One of the joys of traveling here and there is stopping in to places that we might bypass if we were not on the lookout for Chance Encounters. We are easily distracted by interesting places and often hit the brakes and turn around to investigate. Since we are committed to eating locally and adventurously, we are especially alert for new food experiences and the stories of the people behind the food. We stumbled upon one such person and his place recently and it proved to be a real palate pleaser.
Vinny is a vibrant, energetic fellow who’s welcoming smile radiates from behind the counter of Padira Bakery. We had a few minutes to spare while our laundry dried, so we strolled down Main Street in Milford, Massachusetts to explore a group of shops whose signage was all in Spanish. Padira Bakery called to us on this hot day with the full color pictures of fruit smoothies on the window. What we discovered inside was an enchanting array of baked goods and a young man by the not so Brazilian name of Vinny, who is extraordinarily proud of work.
Vinny shared with us that he is a nutritionist by training. He wanted to combine this perspective on food with a business concept started by his Grandmother two generations ago. She had made bread from her home kitchen to help support her family. He also felt that some of the healthy aspects of his native cuisine could be adapted to please an american palate. And so the Padira Bakery was born.
Vinny bought the bakery a year and a half ago as a failing business in need of much updating and hard work. It is right on Main Street in Milford under the green awning. His business provides employment for extended family and it is really fun to walk in and be greeted by their enthusiasm and smiles.
Brazilian cuisine has European, African and Amerindian influences. It varies greatly by region, reflecting the country’s mix of native and immigrant populations, and the size of this large continent as well. When I explored the subject online, I learned that this mix and size has created a national cuisine marked by the preservation of regional differences. There is not an exact single “national Brazilian cuisine”, but there is an assortment of various regional traditions and typical dishes. This diversity is linked to the origins of the people inhabiting each region.
We actually have some really good Brazilian food in our surrounding home community in central Florida, but because the menus are often based around meat, we have not sampled much in Florida. In the Southern part of Brazil, the influence and focus on meat shift due to gaúcho traditions shared with its neighbors Argentina and Uruguay. With many meat based products, due to this regions livestock based economy – the churassco, a kind of barbecue, is a local tradition and that is much of what we see in Florida now with the emergence of the Brazillian steakhouses. So the Padira Bakery was a nice opportunity to try a different aspect of Brazillian cuisine with the focus being on less meat and more on lighter fare.
Ingredients first used by native peoples in Brazil include yucca, cassava, guava, coconut. All of these influences are represented in the bakery. The acai ice cream is made from fruit imported directly from Brazil and the deep red color looks like beets. It dances on the tongue with a partnering of tart and sweet. Other tropical fruits such a mango, papaya, orange, passion fruit, and pineapple are all fruits we are familiar with from living in the tropics, but they are used creatively in the bakery’s cooking in a variety of delicious manners that we were unfamiliar with. The coconut cake made with yucca flour was delicious. I served it with fresh picked strawberries and whipped cream for dinner with friends one night and it was an all around hit! Vinny loves to share his work and we left stuffed with generous samples that he insisted we eat and take with us. We had days of yummy in the tummy to look forward to!
A few days later we picked up meat pies and a smooth as silk flan to take to the kids house for lunch. Everyone kept going back for flan all through the day! We have lots of great Cuban food in our area of Florida, but this was some of the best flan we have ever sampled…….smooth and not overly sweet.
The national beverage is coffee and what bakery doesn’t need a great coffee? Vinny’s brand is imported from Brazil and roasted in Boston. The beans are delivered daily from a roaster in Boston and the bean bags are often still warm…….now that is fresh!
Arnie and I shared a pães-de-queijo, a large filled concoctions similar to a pierogy of Polish cuisine or a kibbeh from Arabic cuisine. It is a common finger food items, that is a meal in and of itself. In the center is a melted volcano of Queijo Minas Cheese is surrounded by spiced pulled chicken encapsulated in a gluten-free dough made from yucca flour. The egg-shaped result is rolled in cornmeal and deep-fried like a donut. This is what the workmen line up out the door for at 5:00 each morning. They come to fill their lunch pails, grab a coffee and breakfast to go.
Given the predominance of the beef/dairy industry in areas of Brazil, cheese figures in as a common ingredient. Queijo Mnas is a soft, mild-flavored fresh white cheese usually sold packaged in water. If our Florida friends will journey over to Rt 127 and visit La Isla grocery, across from the Pulix Plaza, you will find this cheese in abundance and we hope you enjoy trying it!
In addition to the pães-de-queijo, we tried Pateis, similar to empanadas. These small hand-held pastry envelopes are wrapped around assorted fillings, then deep-fried in vegetable oil. These are filled with either spiced beef, chicken or just cheese. They look like the jam filled tarts that my Grandmother made to use up leftover pie crust with their crimped edges and golden brown hue. It was interesting to learn that these delicious hand held goodies are actually an Japanese influence. There has been a significant Japanese diaspora into Brazil and this street food is an easy fast food pick up with their different shapes used to tell apart the different flavours. The two most common shapes being half-moon (cheese) and square (meat). Some resemble chicken croquettes. We washed it all down with a big glass of passion fruit juice which Vinny said would leave us calm with a feeling of well-being. Not sure if was the great food or the passion juice, but we did feel really good after that!
Of course, the deserts are the highlight at Padira Bakery. Bolos, or cakes line the trays,; cut into big slabs that would easily feed four people for desert (or Arnie and I on a glutinous night). We didn’t have enough time this year to try them all, so we obviously will have to set a goal for next year!
Bolo de rolo is a rolled cake, a thin mass wrapped with melted guava and a delicacy of Southern Brazil
Pão de mel is honey cake, somewhat resembling gingerbread and usually covered with melted chocolate
Bolo de cenoura is a scrumptious carrot cake with a chocolate cover made with butter and cocoa
Bolo prestígio is a chocolate cake with a coconut and milk cream filling
Bolo de fubá (corn flour cake)
Bolo de milho (Brazilian-style corn cake) resembling cornbread
Bolo de maracujá (passion fruit cake)
Bolo de mandioca (cassava cake)
Bolo de queijo (literally “cheese cake”)
Bolo de laranja (orange cake)
Bolo de banana (banana cake spread with cinnamon)
As the weekday crowd gathers early in the morning, we think it is not only for the food. An additional benefit is being greeted by Vinny and his friendly family to start your day off right. That is food for the soul!