A Life in Condensed Milk


By Roger Burtonpatel

Brazilian food, in all its decadence, is often accompanied by dessert(s) made with Leite Condensado, or its boiled derivative Doce de Leite. The gum-numbingly sweet, slow-flowing white syrup is present in cakes, chocolate puddings, tarts, and just about everything else one could dream up. The postprandial sugar-induced torpor leaves me dazed and feeling as though I’m swimming in the stuff itself, which, accompanied by the often laxer Brazilian sense of time, makes the hours move slowly and gives life a dreamlike sort of feeling. Indeed, the sense of time here can leave and has often left me in a sort of lax daze as I wander through sunny streets that flow together like some great jungle-gym and take more food as it is offered, which it will be until the pan is clean. This feeling only wears off once I realize that time really is still moving normally for everyone else, and I’ve been astonished more than a few times as I’ve checked my watch and seen how the hours have dripped by.

So what to do? Does one try to “stay vigilant” against the sweet tide, attempt to keep a clear head, and not succumb to decadence? Or is this an example of ignorance, of cultural rejection? It is very true that utterly shunning condensed milk, both as a desert and a lifestyle, will not a happy year in Brazil make. But overindulging is an equally fatal tourist trap, and with dozens of grams of sugar per spoonful, it’s hard not to slip closer to utter depravity with each bite, with each day. Should I, or should I not, join the Lotus-Eaters in their dreamy Brazil days? On the one hand, I might lose parts of myself in the sea of creamy sweetness forever-but isn’t that what I’m here for? Still, my greatest fear is leaving this year with little more than a goofy smile to present as a result. This, in combination with the ever-present temptation to sip condensed milk and let the hours pass has resulted in adversity that I haven’t expected. The Brazilians themselves are not a lazy people, by any means. They alone seem to be immune to the sweet allure of seeming-endless hours and plates of sweets, and manage to work all the harder for it. Those who cometo Brazil, however, may find iteasy to suck the spoon and not take it back out.

My best solution is to lash myself, like Odysseus to the mast, to something that will keep me grounded among the drippy, easy hours that are so easy to eat and lose without being satisfied. Yes, laze in a hammock for all the hours of the day-just read a book while you do it, and finish it by the end of the week. Yes, spend that little bit of extra money on another Uber ride to save time-just make sure you save a little, for the end-of-the-month account. Yes, take a third portion of condensed-milk cake-just make sure you take an extra-long walk on the sand the next day. A little bit, a smaller bite, and by the end of my aventura doce, I might have something to show for it.