One of the best things in a foreign country is eating out (actually it is very close to going shopping in a supermarket, but I guess the supermarket-thing is more of a personal food-fetish and fun with brand-names and industrial food). If you are traveling in a foreign country it is usually what you will spend much time with. And this is good news for any visitors to Brazil, since Brazilians love to eat out, in fact, they have a lot of places for this: Small lanchonettes (lunch-places, that are usually open all day), padarias (bakeries, but they usually have a small restaurant within and I will write something about them later), restaurants (which can be everything from a small and dirty place selling awful food to a impressive and incredibly expensive restaurant), kiosques (at the beach), churrasquerias (special restaurants for barbecuing food – you have to try one!), the big fast food chains, street vendors and many, many more places where you can do the one important thing: eat.
Eating out in Brazil: porções, pratos, bolinhos etc.
While the concept of eating out seems rather simple (find a place, order food, eat food, pay, leave), things in Brazil are a tiny bit more complicated, especially when you do not speak the language. Finding a place is easy – there are many everywhere and as long as you don’t go to upscale restaurants, you seat yourself and the menu is brought. But this is when it starts to get difficult. Since Brazilians are very social, eating is nothing to be decided by yourself. The simpler restaurants usually offer “pratos” which is a dish you can eat yourself, but sometimes the dish is so big, that two people can easily have enough. They also offer “porções” which translates to “portion” and can be anything between a handfull of “bolinhos” (fried balls of whatever) and a huge plate with fried fish, rice, french fries, beans, farofa and salad – enough for a whole family. This is where you simply have to talk to the waiter to find out, how much food their plates offer. Be warned though, that Brazilians can and do eat a lot and a portion for two can sometimes be enough for three or four people.
Why talking to the staff is very important
When being in Santos the first time this year, my wife, her sister and me ended up in a paella-restaurant at the beach front for lunch and this is a perfect example of how confusing things sometimes can be. When we opened the menu my eyes widened significantly: the prices of this place seemed outrageous. I have never seen a paella for 500 reais (about 170 euro), especially not in a place, that seemed only a little fancy, but not extraordinary at all. Even the “normal” fish-plates seemed expensive with prices ranging between 150 and 250 reais (50 to 80 euros). A small sentence at the beginning of the menu informed, that the kitchen would happily make “small” dishes with only half the size for 60% of the shown prize. We had to talk to the waiter.
The elderly and distinguished waiter confirmed, that half a dish would be enough for the three of us, so we ordered half a plate of grilled fish for 60% of the shown price. A little later a big plate of rice arrived at our table and was followed by plates of black bean sauce (traditional for Brazil), french fries (you simply can’t avoid) and a giant plate of grilled fish. It was so big in fact, that the three of us were not able to finish it. In the end (and being pretty full) we paid about 120 reais (about 40 euros) for the meal and drinks for the three of us, which is not expensive at all for Brazilian standards, rather normal.
Arbitrary facts about restaurants in Brazil
While I am at it, here are three more and rather arbitrary facts about eating in Brazilian restaurants:
- Whenever it seems halfway appropriate, you will get first a small portion of fresh salad as a start – which I always found very nice, and a side of rice and french fries – which I still find very odd, since one of the two would be absolutely enough.
- If you eat out with friends, it is absolutely normal and acceptable to split the bill – “vamos dividir” as the Brazilians say. Since you will pay with card (everything else would be odd and maybe dangerous, because you do not want to carry too much cash with you) your waiter will fetch a calculator or divide the sum in his head and then take the small card-reader to each one of you, so you can pay your share. While this would cause severe irritation in a German restaurant, it is as normal as the sunrise in Brazil
- You don’t tip: This is another thing I had to get used to, but in fact you don’t tip, since an extra 10% for the staff is usually added automatically on your bill. If you tipp, nobody will scream at you, but most likely you will have to leave your tipp at the table, since it is hard to explain to a waiter, that you want to pay more than what is shown.