Wrapping it all up in São Paulo: Melting Pot of Brasil

As one of the world’s biggest metropolises, São Paulo looms large over both the country and the continent. Sampa, as the locals call it, is the cultural capital of Brasil with a diversity of attractions including museums, concerts, restaurants and bars. Paulistanos (inhabitants of the city) believe in working hard and playing harder, and despite constantly complaining about street violence, clogged highways (up to 200km long during rush hour) and pollution, most wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

My experience showed me that São Paulo is a melting pot of cultures and traditions both internationally – from the explosion of immigrants from Europe arriving in the 20th century and nationally – from the influx of people from other Brasilian cities looking at the city as the industrial and commercial center of the country. To the Paulistanos, “São Paulo carries Brasil on its’ shoulders”.

The most cosmopolitan city in Brazil could have only a central area that is equally cosmopolitan. A universe of diverse people moves through the center of São Paulo; there are business people rushing to get to the stock market, groups of punks in search of the latest record and a number of university students hovering around the region attending night classes.

The city is large and divided into various districts. The most notable (and the ones I visited) were the following:

Liberdade holds the Mercado Municipal of the city.

This covered market is a belle époque confection of stained glass and a series of vast domes.

Inside is a delightful market specializing in fresh produce and dried goods from all over the country.

Fruits:

Similar taste to Sapoti/Sapote fruit in Asia

Atemoya

Jabuticaba (from the Brazilian Grape Tree). Looks/taste like a grape but is almost dark purple/black.

Maracujá: Passionfruit, seen all over the country

Seafood:

Monkfish

Lobster tails

Salted and dried codfish

Herbs, Spices and Nuts:

These little suckers come with a sting. My mouth dried up quickly and I felt dizzy. No kidding…

Fresh and toasted nuts

Meat

Ready for some Feijoada

 It’s also a great place to sample a couple of classic Sampa delights. The food court is upstairs overlooking the market.

Packed during the lunch hour

Mortadella sandwiches – Cold cut of Italian sausage which reminded me of New York city

Pastel –  pockets of dough stuffed with meat, cheese or fish and then fried. Here, with shredded and seasoned codfish. 

Another fast-food snacks found all over Brasil and is prominent on the streets of São Paulo…

Açaí – great energy booster from the best Açaí bar in the city, Bolados Sucos. 

Breaded Chicken thigh

Coxinha – Brazilian Chicken croquette

Kibe – Brasil’s popular ‘arab’ snack

República has been renovated as the whole historical central area of the city. It looks decadent, but many individuals young and old cruise in the clubs, movie theaters, dark rooms, and bars from Ipiranga Avenue down to Largo do Arouche. Rua do Arouche, República Square and Vieira de Carvalho Avenue are also known as pick-up spots where a few male, muscled prostitutes line up for services to men and women. There are also many “noias,” or adoslecent and adult homeless people who are addicted to glue-sniffing or crack. Hate crimes by neo-Nazi skinheads have been reported in the area, but it has been well policed ever since. An arts and crafts and precious stones and food fair is held on República Square every Saturday and Sunday. The Republica station of the yellow subway line is presently under construction. Traditional gourmet restaurants and show-bars such as O Gato que Ri, Galeto’s, and Bar Brahma are located on Largo do Arouche, Vieira de Carvalho, and Avenida São João, respectively. Bar do Leo, a 1940s pub that serves lunches and appetizers daily, is located on Rua Aurora.

Estadão Bar e Lanches is famous for its pernil (pork loin) sandwiches served on crusty French bread, arguably the best in the world. Succulent, smooth and sweet.

The original

With queijo (cheese)

This no-frills stand-up joint is justifiably popular with both taxi drivers and the late-night revelers they ferry about (open 24 hours)

Vila Guilherme: The North Side

From my experience in Brasil, every city I visited had at least one Arab restaurant. I do not actually comprehend the link between the two, but as a major city and a melting pot, São Paulo boasts a large number of Arab restaurants. One of the best lying on the main Imigrantes avenue is called Esfiha Imigrantes. 

I have had great Middle Eastern food before, which include my travels in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon and I must say for Brasil, it was surprisingly good, tasty and reasonably authentic.

Esfiha de Carne

Tripa recheada frita (stuffed tripe with rice)

Kibe cru (raw kibe)

Homus (hummus)

Tabule (tabbouleh)

During the 20th century, little São Paulo became a giant metropolis and the historic downtown was just too small to hold its title. Since then, districts surrounding downtown in every direction became a circle known as Centro Expandido. The area is the most visited by tourists along with historic downtown, and home to the largest variety of services. Centro Expandido includes…

Paulista and Jardins

During my last week in Brasil, I was fortunate enough to experience some high-end restaurants that offered discounted meals in view of Restaurant week (September 5 – 18). One of them, happened to be the highly expected and 1-week old Brasero Amatxu.

From the name, the restaurant makes reference to gastronomy of Basque country (Spain); the cuisine of mothers and the ancient technique of grilling ingredients on coal, making them more soft and flavorful while maintaining the properties of the food. The menu assumes this inspiration, but brings with it a contemporary presentation featuring local products.

Beautiful setting

Spanish iberico ham, of course.

Slicing the little sucker

And….some Sangria with Sparkling rosé wine

On the menu for Restaurant Week:

Tonka butter and an olive paste with the bread

Cream of mushroom with crispy bacon

Mixed salad with cheese and crunchy bread

Grilled Filet mignon of pork with rice and spinach

Codfish tart with spinach

Fresh fruits of season

Bread pudding with cream

Another high-end restaurant was…

Maní

Helena Rizzo, who heads the kitchen alongside her Catalan husband/chef Daniel Redondo is one of the best chefs in Brasil today. I am inspired by her unlikely route to the culinary industry as like me, she started studying another subject. In her youth, she wanted to become an architect and then worked as a model before settling on a culinary career before 20. Originally from the South (a sulista, as they say here), she tailored her resume to her looks working in Brasil with Fasano and Emmanuel Bassoleil, in Italy with La Torre and Sadler and finally Spain’s 3-Michelin star (and the Second Best Restaurant in the World) El Celler de Can Roca. Here, she met Redondo with whom she opened the Brazilian-Spanish eatery Maní in 2006. The menu in Maní is bold and eclectic including various types of ingredients and demonstrating the high degree of talent that comes out of the kitchen and winning Rizzo multiple awards in Brazil as well as internationally, most notably the “Chef of the Future” prize from Paris’s Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie in 2009. Since December of the same year, Rizzo has also been creating a series of menus for TAM Airlines. This year, she was voted 74th Best Restaurant in the World (San Pellegrino list).

Moema

You can’t come to Brasil, eat in São Paulo and not eat meat from Fogo de Chão.

Sure, the restaurant has now expanded to other parts of Brasil and recently opened ventures in the United States but this is authentic Southern cuisine. With an expertise in the best cuts of cow meat, you can choose from more than 10 juicy parts of the animal, alongside a side-salad bar. As in all churrascarias, there is an excellent salad and cold- and warm meals buffet to make sure you don’t eat too much meat. The food is all excellent and ranges from simple salads, over rice and beans to sushi and arabian specialities.

With some heavy silverware, waiters rush to come to you. I won’t show you all the pictures but you get the idea..The cuts are well selected and prepared perfectly to suit your wishes and will be further fine-tuned to your taste – the meat is too well-done? No problem. Simply mention it and you can be sure that within a few minutes you will be brought the same picanha or fraldinha, just the way you like it. Happy tummy!

The waiters, scores of them, wear a dress that resembles the typical Gaucho dress and the dim lighting and lots of dark wood give everything a sombre atmosphere but still, hundreds of the upper class storm the place for great food.

Nearby the place I was staying, there was also a Japanese restaurant, Gattai, featuring unlimited Sashimi and Sushi. On a side-note, I noticed during my stay in the country that there were lots of Japanese people and Japanese restaurants. The population is most concentrated here though. I wonder why?

Here’s a glimpse:

Two streets down, is the unmissable Bar Original.

Since its opening in 1996, Bar Original has had a set of traits die-hard fans of traditional Brazilian bars can easily recognize and validate as the real thing: mosaic tiles on the floor, avocado green paint and dark-framed art – caricatures and more – on the walls, great waiting staff, cold Brahma chopp on tap and comfort food.

The 15-year old bar just recently celebrated its birthday! Cheers!

The bar also serves some of the best Caipirinhas in town. I tried Caipirinha de Caju (Cashew fruit Caipirinha…wow!)

Rice croquettes, bean broth and other classic appetizers pair up with the meticulously stored and poured beer, served in refrigerated glasses. We tried a couple of other samplers which were all very tasty and hot!

Bolinho de Carne (Beef ball) served with mustard and mayonnaise.

Linguiça Blumenau e Carpaccio de Rosbife (Sausage from the city of Blumenau and Carpaccio of Roastbeef)

Passarinho de Moda Original (Fried chicken thighs – can’t go wrong!)

For Portuguese speakers: see the Bar Original YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/BarOriginal); the bar also has its own book – Original – Histórias de um bar comum (2008), by Nirlando Beirão, with a preface by Washington Olivetto and photos by Romulo Fialdini.

Brigadeiro

Restaurant Skye, Hotel Unique, Avenida Brigadeiro Luiz Antônio, 4700. On the rooftop of posh Hotel Unique, Skye serves excellent fusion food under the supervision of chef Emmanuel Bassoleil. Good for night views of the area around Ibirapuera Park. Free entrance.

Further south of the city, I tried Boa Vista, whose specialty was mud-crabs.

To start-off, some mussels (with a total of 4 people, we ended up ordering 3 plates of these…)

And the main dish…Crab!

The next day, after a good run along the beach, my stomach was ready for more. As if it was not enough, outside São Paulo lies an old and charming authentic German (can you believe it) restaurant. The original owner was German and before she died she signed a will leaving the restaurant to the hard-working staff (waiters and cooks included). To this day, the decor of the restaurant remains the same and the food represents Germany at its best in Brazil.

Restaurant Hirondelle

Pork, pork and more pork was ordered…

Pork sausage with potatoes

Succulent Pork shin with sauerkraut and steam potatoes

We also had (to try) pork chop!

Ending with the famous pecan and chantilly cake…I rolled back to my bed

During my time in Brasil, researching and documenting local produce, especially from the Amazon forest. Our project got picked up by a local Paulista TV channel whose main TV hostess interviewed us and asked us about our experience.

We even got to show some of our culinary talents inspired by our travels in Brasil. Check the videos from my previous post; Ready, Set, Action!

Too lazy to cook, we finally ordered from one of the best burger joints in the city: Lanchonete da Cidade.

Crispy potato fries with rosemary and garlic

Mmmm..Burger

With all my travels, it was a nice change to have home-made afternoon snack.

Home-made lime cake

My last week in the city and in the country was spent working. Yes it’s not all fun and games, but this was a great experience to see what goes on in one of the hottest restaurants in Brazil and the world. D.O.M, voted 7th best Restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino, signifies Mr. Atala’s desire to have the “home” of the “best” “and greatest” cooking.

It is fancy but not regal, warm but not intimate. It could be, based just on looks, a slightly stuffy French restaurant in midtown Manhattan. The service, attentive to what some would consider a fault, includes greetings from everyone, pushing your chair in under you when you’re seated, that kind of thing. D.O.M has become a priority destination for all globe-hopping gastronomes. The imaginative and edgy chef, Alex Atala is known by transforming traditional Brazilian dishes adopting the French and Italian cuisine’s techniques on native Brazilian ingredients.

I spent 3 days in the prep kitchen and 3 days in the service restaurant and everyday I learned something new, whether it was technique, produce, how to cook it, how to not cook it and made some beautiful contacts during my stay. Unfortunately, I did not have time to take pictures as I was working and helping out the permanent kitchen staff but I learned more about Amazonian ingredients here than anywhere else, in terms of cooking. 

São Paulo is also probably one of the most underrated cities tourism-wise, often shaded by other places in the Brazilian sun & beach circuit such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia. It is in fact a great city to explore, with its own idiosyncrasies, the exquisite way of living of its inhabitants, not to mention the world-class restaurants and diverse regional and international cuisine available to all tastes. If there is a major attraction to this city, it is the excellent quality of its restaurants and the variety of cultural activities on display. For the wanderer, a stroll through Sampa’s neighborhoods is a window into the shops and restaurants of the world.

As I write this, I am ready to leave this beautiful country to hit the streets of Paris once more. Not to worry, even with jet lag, I will explore some of the newcomers of town and I will also be announcing very big news to you all, so please keep checking One Spoonful At A Time.

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