Texans Don't Need Passport to Visit Brazil
If spring has you dreaming of a sun-drenched tropical getaway, with exotic flowers, white, sandy beaches, South American cuisine, and Italian-style wines, then get ready to jettison off to the exciting country of Brazil.
But don’t pack a suitcase just yet. And don’t worry about a passport. This journey only requires a visit to Central Market, a culinary and viticulture Texas destination where grocery shopping rises to the level of an international adventure.
Each year, for the past three years, the upscale European-style grocery chain has celebrated the food and wine of a specific country. Having previously showcased Argentina, Spain, and France, CM will pay tribute to Brazil with “Passaporte Brasil” this year.
“This is an amazing event and the fourth one I’ve experienced. I think it’s a great way to honor a country,” said Edward Velazquez, store operations manager at CM’s San Antonio store. “There are people from other countries who live here, and when they come in, they feel right at home.”
The savory sojourn begins April 24 and concludes May 7. All nine Texas stores in major cities, such as Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio will participate. In fact, there are CM stores within minutes of all airports in these cities. That means any layover is a perfect excuse to visit.
Passaporte Brasil will inspire each market to transform itself into a Rio de Janeiro. Brazil’s rich gastronomy will take center stage against a backdrop of sensational flower demonstrations and Samba music.
The fantasy trip is bound to make shoppers feel as if they’re really in Rio. The two-week long celebration will feature a large array of foods and beverages from Brazil. The event includes cooking classes hosted by celebrity chefs, including Yara Castro Roberts. Roberts is co-author of The Brazilian Table, the first Brazilian cookbook written in English.
Chef Yara Castro Roberts
Other guest chefs are Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, author of The Brazilian Kitchen, and Nilton Borges, executive chef of Amali Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan. The three chefs will host cooking classes and cooking demonstrations at CM stores throughout Texas during the event. Other in-store events include wine and beer tastings and coffee samplings.
Each year, CM dispatches teams of specialty food buyers and wine directors to the selected country with instructions to return with the best. To that end, the teams scour dairy farms, ranches, pubs, and wineries to obtain foods and beverages that are hard to get in many Texas grocery stores.
Expats and those who have traveled to Brazil may recognize some of the foods on display and available for purchase during the celebration. One of those is Empadao Goiano, a chicken and sausage pie filled with eggs, olives, herbs, and cheese. Fraldinha is a cut of beef (London broil) served rotisserie-style. It is usually paired with sides of white rice and black beans.
Pastries are popular with Brazilians as well. A favorite treat often paired with coffee is called Brigadeiros, sweet chocolate or vanilla balls. Other dessert items are Cocadas, bite-sized cakes made from grated coconuts. Quindim is baked custard made from egg yolk, sugar and coconut.
Although many travelers and wine lovers think of France, Spain, and Italy when they think of wine, Brazil is emerging as a leader in New World wines. Thanks to a mass influx of immigrants from Italy in the 1800s, Brazil’s wine is flourishing.
During the event, shoppers will find more than 30 wines and five new beers. Pilsners, produced by German immigrants, are the most popular. Wines run the gamut from reds to whites to sparkling. Serra Gaucha in Southern Brazil is now the country’s largest and most important wine region.
Winemakers, winery representatives, and wine experts who will lead classes and discussions include: Bruno Motter, Morgana Miolo, Patricia Carraro, Rosana Pasini, Eduardo Valduga, Flavio Pizzato, and Vagner Montemaggiore.
Serra’s Denominacion de Origen (DO) is Vale dos Vinhedos. The Piedmont-like region produces a whopping 90 percent of Brazil’s fine wines. Wine Enthusiast declared it one of the “10 Best Wine travel Destinations in 2013.” That said, winemakers will host seminars on an array of Brazilian wines available now at CM.
Since Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee beans, providing 25 percent of the world’s coffee supply, coffee masters will offer demonstrations and samples of myriad blends. Samples of fiery Cachaca, Brazil’s answer to Greece’s Ouzo, is fermented, distilled sugar cane. Cachaca will be available for purchase as well.
Brazil, which hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, may conjure images of soccer legend Pele, and the Girl from Ipanema hit song. But it is much more than that. It’s a country of nearly 200 million and a patchwork of diverse groups that began with indigenous Indian natives.
Portugal was a European colonizer, as were the Dutch. Later immigrant groups include Italian, German, and Japanese. At some point Africans arrived. Taken together, they have all contributed to the modern nation of Brazil.
That cultural diversity forms the Brazilian melting pot that has given the world an eclectic cuisine. For example, Pao de queijo is cheese-infused bread that doubles as breakfast food. Catupiry is a brand of soft, spreadable breakfast cheese.
The annual salute to a particular country has become so popular that customers aren’t the only ones who look forward to it. Foodies and wine lovers alike see it as a chance to try new wines and exotic food while traveling to a country vicariously.
The CM concept was the vision of Charles Butt, CEO of the San Antonio-based H-E-B grocery market chain. The original grocery store was started in Kerrville, Texas in 1905 by Florence Butt. H-E-B has now been in business more than 100 years.
But in 1992, Charles Butt bought land in Austin with the idea of starting a grocery store unlike any other. He recruited John Campbell, a 30-year H-E-B employee. Together the two developed the European-food concept. In 1994, Butt opened the first CM in Austin.
Today, CM is a Texas version of Eataly, Oscar Farinetti’s wildly successful Italian village market with villages across Italy and in New York.
So it appears that CM was well ahead of its time with regard to a heightened interest in the Mediterrean diet and the benefits of wine. But the best part is that adventurous shoppers don’t need to buy an airline ticket or get a passport to savor the richness of a particular country, including Brazil.
“Because customers know from previous years that we salute a country each year, they’ve been coming in and asking when is the next salute. But we don’t even release it (country) until March,” said Mary Martini, cooking school instructor and director for CM’s San Antonio store.
Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators, and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.