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Gunma’s ‘Brazil Town’ offers a carnival of cuisine

by Rebecca Milner

This month A Taste of Home is taking a field trip to Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture. Oizumi, an otherwise ordinary town, is home to roughly 4,000 Brazilians — about one-tenth of the local population. Most of them work in nearby factories (Subaru is a big one). But some of them are working to make life a little more comfortable for their compatriots, by running restaurants and shops that sell Brazilian food. Alighting at Nishi-Koizumi Station, I was there for the food.

My first stop was OPS (Oizumi Popular Shopping), a shopping center that looks like a warehouse. Inside is restaurant/grocery store Casa Blanca (4-18-1 Sakada, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-655-3284; www.casablancajp.com), a beautician and an electronics store — all Brazilian-run.

“It’s a popular hangout for Brazilians on the weekends,” Eriko Saito at the Oizumi Tourism Association told me.

I stepped into Casa Blanca just before noon and grabbed the last table. Everyone around me was speaking Portuguese.

The food at Casa Blanca is Brazilian-style home cooking. There is rice and feijao (black-bean stew); meat dishes, such as bife acebolado (steak with carmelized onions); and sides, like maionese (potato salad, heavy on the mayo). It is served buffet style, all-you-can-eat — just pick up a plate and help yourself. The bill comes at the end (a very reasonable ¥1,100 for men and ¥950 for women).

While the fridge full of canned tropical juices (such as guava and tamarind) looked good to me, pretty much everyone else was drinking bright-green cans of Guarana Antarctica. The Brazilian soft drink is made with extract of guarana, a plant native to the Amazon with about twice the caffeine content of coffee.

You can get cases of Guarana Antarctica, as well as everything you need to make all of the dishes listed above, in Casa Blanca’s adjacent grocery store. There are big bags of beans, spice mixes and thicker cuts of meat than you’d typically find in a Japanese supermarket (plus ears, tails, various organs and feet).

I also saw tubs of made-in-Oizumi queijo minas, a soft white cheese popular in Brazil. It is often paired with goiabada (guava paste) in a dish called Romeo and Juliet.

Oizumi has two other Brazilian supermarkets, Kioske Ci Brasil Oizumi (3-13-342 Sakada, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-20-1020; www.brasil-navi.net/shop_info77.html) and Super Mercado Takara (3-12-10 Sakada, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-61-0201). Some of the things that caught my eye: linguica calabresa (pork sausage flavored with hot peppers), frozen mandioca (cassava root) and pulpa acai (acai-berry pulp). Give or take a few items, the three stores each have a similar selection, but only Casa Blanca has an online store (in Portuguese and Spanish).

Takara’s big draw is its churrascaria (Brazilian-style barbecue joint), Rodeio Grill (0276-62-2600; www.rodeiogrill.jp). On weekends Rodeio does an all-you-can-eat rodizio de churrasco, where waiters work the room offering cuts of meat fresh off the grill (on weekdays you can order dishes a la carte instead). It also has a food truck that works the festival circuit selling churrasco (barbecued meat) sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Kioske does an amazing churro (tube of fried dough), made to order and piping hot, filled with sticky doce de leite (milk jam).

At the back of the parking lot — this cluster of shops forms the heart of Oizumi’s Brazil Town — is the town’s best padaria (bakery). Tomi (3-7-4 Sakada, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-61-1030) is the place to get delicious, addictive salgadinhos (savory snacks) such as pao de queijo (cheese buns) and pastel, a thin envelope of pastry, fried and filled with meat or cheese. It opens at 6 a.m. for before-work breakfast runs.

Oizumi’s original Brazilian restaurant is Restaurante Brasil (5-5-3 Nishi-Koizumi, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0467-62-0994; www.brasil-navi.net/shop_info31.html), which opened over 20 years ago. Saito said her Brazilian colleague at the tourist office is a big fan of the restaurant’s feijoada (black beans and pork stew) and churrasco.

Also near the station, Canto Galo (4-24-13 Nishi-Koizumi, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-63-6089; www.brasil-navi.net/shop_info90.html) functions like a convenience store for South American foodstuffs. Here you can pick up candies, mate teas and canned goods from Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.

For a complete list of all the Brazilian shops and restaurants in Oizumi, pick up a map at the Oizumi Tourism Association (2467 Yoshida, Oizumi-machi, Ora-gun, Gunma-ken; 0276-61-2038; www.oizumimachi-kankoukyoukai.jp).


Multicultural food fair

Several times a year, usually on the fourth Sunday of the month, Oizumi hosts the Feira das Delicias Internacionais, an international food fair. Many of the local Brazilian restaurants set up food stalls, but so do residents of other nationalities. Oizumi is also home to Peruvians, Indians, Nepalese, Koreans, Chinese and Turks among others — making for a truly diverse culinary spread. The next fair will be held Aug. 24, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Hana no Hiroba plaza near Nishi-Koizumi Station.

Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.