Miami has long touted its connection to Brazil, but it's hard to see in the food. Sure, there are a few Brazilian restaurants around town — among them lunchtime favorite Camila's in downtown Miami and Little Brazil near Surfside — but the bulk of the Brazilian food one finds here are more like billboards of the country's cuisine: the fat-capped picanha, stretchy pão de queijo, farofa, and beloved peasant stew feijoada.
Yet there's always been a sneaking suspicion and reality that Brazilian food is much more. Brazil today is a mashup of many cultures. It's the largest nation in South America, which boasts the vast yet dwindling Amazon rainforest and thousands of miles of coastline lining the exterior of the 26-state federation.
Luckily, over the summer, Thiago and Elena Gamoeda opened the aptly named Sfiha's House, specializing in their homeland's ubiquitous Arab-Brazilian snacks, alongside some more of Brazil's familiar grab-and-go bites. The restaurant's namesake, the sfiha, is the result of Arab immigration to Brazil that began in the late 19th Century as the Ottoman Empire began to crumble. Most came from what is today Syria and Lebanon, and their numbers increased following World War I, when they settled in the areas around São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Rio de Janeiro.
Sfiha's sfihas, which range from the delicately seasoned ground beef ($1.85) to smoked Brazilian sausage with the sticky, stretchy cheese catupiry ($2.60), were their interpretations of the food Elena, who grew up in Goiânia near the capital Brasilia, remembered eating throughout her life.
"When you're young, it's something you eat as a snack, and when you're older, it's something you eat after drinking or waking up after drinking," Elena says.
Getting them right, however, was another issue.
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"The challenge that arose was how to make the flour taste and bake like Brazilian flour to make a light and slightly sweet dough," Thiago says. "Due to tariffs, importing flour isn't possible." For two years, he tested different kinds of flours in different combinations and preparations until finally settling on a mixture about which he provides few details. The result is a puffy, chewy affair with a touch of sweetness that makes it easy to pack away three or four in no time.
There are also spectacular kibbeh ($3.5) with an almost impossibly thin bulgur shell encasing juicy ground beef flecked with bits of mint. There's similar action in the codfish croquet, which although is of Portuguese lineage, boasts another paper-thin crust around a soft, meaty cod filling.
If the sole location in North Miami is too far away, don't fret. Sfiha's delivers, and before opening this location, the Gamoedas owned six in Broward County, so there's a good chance they'll be baking pies in your neighborhood sometime soon.
Sfiha's House. 2224 NE 123rd St., North Miami; 786-615-4555; sfihashouse.com.