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Food in France, Italy? ‘Not that great’, Brazil’s president complains

THE WASHINGTON POST – France, the land of fine beverages and delicately aged cheese. Italy, where the risotto is as creamy as the tiramisu. Both countries are known the world over for the quality of their food – and the passion and know-how of the people who make it.

To the president of Brazil? The food in both places was “not that great”.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former union leader who won a third term in office last year, said he rarely eats well abroad.

His apparently serious complaints about “palace food” abroad echoed the old joke: The food is terrible and the portions are too small.

“Everything is restricted, there isn’t a tray for you to choose and take what you want,” he said during an interview with a Brazilian journalist on Tuesday. “Everything is very sophisticated and, sometimes, we don’t even know what it is.”

The comments come just a few days after his return from diplomatic visits to Italy, the Vatican and France, where he met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and French President Emmanuel Macron, among other officials. The foreign ministries of France and Italy did not immediately respond to a request for comment early on Wednesday.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures. PHOTO: AFP

Lula is a divisive figure in Brazil. But on this point, he may be catering to his people. Brazilian food is typically heartier and served in bigger portion sizes than Western European food.

French amuse-bouches and Italian antipasti are dwarfed by the typical Brazilian dish of beef, rice and beans. Brazilian barbecue restaurants known as churrascarias often serve all-you-can-eat grilled meats.

Lula, who has long sought to position himself as a man of the people, praised traditional Brazilian home cooking. “I can travel to the entire world, I can eat around the world, but when I come home, to eat a bit of (beans) with rice, a steak and two fried eggs, for me, it’s the best dish in the world.”

Lula said he wants more of this kind of food to be served to overseas leaders who visit Brazil. “There are days when the food isn’t good” even in Brazil, he allowed.

A good meal, he said, is a generous one. But the French are among those “people who eat little”, he said, adding that he once joined other South American presidents to celebrate former Brazilian leader Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and that the French cook there made “tiny bits of food”.

“I can’t get used to it. I need quantity,” he said.

Brazil’s leader even made a list of dishes he would most enjoy eating, including oxtail, chicken with okra and fried meat rib. – Annabelle Timsit