheese booth every single day. I don’t even know the lineup this year; all I know is I’m raiding that booth no matter what. They can also be found in other farmer’s markets around town (see  brunkowcheese.com). As for the açaí na tigela (açaí in the bowl), I make my own with some frozen pulp and a Ninja blender—if you have a crappy blender don’t even try. With a hefty 800 calories, this is more of a meal than a snack: just get three unsweetened açaí pulp packets (I like the Sambazon brand, which I purchase at Whole Foods), half a banana, one-quarter cup of almond or coconut milk, one-quarter cup of maple syrup, three or four frozen organic strawberries, cover your ears, turn on the blender and serve, garnished with a few slices of banana and plenty of granola on top—none better than the local Milk and Honey brand. It is said that açaí is some kind of a miracle superfood, but I don’t buy any of that BS. It’s refreshing, yummy, and it reminds me of lazy afternoons by the sea. That’s more than enough, if you ask me.

—Photo and text by Isa Giallorenzo

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