Home Base Sao Paulo

Outside of Korea, the most Korean food I'd ever eaten was in Sao Paulo. Surprised? Well, there are some 50,000 Koreans or should I say, Korean Brazilians in Brazil, most of whom live in Sao Paulo. Much of the immigration happened in the 1950s, when Koreans wanted to escape the instability of their own country. Brazil at the time, was apparently encouraging foreigners to come on over, perhaps to stimulate population and economy. Can you imagine just picking up your family of 7 kids who'd never been out of Korea in their lives - in the 1950s PRE-internet when one couldn't google Sao Paulo and get a sense of what one was in for - and plopping everyone down in Sao Paulo? That's exactly what my husband's grandparents did.

Those Koreans that great up in SP say they feel much more Brazilian than Korean, and I could empathize, feeling much more American than Chinese. They speak Portuguese and Korean. Many of them work in the cloth/ clothing industry - design, manufacture, wholesale. The streets in the garment district are lined by fashion shop windows, all creatively decorated with lanky mannequins draped over ladders, lavish chandeliers, pink vintage wall papers, showers of origami cranes, bright splashes of fluorescent stripes. Style-wise, Think: hundreds of mini Forever-21s (that ubiquitous teenybopper mall shop which I admittedly frequent, well, frequently). Sao Paulo lacks tourists, and so I felt self conscious about taking of the camera around here, which would be the equivalent of a giant jewel-encrusted sandwich board sign announcing TOURIST!! Thus, no storefront photos.

Mixed in the maze of shops are Korean restaurants - lots of them. If all you've heard of is Korean BBQ, learn now that there is much more to Korean food. There are lots of soupy and rich dishes that come in oven-sizzling bowls. Above, a delicious mandu (ie wonton) soup. The gazillion little side dishes (kimchi, seasoned dried mini-fish, fried egg, gelatinous chunks of ?) help you to season your dish to your liking, or for you to snack on between bites of main course. But all is not business; within the family there are also connections to a Korean ceramics studio - in which we found a moment of tranquility in an otherwise gigantic buzzing city, plagued with endless traffic and confusing streets.

Cruising along on a multi-lane Sao Paulo freeway, we came to a Y-shaped division of lanes, with the right arm leading off onto a different freeway. We took the right arm instead of the left. About 30 yards into the wrong arm, the driver stopped - full on STOPPED in the fast lane (no blinkers or anything),  and other cars casually drove around us. Then he BACKED UP - in the fast lane on the freeway - until we sat in the island between the two arms. Finding a space in the left arm traffic, we rejoined the rush. No-one honked, the whole time. In fact, considering the crazy driving, disregard for lanes, cutting off, red light running - there was not much honking at all. It is as if there is a mutual agreement that driving is a challenge of obstacles and everyone just gets through it without complaint; none of this high-maintenance smooth driving American expectation.