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Brazilian Beef Strogonoff (Estrogonofe de Carne)
- 1 lb sirloin beef strips
- 1/2 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- olive oil to taste
- Pinch salt
- Pinch pepper
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 2 ketchup
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Sauté the beef with onions and garlic in the olive oil.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add mushrooms after meat is cooked.
- Add Worcestershire sauce and let it all cook for a minute. Then add the mustard, followed by the ketchup.
- While that is cooking, prepare your rice.
- Last but not least, add the whipping cream and stir all until nice and creamy.
- Serve over rice with potato sticks on top.
Optional IngredientsSubstitute mushroom with hearts of palm and beef with chicken
It’s lunch time. The scent of Bobo de Camarão, the shrimp stew special of the day, fills the air. The relaxing sounds of Bossa Nova play in the background. I’m transported to my beautiful home country of Brazil when I look around the vibrant and colorful restaurant.
Brazilian restaurants in Wisconsin are rare. In the Milwaukee and Madison areas, there are traditional steakhouses that offer an elaborate all-you-can eat experience., But Mara’s Brazilian Cuisine, nestled in downtown Oshkosh, encapsulates the feeling of going to my grandma’s house for a Sunday lunch.
“It’s funny because here in the U.S., I feel like everybody that ever heard about Brazilian food, they stereotype (it) with barbecue, right? Churrasco, it’s what it’s known for,” said Mara Rintamaki, owner of Mara’s Brazilian Cuisine. “I’m the complete opposite of the standard Brazilian stereotype here in the U.S. I actually do the home cooking meals, the meals that you eat at your mama’s and your grandma’s house in Brazil. That’s the food that I want to show people about the culture and the ethnicity of Brazil.”
Rintamaki has been living in the U.S. for more than 15 years. In the past, she never enjoyed cooking for work. But she loved to cook at home and quickly discovered her friends, including her Wisconsin ones, loved her cooking. Her specialty is the cheese bread, or pão de queijo, a baked ball made of tapioca flour and cheese. It was this cheese bread that ultimately launched her career in the restaurant industry after she started selling it at the farmer’s market.
“I worked at Amcor. It’s a packaging industry company here in in Wisconsin. I worked there for 14 years. And throughout the 14 years that I was there, I was on and off working at the farmer’s market as well, selling my cheese bread,” Rintamaki said. “Eventually, the little dream became my little bigger dream. I opened the restaurant and it was beyond the cheese bread.”
Mara’s Brazilian Cuisine offers Brazilian home-cooked meals like Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. It’s a bean stew made with smoked meat and served with rice, a tomato vinaigrette and oranges.
There’s also Moqueca de Camarão, a shrimp stew that’s typical of her hometown of Fortaleza, Then, there’s Estrogonofe de Carne, or stroganoff made the Brazilian way.
“I know beef stroganoff is from so many other countries, right? But we cook a little bit different,” Rintamaki said. “We make the beef stroganoff over white rice. Then, we serve it with potato sticks. It’s a big comfort food.”
The stroganoff is made with small mushrooms or hearts of palm — one of my favorite additions to the dish. For me, what really ties the dish together is the potato sticks. They’re surprisingly difficult to find in the U.S. but it’s a necessity that adds a crunchy bite to the meat and the rice.
For Rintamaki, the ingredients give the dish the taste of home cooking.
“In reality, it’s just the same food that they cook every day, but with the Brazilian flair. I use hearts of palm, I use palm oil. I use a little bit of different ingredients that make that home-cooking Brazilian,” Rintamaki said.
Beef stroganoff is one dish that immediately brings me back home. It’s typically made with either chicken or beef in a table cream and ketchup sauce. The ingredients create a creamy and tangy flavor unlike anything else I’ve eaten.
Stroganoff is also one that’s easier to make compared to the cheese bread. For a college student like me, it’s a way to bring me back home.
Rintamaki’s restaurant is also home to a small Brazilian grocery store where customers can purchase Brazilian items that you can’t find at most grocery stores. She carries specialized meats, candies and Guarana, the classic Brazilian soda.
Rintamaki also hosts events like Brazilian hot dog night and Pastel night, making the restaurant a meeting place for the Brazilian community in northern Wisconsin.
“We had a Brazilian Christmas gala. We have our families here but at the same time we miss so much of Brazil and that the glamour … I don’t know, the little Brazilian gatherings that we don’t have here,” said Rintamaki. “I wanted to bring that together with the Brazilian Christmas Gala. We have all the weekend barbecues in the summers and different events that bring the Brazilian food and people together. It’s just mainly community, right? The sense of community.”
At first, she added, these events were mostly attended by Brazilians. But now, it’s grown into a mix of people from the Brazilian community and Americans from the area.
For Brazilians, food is more than just something you eat. It’s about love, family and community — and that’s foundational for Rintamaki.
“My dad was an amazing cook. He just loved to cook and he would do that for fun. Watching him cooking gave me that pleasure,” Rintamaki said. “I love when people like what I make because it’s part of loving someone, right? When you cook for someone, it’s expressing love. I love feeling that back.”
The Brazilian community in Wisconsin is still relatively small, but it’s growing. I grew up in southern Wisconsin after moving from Brazil in 2008. There we found a community that became our family much like what Rintamaki has found in northern Wisconsin.
“Between Fond du Lac and Green Bay, which is the smallest community I would say, we have around 150 families. We do a lot of events together. We do volleyball on Fridays, we do barbecue on the weekends in the summer. We get our kids together for different kid events and stuff like that,” Rintamaki said. “We go to each other’s birthday parties. They come and support my business, which is amazing. I’m very grateful for it.”
In southern Wisconsin, my family was always getting together for a dinner party or a barbecue but what we missed is a restaurant where we could have a home-cooked meal.
Mara’s Brazilian Cuisine unites a community of Brazilians. The restaurant also introduces folks who are unfamiliar with Brazilian culture and cuisine to a whole new array of flavors.
“I laugh a little bit about it, because of all places that I could open the business … Oshkosh, Wisconsin. But I love it. People are very open. It’s a little bit of a challenge, of course, in the beginning to try to explain to people what Brazilian food is. But, I feel like they are actually willing to try it. For me, that’s a big win,” Rintamaki said. “It’s just getting them in the door and saying, ‘Hey, come and try.’ Once they try, they’re hooked and they come back. And that’s great.”
For Brazilians who are new to the state and are looking for community, Mara’s Brazilian Cuisine is the place to find it.
“Come to mama. Come to mama. Come here and have some big plate of feijoada, which is the black beans,” Rintamaki said. “I will make you feel like your home and I will not make you feel alone. Come here anytime.”