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Brazilian Bowl in Lakeview: Exchange Students Find Familiarity in Feijoada

By Serena Dai | February 5, 2013 10:19am

LAKEVIEW — It's only been about three weeks since Oswaldo Duarte left his native Brazil for Chicago to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He's already visited one Lakeview hot spot five times: Brazilian Bowl, a restaurant at 3204 N. Broadway near West Belmont Avenue.

With conversations in Portuguese, lively Samba music and — most importantly — big, deep bowls of rice, beans and sausage, Duarte and his fellow exchange students visit often.

"It's like being home again," he said. 

Duarte is here as part of a Brazilian government-funded program called Science Without Borders, in which thousands of college students study in locations across the world for a year. IIT hosts more than 30 Brazilian students.

The students, looking to familiarize themselves with the city, found they couldn't afford to regularly eat at other Brazilian restaurants in Chicago such as the Fogo de Chao steakhouse. So, a group of them take the hourlong train ride north every week to Brazilian Bowl. 

On a snowy Saturday, eight IIT students and two Loyola University students all hailing from Brazil filled the small restaurant with Portuguese chatter and laughter.

"We really miss Brazilian food," said Patricia Kuklinski, a chemical engineering student at IIT. "It's just as much as we pay for American food, but we prefer it."

Their signature order is feijoada, a hearty dish packed with beans, rice, sausage and collard greens. Thiago Ribeiro, a student at Loyola University, ordered two. He and his friend Laercio Martins trek down from Rogers Park to Brazilian Bowl at least twice a week to feast on the dish, which they eat nearly every day at home.

It makes sense that the restaurant transports its patrons back to their homeland, as Brazilian Bowl's owner Tony Ferreira ran restaurants in Brazil before moving to the United States. 

When he moved to Chicago, after managing gas stations in Connecticut and New Jersey, Ferreira knew he wanted to get back into the food business to make homemade dishes that are cooked "by nature, by eye" instead of using recipes. 

"I was tired of eating bad food all the time," he said. "This is exactly what I ate as a child." 

Ferreira laughed when asked about how often the exchange students visit his restaurant.

For Thanksgiving, he said, more than two dozen students showed up.

One time, a group even convinced him to go out to clubs with him. (He did not stay out late, he said.)

"I tell them, 'You guys are so fortunate,'" he said, referring to how their program pays for so much. "When I came to the U.S., I tried everything. I ended up paying for everything."

But Ferreira is happy to have them, and is even planning a Brazilian-style carnival in the restaurant this weekend in advance of Lent to add even more native flair. The students will probably show up — if not for the atmosphere, then for those big bowls of feijoada. 

"I miss my parents and family and then the food," Duarte said. "Brazilian Bowl is taking care of the food part."