Rio de Janeiro: Becoming a Carioca

So my trip begins with the state of Rio de Janeiro, home to 6.2 million people and large-scale festivities such as Carnaval in the months of February in March.

But no matter the time you visit the city, beware of Rio’s power of seduction; it may leave you with a severe case of saudade (an indescribable feeling of longing – also a word that doesn’t exist in any other language on earth).

 

This Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous city) has many charms that capture not only the hearts and minds of tourists, but equally those of the Cariocas (Rio dwellers). Something I noticed while I was here was Rio’s disarming traits of the melting pot of cultures that lie within the city walls that inevitably creates a variety of cuisine that makes the city unique on its own.

Let’s start with Rio’s street food. Lying along Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches, you can easily find street vendors selling a variety of foods; both morning in night.

You’re in Rio; it’s hot, you’ve just come out from the water and you’re thirsty.

What’s more refreshing than a coconut? Here, they’re green and the vendor whips out his cleaver and slices it in front of you, adds in a little straw and a spoon (from the coconut skin) and off you go.

You can both hydrate and fill your stomach.

For something with more consistency, head to the Tapioca stand (Tapioca: (starch extracted from the root plant, mandioca)

At this stand, the vendor pan fries tapioca which glues together and renders it into a circle form. Then once it has thickened, he adds a filling based with butter and salt; from coconut slices to dried meat and finally adds a filling of tapioca. Add a little color to both sides and tada!

 Tapioca de Carne Seca (Tapioca of dried meat)

Now comes Pastel, a thin pastry envelope that is filled with assorted fillings and deep fried. The result is a crispy, brownish crust around a moist filling.

 

The traditional pastel comes with cheese or seasoned meat. But I opted for something different: pastel with shredded codfish, shallots and parsley.

Pastel de Bacalhau

View of Rio from Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf mountain)

Unfortunately, street food can only go so far. What happens if it rains, if you want to sit down with friends and have a couple of Chopp beers? Botecos are your answer.These hole-in-the-wall-push-out-onto-the-sidewalk type is what a local pub is to denizens of small towns throughout the United Kingdom. Cariocas are fiercely loyal to the idea of botecos, they are institutions. They can be found in all corners of the city and are small spaces open to the side-walk with a small stand-up bar, a cashier’s cage, a display case for pre-cooked snacks, plenty of refrigerators for icy-cold beer, a minimal kitchen and a rudimentary bathroom.

All botecos sell beer, and a they sell a lot of it, among other mixed alcoholic beverages. These are extremely social places and people come together to hang out, watch a football game and cheer (here, don’t ever cheer for the opposing team against Rio…you’ll probably get hit by a glass beer bottle).

A couple of boteco delights:

Empada de Camarão com Catupiry, Empada de Palmito, Empada de Frango. Empadas are small tarts that can be filled with an assortment of fillings. Here, shrimp with cheese, heart of palm, and chicken.

Bolinho de Bacalhau; deep-fried codfish ball. Inside, the codfish is shredded, mixed with oil, herbs and shallots.

Frango a Passarinho; deep-fried chicken with garlic and parsley – divine! Be ready to eat with your fingers.

Lula a milanesa; deep-fried calamari

Queijo na Chapa; Cheese on the grill

Caldinho de Feijão acompanhado de torresmo e salsinha; Thick black bean soup with deep-fried pork skin and parsley

Coxinha; shredded chicken enclosed in a wheat flour

Linguiça caipira; Smoked sausage with fresh onions

Don’t forget your Chopp!

Or Caipirinha…

Talking about Caipirinhas…There’s an Academia de Cachaça near Leblon Beach. Academia de Cachaça literally translated to Cachaça gym funny enough offers more than 100 different varieties of Cachaça that you can taste. I don’t think one person can try out all 100 of them unless they know they’re going to end up on the floor. I decided to play it safe and try out 2 varieties.

The first, Beija Flor (“Humming bird”). Originally from the state of Minas Gerais, it holds 48% of alcohol. The smell is sweet, reminding you of fruits, vegetables and wood. It also has some subtle notes of anis. It is also served cold.

The second, Tabaroa. Also, from the state of Minas Gerais, my first reaction was that it smelt like Aguardiente (“firewater”). It was much more refined, kind of tasted like whisky and was much stronger, but overall more delicate and smooth in the mouth.

A good hangover cure always lies with food. With my body filled with Caipirinhas, I knew I had to level down my alcohol intake. I was told that Rio had some of the best Churrascaria in town. Churrascarias (from Churrasco “Barbecue style” in Portuguese) owes its origins to the fireside roasts of the gaúchos of southern Brazil traditionally from the Pampa region, centuries ago.

In Brazil, Churrascarias are large restaurants holding over 100 people and for a fixed price, clients are offered a buffet appetizer from salads to cured meats and as they sit and eat, servers come to your table with a variety of meats (roasted on charcoal) and slice a portion off. You can order and eat as much as you want…this is both good, and bad.

One of the big Churrascarias: Porcão

The Buffet of Appetizer

The meats are served with a variety of side dishes like onion rings, rice, fried banana, and farofa (toasted manioc mixture)

Now, the meats…

1. Alcatra com queijo; pot roast with cheese

2. Picanha Red Angus; Sirloin steak from Red Angus beef

3. Carne de Avestruz; Ostrich meat

4. Picanha; Sirloin Steak

5. Costelinha de Porco; Pork ribs

6. Coração de Frango; Chicken heart

7. Bife de Chorizo; Chorizo meat (Argentinian cut)

8. Cupim; hump of cow

9. Costela de Boi Trançada; Beef rib – parallel cut

10. Costela de Boi (whole) – transversal cut

You couldn’t ask for more…but there were more…let your imagination run wild…

Rio de Janeiro boasts restaurants of all kinds. You can find Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese food. Since I’m in the culinary industry and host a food blog, I always give myself a goal in finding a new and modern restaurant that’s worth trying out.

The Troisgros family is synonymous with the Nouvelle Cuisine. Pierre and Jean Troisgros invented French nouvelle cuisine (which today is the stereotypical French food) in the 1970s. Pierre Troisgros had 2 sons: Michel, owner and chef of La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France (3-Michelin star) and Claude, who moved to Rio and boosted French cuisine in Brazil. 4 restaurants in Rio are under his name: Olympe, 66 Bistro, CT Brasserie and CT Boucherie. Claude came to Brazil in 1979 and began to redefine  Brazil’s culinary movement by prizing local seasonal ingredients, such as palm hearts and black beans, and bringing out their subtle flavours using classic technical skill.

I got the chance to try out CT Boucherie on Rua Dias Ferreira 636 in Leblon Beach. With his newest venture CT Boucherie, Claude continues to innovate with his twist on the traditional Brazilian Churrascaria by dedicating himself to fine cuts of meat.

A good time to try out the restaurant is during lunch on weekdays. The restaurant has a capacity of 48 people but it’s hardly full. As I entered the restaurant, I felt as if I was back in Paris, trying out some secret, traditional but amazing bistro – but I knew I was still Brazil as I looked down at my shorts and red Havaianas.

Boucherie in French, means Butcher and waiters and cooks alike dress up as old-school French butchers. The menu is extensive with choices of soups, salads and daily specials but the fixed-price menu is hard to beat in Brazil. For around 17 Euros, you choose either a cut of meat or fish and the waiters come with various side-dishes to accompany your meal (+ a beverage).

Crusty bread, butter and goat cheese to start

Back in “Paris” – back to my routine….A plate of Chorizo Bellota before the meal

Cut of Meat/Fish


The side dishes:

Farofa with garlic

Potato chips

Roasted tomatoes with breadcrumbs

Apple-Passion fruit puree (to die for!)

Grilled vegetables

Chou-chou gratin

Polenta

Puree of Mandioquinha (root)

Dessert: Petit gateau of dulce de leche with tapioca ice-cream

I really enjoyed my meal at the restaurant. I thought for Rio, the French food was good. I liked that I could pick the side-dishes I wanted and could order more, but I felt that it didn’t go well with the Parisian environment as in France I’m used to portioned sizes and a calibrated entree – dish-dessert. This is something new, that I liked but wouldn’t have again.
On the last day, I found out about a restaurant that was beautiful, light and fun and served organic food. Called Market, it lies behind Ipanema beach within the bustling street of Rua Visconde de Piraja.
Organic bread with rosemary
Salad with black sesame and sesame seeds
Grilled mushrooms and vegetables
Grilled salmon with vegetable risotto
Bramble shark with tapioca crust
Side dishes:
Risotto of heart of palm; with a hint of beer or white wine
Mushroom risotto
Dessert-on-the-go: Brigadero; a Brazilian chocolate bonbon made by mixing butter, condensed milk and cocoa together. It was very strong in taste, but smooth and sticky in texture. A good energy booster!
The restaurant was something different to what I had during my stay in Rio. It wasn’t typically Brazilian but did use various Brazilian ingredients which I liked. I felt that the food was clean, and light. A good ending to the trip.
Rio was splendid to me and I wish I could stay, though bigger things are calling. It was a good experience, the people are super friendly and it’s not as notoriously dangerous as films show, that you must beware of pickpockets and dodgy areas. Rio you have been good to me and I’m definitely coming back to visit you again.
For now, I’ll miss you…but next, Salvador da Bahia!
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Comments
One Response to “Rio de Janeiro: Becoming a Carioca”
  1. Guillermo says:

    Porcao! One of my all-time favourite Sunday restaurants. Que saudade…

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