Brazil is a great country for fast food. It is also a great country for street food, and both of them go very well together. Brazilians like to eat and they like to talk about food. That might seem strange to foreigners, because cheap food in Brazil is usually simple and/or fried and there are tourists who complain about the “unhealthy” and boring Brazilian food. Well, like in so many countries on this planet, good food is a little more expensive, cheap food tends to be…. cheap. And simple. But that doesn’t mean that there are differences in quality and taste.
Today I want to introduce you to something very, VERY Brazilian, the “pastel”. Because I had two wonderful “Pastel Carioca” in Café Carioca the other day, which is located in the historic center of Santos, directly on Praça Mauá and it is well worth a visit.
Very Brazilian: pastel
To me this is maybe the most Brazilian street food, at least of the southeast states. Because here you wherever there are people, there will be a mobile stand selling pastel. Some of these small food stalls even have fixed locations on busy streets or squares and for some Brazilians they are a good lunch option, or an afternoon snack.
When I visited Brazil for the first times I did not become a friend of pastel. It seemed rather boring to me, and not only because of its rather unspectecular appearance. Take a fluffy dough (some say to make it really crispy there has to be cachaça in it), form it into a pocket, put some filling inside (meat, palm heart, bacalhau etc.) and fried it in oil until crispy. That is a pastel and it sounded incredibly boring to me. And a bad pastel is boring: there is nothing but crumbly, crispy dough that tastes like frying oil, and a filling without much more taste. At least, since it is fried, it is save to eat on the street.
Very traditional in Santos: a pastel at Café Carioca
It took me some years to warm up to pastel. There are stores that do not sell anything else and even some chains, but I still didn’t get the hype. That was until I visited the famous Café Carioca here in Santos (Praça Visconde de Maua, 1 – Centro) in the heart of the historic city center of Santos . It dates back to 1939 and it is famous for its pastel. It is so famous around here, that when I told a friend from Santos, I frequently go to the historic center (to visit the Policia Federal – long story) and that I’ve never had a pastel carioca, she got really upset. Really upset!! So next time I had to try, despite my indifference until that day.
Even though there are “only” nine different types of pastel, I have to admit: these pastels are good. I tried one of “siri” which is crab meat, and another one of “carne seca” which is something like beef jerky and both of them were very good. The pastel is not very big, but the dough is formed into a pocket which is almost completely filled with a nicely seasoned filling. The pastel was fresh, crispy and tasty, and to soothe your health conscience I can recommend a glass of fresh pineapple juice with it. It was definitely not the last time I’ve visited Café Carioca.