Brazilian food has remained a mystery for the most part in the Riyadh food scene but thanks to the efforts of the Embassy of Brazil in collaboration with Riyadh Marriott Hotel, we have finally gotten a taste of what Brazil’s real tastebuds are like.
Last week, we were invited to the launching and press conference of the Brazilian Food Festival at the Mosaic Restaurant of the Riyadh Marriott Hotel wherein the press, bloggers and special guests were treated to a buffet of Brazilian signature dishes and live cooking stations. But before that, we were honored to have the Ambassador of Brazil to Riyadh, H.E. Flavio Marega and the Executive Chef of JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Hotel, Chef Thomaz Leão for a 30-minute interview, discussing the highlights of Brazilian cuisine and bringing it to the spotlight for everyone in Saudi Arabia to experience. It turns out that almost all of the ingredients needed to create Brazilian food were easily available in Riyadh and that locals and expats alike can expect some similarities in the taste of the food, especially with their dishes like the grilled meats, beans and other root crops.
As we wrapped up the press conference in one of the meeting halls, we were surprised to see that the lobby was already full of guests, mostly diplomats and their wives/colleagues engaging each other in one big meet and greet. If I’m not mistaken, I heard that the Cuban and Japanese Ambassador were present in the event too. Fancy! I was lucky enough to pose for a quick picture with the Brazilian Ambassador.
The crowd was then ushered to the main dining area of the Mosaic Restaurant and we found ourselves surrounded by an array of Brazilian food selections in the buffet. However, my first stop was to the live cooking station, where the line was still short for freshly grilled steaks, chicken and sausages. I always see Brazilian beef in the groceries and was curious as to how a real Brazilian chef will flavor it.
The meats were generally good. I liked the salsa being served along with the beef and I had mine at medium rare. Chef Thomaz said that the salsa and the grilled beef together is how it is eaten in Brazil. The garlic bread loaf was very flavorful with not just a brush of garlic butter on top but you could also find it inside the bread itself. They bake/roast the bread on the grill too, right beside the meat. There were some chicken hearts, sausages and lamb as well but I just took one chicken drumstick to try. Unfortunately, the one I got was a little too charred and a bit dry. So my vote still goes to the steaks instead.
After getting our meats on a plate, we proceeded to the buffet section where there was a mix of the usual salad/appetizers but with an entire side dedicated to the Brazilian options. I tried the summer squash appetizer, along with bits of the beans and corn selections and their take on the grilled pineapple. On their hot appetizers side were the fried yucca, deep fried crusted bananas, fried polenta and a live station where you can order a tapioca omelet (it’s pretty and gluten free!).
That summer squash appetizer was soooo good! It was thinly sliced and properly sweet. The fried polenta is something new for me as I’ve never had it before. It’s a bit bland in taste and I’m not sure if it was meant to go with a dip or sauce, essentially it was pretty much what regular polenta tastes like, only this time you can eat it like a finger food. The yucca fries is also one of the highlights of the hot appetizers and it’s very similar to me and J’s favorite, sweet potato fries. Only yucca fries are made with yucca roots (aka cassava) so they are white on the inside but pretty much still shares the same starchy sweet taste as the sweet potato.
For the main dishes, it was hard to get a decent of the photograph the buffet since a lot of people are coming in and out of the line so I just took a photo of all the Brazilian food that I took. Suffice to say, I had a little bit of everything.
From top to bottom: I had to take another serving of those summer squash appertizers which were really good. Then there’s the black-eyed peas with meat, which I deduce to be their take on the famous national dish: the Feijoada – black beans and meat stew. Then there’s their version of “Virado A Paulista” which is original made with kale and pork, but this version had beef bacon instead. Followed by the Vatapa, which is shrimp cooked in coconut milk and the ox tail stew that was very tender and tasty that I had to go back for another one. In general, I can say that most of their main dishes are comfort foods. The kale and bacon dish was the one that stood out for me, flavor-wise for the right mix of acidity and saltiness while the beans, meat stew and shrimp in coconut milk were homey and hearty, probably best to go with hot rice or a scoop of polenta.
I was quite full after that and decided to cleanse my palette instead with just some fresh fruits. The guests started to depart and so did we. However, in case you’d like some as well, they do offer Brazilian coffee in the lobby too! Might as well round off the entire experience with a cup of the world’s largest producer of coffee, eh?
The Brazilian Food Festival is available by buffet at the Mosaic Restaurant for 170SAR per person. Ala carte orders are also accepted. The festival is happening until March 31, 2017.
Brazilian Food Festival
Mosaic Restaurant, Riyadh Marriott Hotel
6:30 PM to 11:30 PM