I was beyond honored to be invited to the 2nd Annual ConPizza conference in São Paulo, Brazil earlier this month. I had no idea Brazil was so into pizza but they’ve apparently had it for over a century and São Paulo has so many pizzerias nobody knows the real count! The event was sponsored by a pizzeria association, similar to the VPN in Italy (and the US), but they’re more of a union than a certification agency.
The goal of ConPizza is to get a bunch of pizzeria owners and pizza business folks into a room together to share information that could be mutually beneficial. They had a bunch of speakers from big companies talking about marketing and franchising but it was all in Portuguese so I had almost no idea what was going on. Attendees got cool headsets so they could hear an interpreter’s version of my talk about pizza diversity in NYC and pizza box design around the world (I always manage to squeeze that in).
I only had two days to experience the wonders of São Paulo’s pizza scene but here are some highlights of the trip.
Let’s get pizza boxes out of the way first. From what I can tell, 99% of the pizza boxes in Brazil are octagonal! Most pizzerias deliver by scooter, so the unconventional box shape might be a way to keep the pizza from bumping around too much. They come in two pieces (a lid and a base) which seems crazy to me because it takes so much more time and material, but they seem to love it over there. The artwork is also insane. The boxes int he photo above are all interactive. One becomes a soccer field with upright coal posts and even a two-piece cardboard “ball.” The other two have pieces that pop out to form either a toy airplane or a model dinosaur. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!
The gentlemen from the association even took me to their headquarters, where they store a box from every pizzeria they work with. It was incredible. There are boxes in that pile are beyond belief and I’m just glad I had the opportunity to see them in person! New York City truly is living in the pizza box dark ages.
Now for some pizza. We spent night #1 at Quintal do Brãz, an absolutely beautiful restaurant with an incredible yard. I noticed a couple amazing things here. First of all, they offer pizzas divided into three sections. I’m used to seeing a half-and-half pizza, but this is seriously divided into thirds! It seems so much harder to cut and top, but they did it and I applaud them for it. The pizza above has one section with soppressata; one is a Calabrese salad with fresh tomato and mozzarella; the final section has a “requeijão,” or creamy cheese, made by a local company called Catupiry. From what I can tell, Catupiry is to creamy cheeses what Kleenex is to tissues. It’s a little strange for my palate but the people here seem to love it.
At Quintal, I noticed that the staff serves your slices and leaves the remainder on a table to the side of the dining area. It gets covered with a vented lid and marked with your table number. The pizza isn’t sitting on your table while you eat, so the server has total control when it comes to who gets the final slice!
Quintal do Brãz is one of several locations, but the word “quintal” separates this one from the others because it means this place has a serious “backyard.” Here’s a photo of the most beautiful path to a restroom I’ve ever seen.
We spent the second night at 1900, a pizzeria that has been family owned since it opened in 1983. We tried a ton of different pizza from the restaurant’s 30 year history before I had to zip to the airport.
Erik is the owner of 1900 and he’s extremely proud of his family’s restaurant. He told me how his father used to stop service for an hour every Monday night so the restaurant could become a concert hall for local musicians. This wasn’t meant to attract business, they wouldn’t sell food during the performance. That’s pretty damn cool.
His pizza was really interesting. The crust is a dense, yet soft, surface (probably because of the extremely short fermentation time) and topped with more interesting ingredient combinations. These were served as whole pizzas instead of three sections like Quintal do Braz. Both places baked in a wood-burning brick oven. Most Neapolitan ovens I’ve seen have an arched doorway but the wood-fired ovens in Brazil all had square openings. Bake times were in the 2-3 minute range and most of these places are burning composite wood logs rather than straight chopped wood. They claim it’s cleaner and easier to manage.
In Brazil, pizza is treated like a proper restaurant food. People sit down and use a fork and knife to eat it. They apparently don’t eat it for lunch, only dinner. And most of the pizzerias in São Paulo are delivery/takeout only. I’m so used to seeing wood fired ovens as showpieces inside restaurants but in a delivery business the customer will never see them. I completely forgot that these ovens are tools for food, not just for marketing.