Brazil’s No. 1 Fake Food
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s like the McRib of Brazil. And it’s cheap.
It’s a Friday night. I’m on a first date and being driven across town to Veloso Bar, a corner bar on a dead street in the Vila Mariana neighborhood of São Paulo. I’m overdressed, and as we pull up chairs to a tiny bar table, my date replies to my silent question: “You said you wanted me to take you to the most authentically Brazilian place I know,” he says. “What could be more authentically Brazilian than the best coxinha in town?”
The coxinha (koh-sheen-ya) reigns supreme among Brazilian snacks. Shredded chicken, sometimes mixed with a tomato-like marinade dotted with peas, is encased in dough and, of course, fried. Think of it in the same vein as other worldly fried delights, like the Italian arancini or the Indian samosa — something so very Brazilian that it transcends class lines (It costs just about 50 cents.) and turns into a foolproof snack (almost) everyone will like. “Coxinha is found from the rich suburbs to the urban, sandy-feet bars,” says Mara Salles, chef of the highly regarded São Paulo restaurant Tordesilhas.
They generally look like jumbo Hershey’s Kisses covered in batter.
And Brazilians love it. In November, with 34 percent of the vote, the coxinha was ranked São Paulo’s best snack by Folha de S.Paulo, a top Brazilian newspaper — not bad for a fried drumstick-like thing. Twenty-five-year-old Lorena de Carvalho made the nightly news with her business Ze Coxinha, which she opened four years ago; the factory pumps out 800,000 coxinhas — a day — to their 60 franchised stores, netting an estimated $200,000 a month in revenue. That’s a lot of coxinhas. “The coxinha has no class, no age, no color,” de Carvalho tells OZY. “It’s like popcorn in that way.”
What makes it so tasty, in part, is that the dough can be made of potato or the Brazilian yucca — or simply wheat flour and whole milk. Molded into the shape of a drumstick, the coxinha is to chicken what the McRib is to beef: meat formed into the shape of a bone. In the end, they generally look like jumbo Hershey’s Kisses covered in batter. At finer establishments, though, like Real Botequim in the northeastern Brazilian city of João Pessoa, there’s a piece of wood sticking out of the top, resembling a chicken bone, which causes diners to gasp, “Que bonitinho! How cute!”
More commonly, you can find Brazilians at stand-up counters and bus terminals around the country with a tiny ketchup or mustard packet in one hand and a tiny, waxy, nonabsorbent napkin in the other. Diners smear condiments on the coxinha as they eat through it. Not exactly date food.
Click “Go Deep” below for a recipe to make coxinhas at home.
Obviously, it’s not the healthiest choice — greasy, heavy, carb-loaded and then covered in ketchup — especially for a country so keen on fitness and appearance. But, as Salles notes, “You can die from obesity just like you can die from sadness, so it doesn’t make sense to deprive yourself… I think Brazil would be a sadder place if the coxinha ever disappeared.”
*Correction: An earlier edition of this story incorrectly situated Veloso Bar in Vila Olímpia.