American Foods and Drinks You'll Miss in Brazil

Brazil, Lencois, market
••• Aldo Pavan/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

You may not realize how much you take your daily, plain, comfort American foods for granted until you leave your country. Although you'll be pleased to see how many of the foods you know can be found in Brazil - there's even okra and Hershey's Kisses - you're likely to be in for some serious food cravings.

As every expat knows, the longer you stay abroad, the more acute those cravings are likely to become, to the point where every visiting friend and relative's suitcase becomes a potential rescue pack.

Learn which foods are worth making room in your suitcase for, either because they can't be found, are hard to find, are too expensive to indulge in at import prices or which just don't taste the same.

  1. Peanut ButterYou may be well aware that peanut butter is not a universal preference. In Brazil, lots of recipes involve peanuts, but peanut butter has such minor importance in the daily diet compared to what it represents in the US that there's only one big brand on the market.
    1. You might be fine with the taste of Amendocrem, but other's with more partuclar taste might want to bring some American peanut butter along with them.
    2. There is also Santos-based company that makes peanut butter (check the Produtos for "pasta de amendoim").
    3. However, if you're living in Brazil or staying somewhere where you have access to a food processor, you don't have to depend on store-bought products when you can use Brazil-grown peanuts and make your own peanut butter.
  1. Tortillas and Taco ShellsBrazil doesn't have as large a Mexican community as the US and the absence of tall piles of tortillas might be one the first things you'll notice at local supermarkets. If you have a picky child who's going through a serious taco-only phase, work on that before traveling to Brazil.
    1. Some supermarkets have imported taco shells – but a small carton costs about $5. You can appease the Tex-Mex and Mexican blues at places such as São Paulo's Mexican restaurants or Taco & Chilli in Rio de Janeiro. Or buy your supplies from rare places like Villa Buena, also in São Paulo.
    2. If you're staying in a room with a kitchen, you might stock up at the nearest street market and make your own guacamole and salsa.
  1. CranberriesYou can find cranberry juice in Brazil at large supermarkets and at Lojas Americanas. However, bring your own cranberry sauce if you're spending the holidays in Brazil. Or, if you have access to a kitchen, you can graciously tap into your local reality and create a tangy alternative using the delicious jaboticaba (in season from September to January; there's even a jaboticaba festival in Sabará, MG in November), as the expat author of From a Kitchen in Brazil has done.
    1. The minority of Brazilians who acknowledge the existence of cranberries might refer to them in English. To most people, the Portuguese word for cranberry - oxicoco, pronounced oks-see-CO-co – is nothing but an obscure riddle.
  1. BlueberriesThough blueberries are absolutely unique (do you know anything that looks, smells or tastes quite like them?), you'll find a few scrumptious alternatives that may help ease your separation anxiety: Moscatel grapes in the summer (a little hard to find) for your muffin recipes; and purplish açaí, blended and eaten by the spoonful or drunk as a thick juice.
  2. Evaporated MilkBrazilians consume staggering amounts of condensed milk every year. But evaporated milk has never really caught on the way it has in the US. Try larger supermarkets for the one brand available: Itambé Chef Gourmet.
  1. Barbecue SauceWhen Kansas (or Texas, or Tennessee) are far away; if you suddenly get tired of Brazilian churrascaria seasonings; and if local American-style barbecue sauces such as Wessel just don't cut it, you may need to have a smuggled stock for emergencies.
  2. Maple SyrupYou'll find it, but not everywhere, and it's going to cost you. Call Casa Santa Luzia or try supermarkets with a good selection of imports such as Pão de Açúcar.
  3. RelishYour hardest time finding relish so far might have been at a supermarket you weren't familiar with. In Brazil, where hot dogs are dressed with mustard and ketchup (or, in a more Brazilian version, with that plus mayo, marinated sauce, and mashed potatoes), relish is harder to find than regular pickles. Look for these brands: Hemmer, a company based in Blumenau, and Companhia das Ervas.
  1. Candy CornYes, you'll run into quite a few candy bars and other sweet treats you're used to in Brazil. But of all the candy you won't find, candy corn is among the ones whose absence you'll feel the most, especially if you strongly associate it with childhood memories of fall and Halloween. It's safe to say that there's nothing in Brazil quite like candy corn.
  2. Skim MilkWhether it's the kind sold in cartons, or the dehydrated version sold in cans or vacuum packaging, Brazilian skim milk is like water to the real thing. I can only commiserate when it comes to this item, which may take major desensitizing or the addition of coffee and sugar, or of chocolate mixes like Nescau, to get used to (if you ever do).
  1. Root BeerEven if you love it, try to think of it as an acquired taste. Root beer is inexistent in Brazil, and considering the reaction of most Brazilians who've come across it in their US travels, it's hard to imagine it being produced locally, and imports seem to be absent from supermarket shelves.
    1. In the meantime, try one of Brazil's acquired-taste sodas - Gengibirra, a ginger-based drink.