Those with a grasp of Spanish should learn before they arrive in Brazil that the ubiquitous pastel is a false cognate and does not mean cake or pie like the Spanish term does. Rather, a pastel (its full form is pastel de feira) is a small pasty, made of puff pastry, rectangular in shape and fried. It can contain a wide range of fillings: cheese, tomato, meat, cod, mushrooms, chicken and so on.
The ancestor of the pastel is the Chinese spring roll. It arrived in Brazil with the Japanese immigrants escaping from the Second World War. As at that time being Japanese wasn’t hold in high regard, some of the Japanese tried to pass as Chinese to avoid the discrimination their country fellow men were being victim of. And they begin cooking Japanese food with a Chinese touch.
The pastel is strongly associated with São Paulo and it is an incredibly popular snack you will find in most open-air markets (the feiras, hence the name pastel de feira). The traditional thing to do is to eat your pastel washed down with a caldo de cana – sugarcane juice.