São Paulo: Food Lover’s Paradise Posted on 10 Dec 16:19 , 0 comments
Article by Nora Wallenius.
To those looking for a relaxing beach vacation in Brazil, São Paulo can seem like the big bad monster you don’t want to go near. The largest city in Brazil and one of the largest cities in the world, São Paulo is the business, commercial, and financial center of Brazil and South America. A cursory glance of the typical “Top Ten Sights” of the city and I am overwhelmed and slightly confused. A park here, a cathedral there, a modern art museum over there- in this wide spectrum, it almost appears as if there isn’t a single touristy thing to do in São Paulo.
The amount of neighborhoods and the distance between each one alone leaves me slightly defeated. I’ve heard that the public transport system is modern and clean, but where to even go?
Stop right there. This city’s reputation may have scared off more than a few wide-eyed visitors, but I won’t let it stop me. There is more to this massive concrete jungle than meets the eye, and there must be something here worth writing home (and an article!) about. And boy, am I right.
In short, São Paulo is a food lover’s paradise. You name it, they’ve got it. I had heard about the large amount of immigration in São Paulo, from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and more. São Paulo resembles more the traditional New York City melting pot than any other city in Latin America and its gastronomy has followed suit. Along with the typical Brazilian fare (which is still part of my favorites), oriental delights like sashimi and temiyaki rule lunch time options, authentic Italian restaurants serve homemade raviolis and bolognesa, and pay by weight eateries offer limitless options. Here are some of my favorites in São Paulo cuisine that will spice up any trip to this hungry monster of a city.
Step into any of the numerous botecos, or local corner cafés, and take a glance at the fruit hanging from the ceiling. Fresh squeezed fruit juices, or sucos, are readily available and every bit as delicious as something from a tropical paradise. My favorites are passionate fruit, mango, and orange. Menus generally contain the main staples of beans, rice, chicken, steak, coxinhas (fried dough balls stuffed with chicken or fish), salmon, and Brazilian beer. Feijoada, Brazil’s most famous stew filled with beef and pork, is usually served for lunch on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Don’t forget to grab a few pão de queijos for the road, you won’t regret these mini cheese breads!
After spending over 6 months in Japan, I consider myself a slight sushi snob. Missing that fresh taste and variety in Buenos Aires sushi, where there are more Chinese and Koreans working in a Japanese restaurant than Japanese descendents, I was really looking forward to a taste of authentic Japanese cooking. São Paulo holds the highest population of Japanese and Japanese descendants outside of Japan, a result of early immigration to work on coffee farms in the 19th century. Although not exactly 100% traditional, I loved the Japanese food in São Paulo more than I can explain. There are traditional items like sashimi, simple rolls of fish and rice, and yakisoba. The temiyaki hand rolls, though, brought in a flavor fusion that is distinctly Brazilian. Rolls of salmon are mixed with fresh fruits and intriguing sauces, and include favorites like salmon skin, tuna, and fish eggs. The best part is the all you can eat menus, particularly affordable during lunch hours. These offer a variety of menu items, such as gyoza, cooked fish, and miso soup along with their uncooked counterparts, for as much as you can stuff into your stomach.
Pay By Weight
Not exactly sure what you want to eat? Check out pay by weight restaurants and diners, where you can pick and choose exactly what you want on your plate. Although common in other parts of Brazil and South America, I found these dining spots nicer and with more selection in São Paulo. I combined interesting salad ingredients like crab and tomatoes to pickled capers and mushrooms, and then ladled myself a big helping of feijoada and fried accoutrements. I enjoyed being able to choose how much I wanted of each portion (heavy on the beans, light on the rice) without feeling like I was compromising quality for quantity. Many also have sections of ethnic food, such as Japanese, Middle Eastern, or Italian.
As is similar to Argentina, southern Brazil received a large inundation of Italian immigrants in the mid-19th century looking for a better life in America. They settled in cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo bringing their traditions of wine and food. In the charming neighborhood of Bela Vista, there is a long street filled with traditional Italian eateries, where portion sizes are generally for two. Dishes range from pastas and pizzas, to heartier dishes like stewed meats and lasagnas. Although I didn’t find an overwhelming amount of cheese in Brazil, this craved my fixing for some saucy goodness.
Among the “Top Ten Sights” in the city is the Mercado Municipal, a fruit and deli lover’s dream. Stalls of fresh fruit like blackberries, pineapple, melons, guava, strawberries, and more are stacked to the brim. Fruit cups generously doused in condensed milk make the perfect refreshing treat. Dried fruits and nuts are also available to fill up a bag. Head to the back of the market where mini cafés serve up a variety of lanches, or meat sandwiches. The most famous is of mortadella, which is cooked on the stovetop and put in a tasty bun with mustard. Almost like a São Paulo version of the NYC pastrami sandwich? Either way its juicy and delicious. If you have room left in your stomach, try a pastel do bacalhau which is a large fried pastry filled with white fish, a region specialty. I wished I had a bigger stomach!
This is just the tip of the iceberg for culinary deliciousness in São Paulo. Other citywide popularities are Indian food, Middle Eastern food, Brazilian steakhouse churrascarias, and
Chinese food. It was a shame I didn’t have a chance to try them all, but it’s just more reason to return. Don’t be afraid of getting lost in this concrete kitchen, your nose will always guide the way.