It feels ironic to be writing this post today. We’re back in Argentina, visiting the small town of San Ignacio Mini. Forget the idea of finding vegan treats here, the fruit and vegetable selection is limited. On our first night, John and I split a package of flax seed crackers for dinner. The previous night, while visiting Iguazu Falls, we had Subway vegetarian subs. When pickins are slim, we make do. When good vegan food is within reach, we seek it out and enjoy every bite. This post is all about the high times, finding amazing vegan treats in the land of Brazil.
Our first stop in Brazil was Florianópolis. Most of the supermarkets we visited stocked cookies by Jasmine. There were a lot of different flavours, including Brazil nut, lemon, coconut and coffee. We tried the coconut cookies and really liked them. Since then, we’ve tried several products by Jasmine and found them to be a reliable brand that uses quality ingredients and steers clear of refined sugars and preservatives. This is just about as good as packaged cookies can get.
At Vida in Florianópolis, which I wrote about in my post about pay per kilo buffets in Brazil, we found a great selection of vegan sweets. The most interesting find was ChocoSoy Pops. They’re essentially the vegan version of Maltesers. They taste like milk chocolate and are filled with crunchy rice bits. The Carob House truffles were also a great find. Cashew nut was our favourite, but we also enjoyed one with rice puffs and another with soft bits of raisins. The ChocoSoy rice crispy bar looked a little dry and destroyed when we removed it from the package but it still tasted good. The chocolate covered banana reminded me of a Big Turk chocolate bar. John doesn’t like bananas and wouldn’t go near it. For me, it was a sweet encounter with chocolate-coated-fruity goodness. We felt very spoiled with choices at Vida and ate enough chocolate to eliminate our sweet cravings for a few days.
Our luck for finding vegan sweets continued as we traveled to Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Mundo Verde, a health food store, was right across the street from where we stayed. Once more, we splurged on a whole bunch of little goodies. We picked up a Carob House chocolate bar, garlic flavoured soy toasts, garlic and oregano crackers, sweet jelly candies, two coconut squares, a chocolate drop, Paçoca de soja and another chocolate covered banana.
Carob House impressed us once again. Their chocolate bar was creamy and melt in your mouth awesome. It tasted absolutely nothing like the awful carob chips you buy in the bulk section of health food stores. The sweet jelly candies, made from seaweed, had great fruity flavours and the texture of forbidden gelatin-based gummy bears. Paçoca is a common Brazilian sweet made from the simple combination of ground peanuts and sugar. The paçoca de soja we tried was good but I’m not sure why a soy version exists. All of the paçoca candy I saw was naturally dairy free. We were impressed once more by Jasmine’s products and enjoyed munching on their perfectly seasoned crackers and soy crisps. The coconut squares, pineapple and cocoa flavoured, were the only let down. They were too sweet for me.
As if our haul of treats from Mundo Verde wasn’t enough, we couldn’t help but jump at the chance to try a vegan version of brigadeiro, a typical Brazilian dessert made by boiling condensed milk and adding cocoa powder. It’s often rolled into balls and topped with chocolate sprinkles. We decided to skip a few steps and use it as a fondue, dipping peaches and kiwi in the sweet chocolate.
It was very exciting to find condensed soy milk at Zona Sul Atende near Copacabana beach. I bought two cans so we can try our lucky at making vegan dulce de letche. I haven’t felt up to it yet but will share the results when I do.
What’s better than a fresh, ripe banana? Dried banana candy! As much as I enjoyed the chocolate covered banana treats, I think I enjoyed the plain and simple dried banana squares even more. I are two while lounging on the beach and savoured every bite. I also tried some whole dried bananas. Maybe it was their shriveled shape or texture that turned me off but they weren’t as good as the squares.
Figs are another fruit turned candy that’s common in Brazil. We tried some candied figs with walnut pieces. They were very sugary. The walnut half added some much needed crunch and helped balance the sweetness overload.
We spent four nights in Rio de Janeiro but only managed to eat at one vegetarian restaurant. We tried to find Universo Organico but didn’t make it there before their early closing time. Instead, we headed over to the nearby Vegetariano Social Clube. I’m saving most of the details for an upcoming post but will tell you about dessert. For $10 Brazilian Reals ($5.50 USD), we got a massive piece of chocolate cake with homemade ginger ice cream. The ginger ice cream was by far the best part. The cake was a little dry and gritty but mixed in with the ginger ice cream, chocolate sauce and peanuts it became an ooey gooey, delicious mess.
Not all of the treats we enjoyed were sugar laden. We tried some gourmet baked potato chips with sesame seeds. They were good but almost too crunchy if you can imagine that.
It was a pleasant surprise to find a soy version of garlic sour cream at a regular grocery store in Rio. I’m used to seeing only plain version of Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream at select health food stores in Canada. At a Hortifruti location we visited, they carried spring onion, olive and garlic soy spreads by Puro Sabor. We picked up some garlic spread and vegetable toasts, which actually tasted like the vegetables they were supposed to – beets and spinach – for dipping. We also enjoyed the spread on cucumber slices and sandwiches we packed for the flight to Iguazu Falls.
On our way to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, we stopped on the side of the road at a coconut stand. After we sucked the coconut dry, the vendor cut it open and made a little scoop from the shell. We scraped out all of the juicy coconut meat before continuing up the hill to see the famous landmark.
In recent years, Japanese food has become very popular in Rio. Ana, our friendly host, explained that it’s common to stop for Japanese food on the way home from a long night of partying at the bar. One afternoon, she took us to Koni, her favourite spot for sushi cones. We had the sweet and sour spring roll cone for $9.00 Brazilian Real ($4.93 USD) and added leek sticks for and additional $1 Real. It was what it sounds like, a spring roll chopped up, mixed with rice, wrapped in a sheet of nori with leek chips squeezed in. It was greasy and sweet but somehow light. It made for a great pre-dinner snack.
I will leave you with a treat of the liquid variety, the Brazilian Caipirinha. What’s in a Brazilian Caipirinha? Cachaça, liquor made from fermented sugarcane, lime wedges, sugar and ice. Comparable to vodka, cachaça is 38% alcohol. Caipirinhas are good, but very, very strong. After some trial and error, I learned I can only drink two per night. The lime and sugar mask the taste of the alcohol a little too well and it’s easy to forget you’re drinking three ounces of alcohol on ice. Drink (and enjoy!) with caution.