Brazil: How to Shop for Food

Brazil: How to Shop for Food

    It is not easy to find products at Brazilian supermarkets. There
    are so many isles, and they are
    not clearly labeled. I often
    find myself walking up and down them searching for what I need.
    In the
    meat section, you will be overwhelmed with choices.
    But I have experienced most disappointment in
    the cereal isle.


    Monica Trentini


    When I moved to São Paulo five years ago, I sent the maid to the supermarket with a list and the following advice:
    "When in doubt, buy the most expensive one." This advice works, but I now have more of an opinion and I would like to take
    you for a walk in the supermarket with me. I seldom shop in the gourmet supermarkets, but when I do, I can find things like
    jiffy peanut butter, rice cereal, all types of imported chocolates, cranberry sauce, cranberry juice and imported cheeses and
    cold cuts.

    Shopping in these places is an experience, and I highly recommend you see for yourself which items you can find
    which remind you of home. I am going to focus on the bigger supermarkets like the Pão de Açúcar, the Extra and the
    Carrefour, and what I buy in these places.

    It is not easy to find products at Brazilian supermarkets. There are so many isles, and they are not clearly labeled. I
    often find myself walking up and down them searching for what I need. If you find someone to help you, they generally are
    happy to do so, but I have often found what I was looking for after being told they didn’t have it. If you are looking for a diet
    (for diabetics) or light (for dieting) product, these are generally all together in one section.

    Let’s start in the beverage isle. Grocery stores in Brazil carry all alcoholic beverages. They also have a good
    selection of wines and beers. If you are looking for a good quality Brazilian wine, we like Miolo.

    In the soda department, we usually stock up on Guaraná Antarctica, Coca-Cola and Água com Gás Minalba
    (sparkling water) in 2-liter bottles. When my brother-in-law is in town, he swears the Guaraná Diet by Antarctica tastes the same as
    the regular.

    On to the juices. We buy boxed juices by Mais and Del Valle. They all contain sugar, except the Mais brand has an
    apple juice sem adição de
    açúcar (no sugar added). Native has a boxed orange juice without sugar added as well. Watch out,
    because this label can be deceiving. Most "light" products with this written on them have a sugar substitute. Read the labels!

    Many boxed juices have soy milk added, as is the case with Ades and All Day. Look for
    leite de soja. Juices also come concentrated in bottles and frozen concentrate is available in large cans or small bags in the refrigerated section. Ask for
    polpa de fruta to find this section. This is where you will also find frozen berries like raspberries and blueberries.

    On to the milk. There are so many types of milk here! Integral is whole,
    semi-desnatado or magro is 2 percent, and
    desnatado is fat-free. First, you choose boxed or bottled. The premium milk comes bottled in the refrigerated section. Some of the
    brands are Fazenda Bela Vista, Xandô, and Saluté. Looking in the boxed section, you will find Crescimento milk for children
    ages 1-3 and Omega 3 milk for people who are watching their cholesterol, among others.

    The Crescimento milk contains fructose. At our house, we store boxes of Parmalat Integral and Semi-Desnatado in
    the pantry. No sugar added, and a long shelf life. You will not find small individual cartons of milk here. Only chocolate
    milk and other sweetened drinks come in small boxes with straws. In the powdered milk section, there are quality choices for
    babies and lactose intolerant people.

    Creme de leite. I buy the canned kind by Nestlé for everyday cooking and bottled and refrigerated by Vigor for
    special recipes.

    The yogurts in Brazil are abundant. They come in bottles to drink and cups to eat. All the "light" yogurts are in the
    same area, so it is easy to keep them separated from the regular yogurts. We normally buy Danone, but we have been equally
    happy with the other brands.

    You can pay as much as you like for butter here. President and Lurpak are imported and Aviação, Paulista and Vigor
    are national brands. Whatever your wallet prefers.

    As for shortening, there are tubs of margarine for greasing (we like Doriana) and sticks of it for baking (we like
    Vigor). Look for "culinária" on the label for baking margarine.
    Banha is lard, and gordura vegetal
    hidrogenada is like Crisco.

    You can find cream cheese here in trays. There are Philadelphia, Polenghi and Danubio brands. They are also
    available in "light." Brazil also has wonderful cheeses like
    queijo Minas (white, fresh cheese) and Queijo Prato (good for grilled
    cheese sandwiches). Fresh mozzarella cheese comes in bags (for salads). There is also a Brazilian goat cheese I use for
    cooking, which is not expensive, by Paulocapri. Now I am getting hungry.

    If you are looking for ice cream, the national brands are Kibon and Nestlé and there are imported ones like
    Haagen-Daz, but no Ben and Jerry’s. We like Kibon, and especially the trays that are like a sundae in a box.

    If you like to bake, you can find all the healthy baking ingredients together. Brands like Mais Vita and Pro-Vida
    have brown sugar (açúcar
    mascavo), whole wheat flour (farinha
    integral), sea salt (sal marinho), soy extract
    (extrato de soja), wheat germ (germen de
    trigo) and oatmeal in various formats. Quaker has these, including an oatmeal cereal for babies
    (farinha de aveia).

    Sugar and Spices

    Sugars come in many formats. Regular baking sugar by União is my choice. I also use their confectioner’s sugar
    (açúcar de confeiteiro) and their União Light for baking. They also have granular sugar. Native has organically grown and
    processed sugars for the true consumer.

    I buy flour by Dona Benta and have had less success with other brands. Dona Benta also has baking flour with salt
    and baking powder added. Look for "com
    fermento" or "para bolo" on the package. Dona Benta makes cake mixes, too.
    These are good, as are the ones by Dr. Oetker and Sol.

    I have experienced most disappointment in the cereal isle. Most of the cereals available are sweetened corn flakes or
    chocolate balls. I was surprised to find Raisin Bran, Banana Nut Crunch and Great Grains when I was last at the supermarket.
    Experience tells me that if these sound good, I should buy as much as I can carry, because they might not be there next time.
    Imported products like these are not always readily available. Stock up.

    Spices are all together and many come packaged in bags, boxes and cups. All the bouillon cubes at the market
    contain monosodium glutamate. The ones in the cups also have M.S.G. in them. There are some spice mixes without M.S.G.,
    like Cebola Alho e Salsa by Kitano and Green Salt by Linguanotto (in a bottle).

    The pastas by De Cecco and Barilla really are my favorite. You can also purchase fresh pastas in the refrigerated
    section. These are all equally good. I buy rice by Tio João.

    Extrato de tomate is tomato paste. Polpa de tomate
    is tomato sauce without spices. This comes in boxes. Salsaretti is
    sauce with spices. Stewed tomatoes come in cans.

    In the meat section, you will be overwhelmed with choices. Gourmet meats by Bassi, Wessel and Montana are
    premium, but the supermarket brand is also good.
    Picanha is good for filets and roasts (leave the fat on!)
    Filé mignon is delicious in stroganoff and as steaks, and
    contra-filé and alcatra are perfect for stews. I generally do not buy meats pre-cut. I do,
    however, buy packages of ground beef and have been pleased. As for chicken, anything pre-packaged by Sadia can be trusted. I
    like the Eder brand, but I also buy Perdigão chicken hot-dogs
    (de frango) and my children love them.

    You can buy meats with seasoning (com
    tempero). Just be careful if you are sensitive to M.S.G. Brazilian laws about
    foods are not the same as abroad. Interestingly,
    "Contém Gluten" is often seen on packaging and this is not required by the F.D.A..

    Not up for cooking? In a pinch, many grocery stores have a section with ready-made food. One inexpensive favorite
    in our family is the rotisserie chicken (probably full of M.S.G). There are also accompaniments like mashed potatoes ready
    to take home and heat up. "TV dinners" are a novelty in Brazil. You can find them frozen, although they are generally not
    a complete meal, but a part of one.

    Ask at the bakery about frozen
    pãezinhos (bread rolls). These can be baked at home at a moment’s notice and are
    quite good. Frozen pão de queijo by Forno de Minas is also a nice snack, piping hot out of the oven. Supermarket bakeries
    have good Italian loafs, but I do not buy
    pãezinhos there. I much prefer fresh
    pãezinhos from the local
    padaria (bakery) for breakfast.

    In the fruits and vegetables section, there are numerous decisions to be made. Here’s what I get:
    banana prata, laranja pera for juice,
    laranja lima for sweeter juice, manga
    palmer, limes with thin, smooth skins and heavy
    maracujás with smooth skins. Yellow lemons are called
    limão amarelo. In season, artichokes and asparagus are very reasonable. Organic and
    processed vegetables are available at premium prices or bundles of your favorite veggie are there
    a preço de banana. Cheap. Dried fruits make great snacks. Apricots, bananas, raisins and prunes are available. Look for
    sem semente (seedless).

    In the cookie and cracker isles, here is what I buy: Oreo cookies rather than Negresco. I get Maizena cookies for pie
    crusts. I like leite e mel cookies, wafers and
    biscoitos amanteigados for tea. Children like Passatempo cookies with chocolate
    or other fillings. Ritz type crackers are called Salclic Aperitivo. I like Agua e Sal crackers and Bauducco toasts
    (torrada levemente salgada), too. Give up looking for large bags of chips.

    They do not exist.

    There are many different teas. Dr. Oetker makes many flavors without caffeine. Boldo and Carqueja are medicinal.
    We buy Café Pilão and often splurge on imported teas like Earl Grey.

    In the candy isle, I recommend the famous Brazilian bonbons called Sonho de Valsa, Bis, chocolate wafers and
    caramels by Arcor. I also found Lindt chocolates recently. I bought them all.

    Monica O’Day Trentini was born in the US but raised in Brazil. She attended American Schools and eventually
    went to The University of Virginia, where she graduated with a Master’s in Teaching. She married a Brazilian and moved to
    São Paulo. She left teaching to raise her children and started a business making and selling home-made cookie dough and
    baked cookies to people. She delivers cookies in São Paulo, but orders have come from as far as Arizona! She currently has
    her articles published at and in
    The Flash, a printed newsletter for The International Newcomers’ Club
    in São Paulo. Monica’s e-mail is, and she welcomes your responses to her articles, as well
    as your cookie orders!


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