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Mercado Brasil

Provisions of Brazil

I couldn't seem to set foot in a boutique last weekend without hearing the pulsing beat of Brazilian electronica. It's no surprise, though. It seems with the growing population of Brazilians in the Bay Area, follows an increasing local fascination with all things Brazilian. And though I know some people only associate Brazil with the Amazon rainforest, Carnival and thong bikinis, it's a huge country with a lot to offer.

Major music stars such as Bebel Gilberto and Daniela Mercury now make sure to stop in the Bay Area on their United States tours. You can learn the martial art of Capoeira from two different academies in San Francisco. We also finally have our own churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque restaurant) in San Francisco, a staple in American cities with large Brazilian populations.

In addition to this, we have a sprinkling of Brazilian shops throughout the Bay Area, one being Mercado Brasil, which opened five years ago on Valencia Street in the Mission. Mercado Brazil is so much more than a store, though. It functions as a meeting place for Brazilians and all those who love Brazil.

When I opened the door to Mercado Brasil, I was greeted by a lively chattering originating from the customers gathered near the cash register in the back. People come here to socialize just as much as they do to shop. I noticed most customers seemed to know each other and were warmly greeted by Mercado Brasil's owner Soraia Swink. As I spoke with Soraia, customers would stop by to say hello and she would introduce them to me by name.

The store often functions as information central for Brazilians. People often call in asking if they know someone who speaks Portuguese that can fix their refrigerator or translate official paperwork. Customers can pick up a small selection of the latest Brazilian magazines, or the free cultural publication Brasil Best, loaded with information on Brazilian services, art, music and culture in both English and Portuguese.

As you walk in, you'll see a rainbow of Brazilian bikinis, tops, pants and flip-flops on the left. If you'd like to sport the green, gold and blue of the Brazilian flag on a shirt, prices start around $25.00. The flip-flops piled up in the baskets run around $12.00, though a pair of black ones with the Brazilian flag beaded on the top will cost you $20.00.

There are also cubbyholes full of household items such as shampoos, lotions and soaps, like a bar of Phebo lavender for $1.90.

The wall to your right is stocked with foodstuffs of all kinds. You can find an easy mix for the salty but tasty pão de queijo (literally cheese bread) for $2.29 (easy to make if you can translate the instructions), strong Brazilian coffee for $7.00, and potent Mate tea for $3.25. If you're hesitant about plunking down cash for uncommon food, there are also little tasty chocolates stored in jars near the register, many for only $1.00.

Chilled in the refrigerator are juices made of tropical fruits familiar to American palettes such as guava or mango for $2.90, and the unfamiliar, such as acerola or açai. Açai is catching on in the United States, though, for its reported antioxidant benefits and you can try it for yourself for $2.00 a juice box. You'll also find the popular soft drink Guaraná for $1.00, which to those who've never tried it tastes similar to 7-UP, but is actually made with a small red fruit high in caffeine content.

If you can't make out the directions on the pão de queijo mix, you can purchase a bag of pre-made frozen ones for $6.90, in addition to sausage and chicken croquettes in the freezer.

Tucked in a corner next to the refrigerated items is a wall of CDs and DVDs by popular Brazilian artists such as Timbalada (you may have caught in their brief appearance in the forgettable Speed 2: Cruise Control) and Caetano Veloso (who you also might have seen singing the Oscar nominated song from Frida a few years ago at the Academy Awards). You can also find DVDs from Marisa Monte and Tom Ze, whose recent album, Estudando o Pagode — Na Opereta Segregamulher e Amor, is up for a Latin Grammy this year.

In addition to the store, Mercado Brasil provides money wire transfer services to Brazil and works with Confianca Van Lines to ship boxes to and from Brazil.

Just as one little American store in the middle of Brazil couldn't hold all variations of what you find here in the states, Mercado Brasil can at least give you a taste of what you'd find in Brazil.