From coxinhas to pastéis: Brazilian delicacies in Vancouver

Photo courtesy of WhataFood

In a country with continental dimensions like Brazil, each region has its own cuisine and typical dishes. Local business owners Cassia Ribeiro from Brazilian bakery and catering service Gimme Coxinhas and Carolline Cunha from WhataFood are bringing those flavours to the Metro Vancouver area.

The South region is famous for its barbecues and dishes derived from Italian and German colonizers cuisine. In the coastal Northeast region, the cuisine is based on seafood and recipes with palm oil, while the Amazon River basin provides a great variety of fishes and products derived from the manioc root, such as its flour and the tucupi, (manioc sauce served with fish, prawns or duck).

Because of Brazil’s colossal size, the miscegenation of its population has made Brazilian cuisine even richer by mixing elements of African, Indigenous and European cuisine. Feijoada, one of the country’s most famous dishes, is inspired by the French cassoulet, adapted with Brazilian ingredients under the influence of African slaves. In spite of these differences, there are elements found all across the country that are considered as symbols of Brazilian culture, such as coxinhas, (chopped chicken covered with dough and fried), pão de queijo, (Brazilian cheese bread) and pastel, (fried pastry with various fillings). These delicacies are considered comfort food, especially from Brazilians who live abroad and wish to find something that reminds them of their homeland’s flavours.

According to 2019 statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 1275 Brazilians have obtained Permanent Resident status and immigrated to Metro Vancouver, which puts Brazil in the top six countries of origin for immigrants moving to this region. With that, comes the demand for products originated from this part of the world. And that is a demand that entrepreneurs Ribeiro from Metro Vancouver-based Brazilian bakery and catering service Gimme Coxinhas and Cunha from WhataFood, intend to meet.

Bringing people together through coxinhas

Gimme Coxinhas began its operations in April 2020. They deliver fried or frozen coxinhas and brigadeiros, (desserts made with condensed milk). After the government lifted COVID-19 restrictions, they began to offer catering services for small gatherings as well.

“The idea is to serve appetizers and desserts for these occasions and also offer our products for people who miss the flavours of our rich and beloved cuisine”,” says Ribeiro, who has been involved with restaurants since an early age, as her mother and grandmother owned their own businesses in Brazil.

Ribeiro has a degree in Business Management and more than ten years of experience working in restaurants, three of them in Vancouver. Her background combined with the notable lack of representation and variety of Brazilian food in Vancouver, despite the numerous communities in the city, has motivated her to start this business.

Ribeiro says the acceptance of Gimme Coxinhas’s products has been positive, exceeding expectations within and outside the Brazilian community. The main challenge they face is fulfilling the high demand while maintaining a quality product. At the moment they are working exclusively via delivery, but their plan is to open a physical store in Vancouver in the near future.

“The idea of food means, to me, home, union, family. The idea I want to transmit with Gimme Coxinhas is that we offer food which promotes union of people and the nostalgic feeling of home, even being far away,” she says.

Sugarcane juice completes the experience

Cunha of WhataFood used to prepare pastéeils at home, for her family and friends, but she recently decided to participate in the Richmond Night Market and wanted to sell a Brazilian product. She decided on pastel, but didn’t know it was going to become a real business. They started with five products – a rule imposed by the event organizers – four flavours of pastéis (meat, cheese, chicken, sausage), and pão de queijo.

“The first challenge was to make people learn to eat pastel. After tasting it, people started to come back for more, not only Brazilians but especially Canadians and Chinese, says Cunha about the acceptance of the Brazilian treat.

Coxinhas | Photo courtesy of Gimme Coxinhas

WhataFood is currently selling pão de queijo via delivery, as the markets and fairs are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are working hard to open a physical store. The opening was supposed to happen in June 2020, but has been postponed.

“In Brazil, pastéis [plural of pastel], are usually served with sugarcane juice, and we are offering this product too, to make the experience complete. We will keep our clients updated about the opening and promotions in our Instagram profile,” says Cunha.

WhataFood is starting off with the most popular flavours that were offered at the Richmond Night Market, but will be adding some more options, including vegan options and seasonal flavours. The plans are to serve great quality products to not only make the Brazilian community reminiscent of their homeland, but also gain customers from all nationalities.

“We work to maintain excellence and regular quality in our products and services;, our intention is to build a system that someday might be franchised,” Cunha says,

Cunha also points out that support from the public is vital for the survival of the business.

“If we are today able to open our store it is because we are receiving great support from the community, not only from Brazilians. We feel that not only our clients, but Vancouver media supports local businesses,” she says.

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