Friday, September 30, 2011

Sophisticated Corn

São Paulo is one sophisticated town. People don't live their lives in flip-flops, the best coffee isn't just for export, the graffiti is better than gallery art, and the homeless people have more style than anyone with money, assembling outfits with that impossible-to-imitate creative intuition for pitch-perfect clashing normally achieved only by the most talented Japanese hipsters and Marc Jacobs.

One of my favorite mid-afternoon snacks in Rio de Janeiro was something from the corn man: a pamonha, curau (a kind of corn pudding made with sugar and condensed milk), or boiled corn-on-the-cob served in its pale green husk. On one of my first days here in São Paulo, while wandering alone down Avenida Paulista, one of the city's main arteries of finance, commerce, and culture, I spotted a happily familiar sight: corn man!

Only something was different. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but something about his piles of candied coconut chunks and sweet roasted peanuts seemed a little too tidy. I ordered: "One corn, please." Using a long, two-tined barbecue fork, corn man fished out a bright yellow corn cob from the vat of boiling salted water, but instead of placing it into its snug corn husk jacket, he set it over a small plastic bowl and started carving it with an elegant efficiency I had never witnessed in Rio. I stared and pulled out my camera. He looked annoyed at my bumpkin tourist antics, like the best of the New York hot dog vendors (note the NY baseball cap):

I remarked that while living in Rio I had never seen anything like what he was doing, shaving off the corn kernels into such a civilized spoonable snack, and he seemed somewhat pleased by the contrast (São Paulo and Rio being rivals in the same sort of way that San Francisco and Los Angeles thrive on their differences from each other, though the particular stereotypes between each pair differ). I paid my R$3 and continued on down the avenue, spooning steaming fresh corn kernels into my mouth like a contented baby, free from anxieties of hot water spilling down the husk onto my forearms or corn getting stuck between my teeth for the rest of the afternoon. While there's something satisfying about tearing off a row of kernels with the toothy force of your own hunger, the corn carving is a clever idea for a pre-meeting (or pre-museum, in my case) snack.

see how neat his stacks are?


Anonymous said...


kale daikon said...

it is! (looks like you're having corn up in the northern hemisphere, as well--among other yummy street food).

Ann said...

I love corn-on-the-cob! Hmmm.