When I was packing for Brazil, my veggie mate Erin asked me if I was going to bring my cherished Global Chef's knife along to visit South America. "What?! Nooooo," I answered. "I'm not that attached to my things. I'm going to be traveling around and can't really be bringing a knife in my luggage. I'll make due with whatever's there." After several weeks, I finally broke down and decided I couldn't deal with the flimsy carving tools in my Rio kitchen.
Walking on my way to get a cavaquinho, the Brazilian cousin to the ukulele (another thing I left behind in San Francisco; they have the same Portuguese grandparents), I passed by a shop called Rei das Facas, [King of Knives]. After some discussion with my new friend Oliveira ("Não sou vendedor, sou seu amigo!" ["I'm not a salesman, I'm your friend!"], I picked up this sturdy Tramontina 8" knife. "You just improved your life," Oliveira informed me with a twinkle in his eye, as he wrapped my knife in paper. Eager to welcome this new member into my home, I found it a cozy little basket with tea towel blankie. Oliveira was right, and a life lesson was learned: always have a good knife. Your life will be better for it. I also recommend the Frenchie folding, wood-handled Opinel for bike trips and picnics. I use mine primarily for slicing apples and cheese.
This knife has made the most significant practical improvement in my day-to-day life here (I can't quite play the cavaquinho well enough yet for it to compete), but I've gotten more than my money's worth of cheap thrills from this R$8 purchase made at the Glória farmers' market, a combination mandolin and grater:
I've always wanted a mandolin for slicing vegetables but somehow never got around to buying one (the starting price of $30 always seemed to remind me of the need to abstain from the frivolities of late capitalism) . But I must admit, my life has received a bit of a new thrill and I find myself cooking potatoes just so I can put their little hat on and watch them slide slide sliiiiiide away into coin-shaped slivers. Or sometimes I just put the tiny hat on the potato and smile at it.