With the Rio Olympics in full flow, this is the perfect time to tell you about an amazing food stall that sells Brasilian home-cooked food. Comida Brasil – which translates as food from Brasil – is run by Cristina Mendes, who I met for a chat last week. Just imagine – you can watch the Olympics while you munch delicious spicy beef, pork and beans, just as if you were there!
You can find the Comida Brasil stall in St Albans on market days in market square, and the trailer on Tuesdays and Thursdays near Marks & Spencer. If in doubt, just look for the yellow and green Brasilian flag. On market days Comida Brasil sell pots of stews that have been simmering for hours, making the traditional Brasilian recipes melt-in-the-mouth. I chose feijoada, which is the national dish of Brasil, and is a great place to start if, like me, you are new to Brasilian food. It is a slow-cooked dish of pork sausage, bacon and black beans. The dish is believed to originate with the slave trade, when landowners would give slaves the offcuts of meat, to which they would add beans in order to make a more robust meal. Cristina serves it with rice and salad and for just 5, it was a delicious lunch, packed with flavour. It was a hearty portion too, so very good value.
Cristina explained that everything is freshly made each day, with no additives. The beans, beef and casava flour come from a Brasilian importer as she felt other ingredients just didn’t give the same flavour. If you want to try Brasilian beef, choose Vaca Atolada, beef cooked with chillies and cassava, which is a little like potato, but lower in gluten. Galinhada is boneless chicken cooked with turmeric, garlic, sweetcorn, peppers and fresh coriander. The name comes from galinha, the Portuguese word for chicken. With each dish you choose two sides, such as sweet potatoes, rice and salad. There is usually also a fish stew, but Brasilian food is not great for veggies; the bean side dishes would be the best option, with sweet potatoes and salad.
Comida Brasil also sell street food snacks to keep you going as you browse the market. Cristina explained that their snacks are what you would find everywhere in shops, bars, restaurants and markets. Coxinha are like croquettes, filled with chicken or sweetcorn and spicy beef. Little Bolinho de Bacalhau (fishcakes) are lovely too.
Cristina explained that all the food is home-made and follows traditional Brasilian recipes that have been in her family for generations. Cristina was raised in Goiania, which is in the centre of Brasil near Brasilia. She was taught to cook by her mother, and on the day I visited, her son John was helping out, continuing the family tradition.
On non-market days, Cristina uses the barbecue grill in her trailer, so the menu is slightly different. You can still get tasty stews but you can also get freshly grilled prawns and chicken. There is a little more space, so we sat at one of the tables outside the trailer to chat just before the lunch service got busy. Cristina told me that Comida Brasil started trading in St Albans a year ago at the Street Festival, and have picked up more days over the year. They loved doing the Harpenden and St Albans Food & Drink Festivals last year, and will be back in October to do this year’s. The weekly stalls have lots of regular customers now, and when I was there one customer rang through to order nine portions, which I am sure made an amazing business lunch. Another customer ordered chilli and garlic prawns which Cristina cooked as we chatted, and they smelled amazing. Although pretty busy, you can book Comida Brasil for private parties and events, and I imagine people would love the taste of carnival Brasil right here in the UK.
My box of feijoada stayed warm for at least an hour until I got it home, so if you have an exhausting afternoon of watching Olympics ahead of you, then I recommend buying lunch to take home. It would reheat easily too for supper. You can find the stall/trailer from 11 until about 3/4pm, depending if they sell out.