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Simply Bowled Over (Brazilian Bowl, Chicago)

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Bemvindo to another chapter in the epic food-filled saga that is Mastication Monologues!  Things have been a bit more laid back as of late as I enjoy the wondrous time in school known as Spring Break where the pressures of the typical quarter fall away.  Thankfully, with this free time I’m able to commit myself to at least writing more than usual, and you all get to read about a new cuisine you might have never have tried before.  Talk about a win-win!  Not only that, but this is officially my 300th post!  It has been a long time coming, but let’s get down to the food.  Today’s featured restaurant is Brazilian Bowl located on 3204 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657, but there is another location on Lawrence Avenue in the Little Korea neighborhood further north in Chicago.

I’ve always been a fan of trying different types of food from throughout Latin America, but typically Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban food take center stage in Latin American cuisine.  Boiling down this giant geographical area to three countries is doing the rest of the nations’ cuisines a major disservice.  Brazil, on the other hand, occupies a unique position in both the continent and the food world.  Not only is it the largest country in South America, but it is predominantly Portuguese-speaking while swimming in a sea of Spanish speakers.  The size of the country has also led to an interesting blend of cultures.  Brazil’s Amazonian region is one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world that is inhabited with Amerindian tribes who have lived in the sadly shrinking rainforest for over 12,000 years now.  Add into that mix, Brazil imported 40% of all African slaves to the Americas as well as being home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. This intermingling of cultures led to Brazil having a diverse food scene as well.  Thankfully, Brazilian Bowl manages to go beyond the southern regional specialty of churrascaria or grilled meats made famous through chains like Fogo de Chao.

There’s not just meat in Brazilian food.

My friend Drew brought me out to try this local eatery since he had been going on and on about how good their food was.  It was a small establishment in the form of a cafeteria-style eatery where we ordered at the counter and had them bring our meals over to our table.  Looking over the menu, they had a variety of dishes including hotdogs, hamburgers, salads, empanadas, traditional Brazilian plates, fresh fruit juices, and of course, make your own bowls.  I looked beyond anything else and went with Drew’s recommendation:  feijoada ($10.95).  I had tried an Indian fusion version of the Brazilian national dish before during Chicago’s Restaurant Week, but I never was face to face with this mythical creature.  While we were waiting for our food to come out, I also managed to see that they were selling a variety of Brazilian snacks and ingredients in the front like a mini mini-mart.  I didn’t indulge, but a package of bread crumbs reminded me to also request an order of the pão de queijo (5 for $4.50; 2 minimum or 10 maximum per order).  Eventually, the staff brought us our food, and it was a mountain of food for the price.  Feijoada (derived from the Portuguese word for “bean”) takes many forms depending on the region of Brazil it comes from, but Brazilian Bowl focuses on the Rio de Janeiro version which includes four different types of meat (blood sausage, pork, beef, and ribs), black beans, collard greens, pico de gallo, farofa, and a bed of rice which serves as the foundation for the hearty meal.  While many conjecture that the stew comes from the era of when African slaves would make the most of the pork scraps they would get on the plantations in addition to African ingredients like collard greens and farofa or cassava flour, others say that the dish arose from Brazil’s black bean boom.  Both upper and lower sections of Brazilian society enjoyed the beans, but the elites preferred to eat the black beans with a stew of meat and vegetables, a carryover tradition from Northern Portugal.  Whatever the origin, this was a meal that was both hearty and overflowing with flavor.  The meats were plentiful and tender with an emphasis on the smoky blood sausage and blended perfectly with the black beans.  The pico de gallo was fresh and slightly tangy due to some lime juice they mixed in.  The collard greens were sauteed and brought even more color and some crunch to an otherwise mostly chewy bowl of ingredients.  When mixed together, the entire melange was like the sambadrome during Carnival in my mouth.

Dramatic recreation of our meal’s flavors (photo credit: AP)

The only downside was the farofa which basically blended into the background, so I’m not sure why it was included.  It was just what I needed to warm-up on a cold Chicago night.  Our meal didn’t end there though.  The pão de queijo or Brazilian cheese bread was the perfect side.  This bread originated in the slave communities of northeastern Brazil in the 17th Century.  Originally, slaves would make a bread out of cassava roots with no cheese, but as the mining communities grew in wealth over time, the slaves were able to make the bread with cheese inside as well as with imported wheat that normally wouldn’t stand up to the intense heat of the region.  The little lumps of bread were piping hot with Parmesan crusts on the outside and even more on the inside.  The interesting part of the interior was that the cheese was thick and taffy-like instead of being more rubbery or stretchy like melted mozzarella.  Definitely worth a try if you’re not looking for extremely exotic cuisine.  Finally, we reached dessert.  I tried an order of brigadeiros ($1 per piece) and a slice of bolo prestigio ($4 per slice).  The brigadeiros has an uncertain past, but they are balls of sticky, sweet condensed milk and chocolate.  If you have a sweet tooth and/or are a chocoholic without any loose fillings, these are for you.  As for the bolo prestigio, it was very similar to the brigadeiros in regard to the chocolate and same sprinkles on the outside.  However, the condensed milk was combined with coconut milk to create a choco-coco masterpiece.  Plus, the cashier gave me basically half the cake when I ordered in Portuguese.  I don’t know if it made any difference, but overall Brazilian Bowl does not skimp on portion sizes.  Drew and I only had a few bites of the rich cake before we drew our dining experience to an end.

Brazilian Bowl was a great recommendation on behalf of my friend, Drew, and I highly recommend everyone try this simple but culturally and culinarily enriching establishment.  Bom apetite!
Brazilian Bowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bacon, Potatoes, and Pinapples Oh My!

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Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  So I’ve officially been in Korea for one month, and it seems like it has flown by even though every day felt like it was moving as slow as molasses.  When it comes to culinary adventures, however, it has been quite a whirlwind tour.  I’ve had a plethora of Korean specialties and so many different types of rice cake that they could probably fill a phone book.  However, today I will be relating my experience of trying Korean pizza for a second time.  In comparison to the first time trying Korea pizza from Pizza Maru in my previous post, “A Slice of the East”, the pizza from Pizza Etang was delicious yet peculiar in wonderful way.IMG_0002

First, there were the circumstances in which I consumed said meal.  I had just finished a day of teaching 5th grade, and everything went quite well aside from witnessing some intimidating Korean teacher discipline after the bell rang in one class.  After eating a large Korean lunch of random rice dishes and a soy sesame sauce that was way too salty for its own good, a delivery man came into our teacher room in with a bottle of Coke.  I went back to work in my cubicle thinking nothing of it, but next thing I know, I’m being invited over for a group meal of pizza and Coke with my co-teachers.  Turns out my 5th grade teacher ordered it to celebrate my first month in Korea and because she was angry at students (I think that was lost in translation haha).  Anyway, the first pizza I tried was the potato and bacon pie.  It was very decadent since it combined fatty meat, starches, and a ranch sauce.  The bacon was on the chewier side and had little to no seasoning (neither smoking nor encrustments).  Crunchy bacon lovers look elsewhere if you’re getting this pizza.  It was like having a loaded baked potato sans sour cream on a pizza because there wasn’t the traditional layer of tomato sauce underneath the cheese.  I’ll comment on the crust at the end since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.IMG_0003

The second pizza consisted of the same crust and was sporting not just cheese but zucchini, sausage, and pineapple.  The cheese and lack of sauce was similar to the previous pie, but the other toppings were surprisingly tasty together.  Now I, along with one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, think that Hawaiian pizza is one of the worst creations in the world.  I mean, who puts ham and pineapple on a pizza?  Blasphemy, I say, but with this Pizza Etang pinapple pizza, it somehow changed my mind in regard to pineapple’s status in the hierarchy of pizza toppings.  I think that it helped that the sausage crumbles it was paired with had slight bacon and herbal tones to lessen the saccharine overtones of the pineapple pieces.  The zucchini also managed to contribute a complimentary, earthy springboard from which the previously mentioned flavors could fully express themselves on my palate.  As the first pizza had a drizzling of ranch dressing in a spiral pattern, this pineapple pizza had barbecue sauce.  This savory element with the pork sausage and pineapple made it taste like I was at some sort of Hawaiian luau.  Take notes American pizza chains!  Now to the oddest part of the pizza:  the crust.

Coming from Chicago, I’ve seen my fair share of pizza crusts from the worst frozen cardboard disks to deep dish wonders of flour and buttery perfection.  Now that I’m in Korea, some of the creations I have tried have been complete game-changers.  Pizza Maru promoted their healthy dough that contained green rice and black Korean rice, but Pizza Etang went in their own direction with the actual construction of the crust that seemed to be flour based (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was rice-based, though).  Right after the cheese/toppings ended on the slice, I entered an area that was somewhat amorphous with the actual crust handle of the slice.  It was dusted with minuscule, toasted potato shavings and beneath it was an extremely thin layer of Korean sweet potato baked into the crust.  I had to closely inspect a slice to see what was causing the crust to taste so scrumptious, and when I found the lurking tubers, it made sense why the crusts provided the perfect semi-sweet flourish to each slice.

So if you’re looking to try some pizza with a unique crust and fresh toppings in Incheon and probably Seoul, try Pizza Etang!

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