I recently spent a week in Brazil, attending a book fair in Rio de Janeiro and meeting with book publishers in São Paulo. Although the purpose of the trip was for me to get an overview of Brazil’s publishing industry, I also got a fantastic impression of Brazil’s food culture. Like most Latin countries, food is an aspect of any social gathering, even if it’s business-related. For meetings, publishers set out platters of pastries, carafes of Brazilian coffee and pitchers of tropical fruit juices. Lunches were never hurried, beginning with caipirinhas and empadinhas (filled with hearts of palm, cheese or beef), and ending with coconut tapioca pudding. Here’s a look at what I ate in Brazil, how cookbooks are marketed there, and how well one cookbook publisher is doing.
Brazilian steakhouses, or churrascarias, serve meat on massive skewers, with waiters carving it off the bone right onto your plate. I went to Carretão, in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood, and just like the churrascarias in the U.S., the meat overload was intense. A salad bar offered some modicum of healthy freshness, but really, it was all about the carne. I’d actually chose feijoada over meat at a churrascaria—it’s a classic Brazilian dish brought to South America by the Portuguese, which I had for lunch one day. Brazilians eat the hearty stew made with beans, beef and pork both in restaurants and at home. Cheese puffs called pão de queijo are ubiquitous in Brazil; akin to French gougères, they’re about the size of a golf ball and laced with mild orange cheese (supermarkets sell boxed mixes for making them at home). And then there’s breakfast: a beautiful array of fresh fruits (papaya, pineapple, watermelon and banana, the latter sometimes sprinkled with cinnamon), tropically-flavored yogurts (coconut was my favorite), frothy fruit juices (açai, passion fruit, mango, peach) and coconut water. Of course, the café com leite is fantastic. Brazilians also seem to always have a little something sweet at breakfast, whether it’s a pound cake or their version of the French pain au chocolat.
And what are Brazilians cooking at home? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to eat chez a Carioca (resident of Rio) or Paulista (resident of São Paulo), so I can only go on what I saw in the “culinária” sections of the cities’ bookstores. At the swank Shopping Leblon mall in Rio de Janeiro’s Leblon district, just west of Ipanema, amid Armani and Starbucks, is Livraria da Travessa, a gorgeous showpiece of Brazilian publishing, with elegant lighting, small nooks for browsing and nary a price tag (shoppers must scan books themselves at one of the stations around the store for a price check). Two kinds of books dominated Livraria da Travessa’s cookbook section: books on “light” cooking and books by British celebrity chefs, although there were also a smattering of titles on Brazilian cooking, such as 1,000 Receitas de Culinária Brasileira and A Cozinha Amazônica. On the healthy cooking side, titles like Cozinha Light and Comer bem! Como? received spine-out treatment, while books by bestselling Brits Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver were stacked on tables.
Out of the dozen or so publishers I met in Brazil, Senac Editions had the most cookbook-heavy list. I spoke with a few reps from the house at the Bienal do Livro, a massive book fair that’s open to the public and held every year, alternating between Rio and Sao Paulo. Senac has almost 1,000 titles on its backlist, in nonfiction categories ranging from cooking to the environment to fashion. And in a market where 3,000 copies is the average print run, Senac is having terrific success with a few cookbooks this year, going out with a 6,000-copy first printing of Chef Professional, a Portuguese translation of The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America. The hefty book is priced at R$180 (US$100), although it was selling for R$150 (US$84) at the Bienal do Livro. At least two other Senac books, Gula d’África: O Sabor Africano Na Mesa Brasileira and Gastronomia & Historia: Dos Hotéis-Escola Senac Sao Paulo, have won Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.