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The pastel is a key feature in Brazilian cuisine and a part of everyday life. It is usually considered a fast-food dish to satisfy a pang of hunger in between meals, or is part of a traditional Sunday activity – going to a local farmer’s market and eating a pastel with a cup of sugar cane juice. Culture Trip unpicks how the pastel came to be in Brazil.
So what exactly is a pastel? The pastel is a thin, crispy crust delicacy shaped as a rectangle or a half circle which holds various fillings inside before being deep-fried in vegetable oil. The half-circle pastels are the most common in bars and tend to be generously stuffed with fillings, whereas the rectangle pastels are usually found on the street markets or beach kiosks. The latter have earned the name pastel de vento (windy pastel) as they have large crusts that contain half filling and half air.
Farmer’s markets happen all throughout Brazil and sell locally produced fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish and meats, popping up along a street and staying there from dawn until dusk. It’s here that stalls sell freshly-made street pastels. Although it’s possible to buy them any day of the week, Sunday morning is the traditional moment to eat them, generally because Sunday has the largest numbers of farmer markets. People gather round the makeshift stalls and eat their pastels before washing it all down with a chilled sugar cane juice. This combination of pastels and juice is not commonly found outside of Brazil but it works like cheese and wine. In other words, it’s a perfect match.
The most common fillings found on the streets are minced beef, mozzarella, heart of palm, shredded chicken with catupiry cheese, prawns and finally, pizza, a mix of mozzarella, tomato and basil. At the street stalls it is often served with a chilli oil to drip over the pastel before eating it, to give an additional kick. As a warning, an innocent looking jar of chilli oil can often be very potent; so add carefully!
However, many bars have added an innovative twist on the everyday pastel and created various fillings with something for everyone. Drinking a cold beer on a warm Brazilian night with a few pastels to snack on is a perfect night shared by many bar-goers. A famous bar in Rio de Janeiro is Bar do Adão which year after year wins awards for serving the best pastels. Each one is stuffed to burst and as well as the traditional fillings, it also has brie with apricot, mozzarella with mushrooms and prawns, blue cheese and nuts, among other delicious combinations. They also serve a range of sweet pastels such as chocolate, nuts and strawberries, and banana with chocolate.
It’s said that the pastel came to Brazil along with Japanese immigration. When the Japanese arrived in Brazil, they adapted the Chinese wontons to sell as snacks at the weekly street markets to earn a living in their new country. Despite time moving on, the pastel has remained the same as it was when it was first introduced and will continue to play an important role in the Brazilian gastronomic scene.