São Paulo - A Little Taste of Asia

A four day weekend saw us once again flap our wings and leave the fair city of Rio de Janeiro and head to the metropolis known as São Paulo.  It is the largest city in Brazil with ~21 million people making it the “most populous city in the western hemisphere,” according to wiki. According to us it was bloody busy and packed full of skyscrapers, which was a great sight from the plane ride in and out.

For a city of its size, there isn’t a huge amount of sightseeing to do. São Paulo has a great collection of art museums, but we aren’t the greatest fans and have to be in the right mood for such things. We stayed in Hotel Paulista Wall Street, very close to the most famous street in the city, Avenida Paulista. As you know (because I'm sure we must have told you at some point), the people of Rio are known as "Cariocas" - well this word "Paulista" is how one refers to people from São Paulo.

Paulista Avenue is very pretty with a bank of unusual buildings and Eiffel Tower wannabees lining up along it. There are plenty of shopping malls and people selling unique and individual goods on the street and inside the malls alike. We had a great time walking down and people watching. However our introduction to the street was not so friendly...

About 45 minutes after our plane landed we arrived at the Metro station by our hotel, with suit cases in hand. While we looked for the right exit, a policeman came running into the Metro with his gun drawn and shouted at a nearer passerby, asking where the guy he was chasing had gone. In a country where a lot of people are killed by police it was a little reminder to two Brits, who are not used to seeing police with guns, to keep our wits about us...Anyway the area generally is the safest in São Paulo and apart from this, I never felt uneasy on Avenida Paulista, even at night.

The area of the city that we visited the most is is called Liberdade, and is home to the largest community of Japanese people outside of Japan, along with other, smaller East Asian communities. We ended up visiting this area on three separate occasions: once for food, once for food and a gander, once for food and a market. Yes we miss Asian food and the large variety of East Asian cuisine on offer was enticing. As you should know by now, Katie will chat all about the food in a later post.

As well as food, Liberdade is full of Asian-ness, such as big ornate gates and so many shops full of goodies that we hadn’t seen since Korea (or the last Asian supermarket we visited in the UK). We even managed to find some spicy onion ring crisps we used to eat a lot in Korea and hadn’t eaten since. As well as crisps, there were Korean ice creams and we explored this interesting area of town, window shopping while enjoying these ice cold treats - it was a delicious lick down memory lane. This place had a completely different feel to anywhere else we have been to in Brazil – it really felt like being back in Asia.

There is a Saturday market in Liberdade that is cool and full of cute little things from clothes to dumplings. As long term readers know, I am a fantastic boyfriend and I even treated Katie to a pair of origami earrings – paper jewelry is safe to wear out on the streets of Rio.

From here, we walked down to an area called Sé and then on to São Bento, passing a beautiful cathedral that was very impressive from the inside and out.

One thing we couldn’t help but notice was the volume of homeless people. There are a lot of beggars and groups of a dozen or more sleeping rough under the shade of a tree. It’s very upsetting and I always find it odd in a city with a lot of wealth – London is similar in many ways.

Anyway in São Bento there was a staged area that was showing some music in one of the free events that was happening that weekend. Now is as good a time as any to talk about the largest gay pride event in the world, which was happening in São Paulo on that very long weekend. Katie still considers our timing to be an accident... Our farewell from the city involved walking with our suitcases through the parade, getting covered in glitter and bombarded with images of scantily dressed men, women, and everyone in between.

From re-reading our earlier blogs in our blogbook, I recall some old advice we dished out about visiting new cities – go up a high building to see the city. Well following this piece of advice turned out to be a bit of a lesson in Brazilian queuing, when we went to an old building called Banespa, similar in design to the Empire State Building. We arrived at 2.20pm and joined the long queue in which we would end up waiting for nearly three hours (during which time I ran off to grab some espressos). The reason for the painfully long wait was that the lift to the top could only handle five people at a time. In all honesty, knowing what we know now about the very limited five minutes that we were allowed on the observation deck, it probably wasn’t worth it. Maybe an early morning visit would reduce the queue down to a more acceptable level. What was great about the experience though was that only a small group was allowed on the observation deck at a time, making it a very intimate experience. And the views were stunning, especially as the sun was setting in the sky. Who knows whether it was worth the four days of leg pain that we experienced afterwards though...

Another “must see” in the city of so few must sees is Ibirapuera Park. It is a nice green oasis in a city of grey looming skyscrapers. It's easy to rent a bike and go for a cycle as well.

All in all it was a great trip and the city has a lot to offer food lovers, museum lovers, and tall grey building lovers alike. The huge metropolis, coupled with the large Asian presence, really made it feel like somewhere in between Tokyo and Hanoi.

Here are the photos we thought were worth sharing - enjoy!

Ibirapuera Park Fountain

The nearby obelisk

The exhibitions in the Afro-Brazil museum were rather interesting

Banespa from the outside. It really does look like the Empire State Building.

The three hour queue for a five minute view!

Worth it though! Well done Banespa.

Avenida Paulista

Welcome to Liberdade!

Liberdade Market

The Municipal Market

Street art around Vila Madalena

The bar where we watched the Champions League Final. It is called Posto 6 and is in Villa Magdalena.
It is named after the famous surfing district in Copacabana (we can't escape Rio now!)

The largest Gay Pride Event in the world. One to tick off the bucket list.


On the Saturday after Katie's birthday, we decided to celebrate by being travellers again in the city we are growing to love. We took the free* walking tour around the city of Rio de Janeiro.
*Of course it is not free, they need tips to survive so be generous.

Rather than bog you down with the old word-speak, I thought we could use a medium called photos to help explain the journey.

                                                      It all started at Carioca Square, which is a busy little business district full of tall buildings and eager walkers ready to get started.

Scores of vultures started circling and I genuinely feared being pooed on.

Nearby was one of the world’s ugliest buildings – the head quarters of Petrobras. It is shaped to resemble an oil rig.

We then did a Columbo by walking to a famous bakery called Colombo to partake in a quick urine break. It was a delightful quaint place to lay down a stream.

Along from the bakery are these fine cobbled streets and colonial buildings, pictured below.

This little street was famous as a market back in the day. When the Portuguese opened the port to the British, we decided to bring thick wool fabric to try and shift in exchange for a six-pence. Obviously no-one had googled the weather systems in Rio back in the 17th century. They must have sold less than Woolworths.

We walked about and saw the Imperial Palace (top left), Tiradentes Palace (big photo underneath), Cinelândia, Municipal Theater (bottom right) as well as some other cool cathedrals, churches, and political buildings.

The Selaron Steps were next on the tour and along the road towards them we caught some great graffiti.

The steps (Escadaria Selarón) were designed by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. What started as a hobby, quickly turned into an obsession, and was soon being internationally recognised. People sent him tiles from around the world. Can you spot any recognisable faces (besides us)?

The walking tour finished here but we weren't finished. After grabbing a well deserved juice and meal, we took to the surrounding streets of Lapa - a popular area for bars and such. The famous Lapa Arches are below. Absolutely beautiful.

We walked round a nearby Saturday antique market and saw the bar above with some more cool graffiti. Being Brazil, there is of course always music and dancing.  I really love this photo below.

We finished the day with a trip to Arpoador, a rock in between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. It was a great way to finish a great day, watching the sunset behind a mountain. We even took a new banner photo for the blog.

Brazil In My Mouth - April & May

It's the post you've all been waiting for! Yup, fooooooood!

In April and May we ate in a few really good restaurants, so that's mostly what I'm going to tell you about in this post. 

I'm going to start with a restaurant called Cachambeer, which our friend Cris suggested to us. It's in the northern part of Rio city, which is less affluent and has a more down-to-earth feel than the holiday resort bubble we are currently living in. We went there with Cris, our visitors Gary and Sarah and two of their friends who also live here in Rio. The restaurant is famous for two things - freshly smoked beef ribs, and a queue that goes on for miles! Luckily we arrived earlier than the usual Brazilian dinner time so only had to wait for about an hour.

The food was amazing but we ordered way too much. In fact, I still have quite a lot of the leftover beef in the freezer! As you can see in the photo above, the main event came with the usual sides of rice, chips and farofa, but first we couldn't resist a couple of starters. This picture shows some scratchings, a shot of lemon cachaça and some bolinho de feijoada. These are little croquettes made from the elements of a usual feijoada meal. Really delicious and not something I had seen on a menu before. Definitely a great start to the meal.

Next up was a portion of short ribs, which were tender and delicious. They were coated in a light but sticky glaze and served with peach slices and yellow couscous. If this had been our main dish I would have been very happy indeed, but as it turns out it paled in comparison to what came next and is the dish we probably shouldn't have ordered, from a quantity point of view. Anyone who goes to this restaurant in a group of 5 or more should ignore everything else on the menu and just get their most famous dish.

Pictured below are the beef ribs. When I have eaten ribs before I've always been given a plate of, at best, 50-50 bones and meat. Here, there were definitely some huge bones but there was also a heck of a lot of meat, way more than any of us expected! The meat was delicious and juicy, but not too oily, with a hint of garlic and lots of slow-cooked onions. My mouth is watering at the memory! Definitely worth the wait and the fact that they smoke the meat onsite not only means it's cooked to perfection, but the constant plume of smoke in the air keeps the mozzies away!

How can we possibly follow that? I know, it's tough. But when we were in Petropolis, we went to a restaurant called Imperatriz Leopoldina and I had the best risotto of my life. Possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, certainly of the European persuasion anyway. The restaurant is in a really beautiful hotel, and the price of the food was really very reasonably. Oh and the decor in the restaurant was really interesting. On the walls were panels with delicate paintings of wild animals serving tea and having a picnic.

Now, tripadvisor reviews seem a bit hit and miss so maybe we were there on a good day, or perhaps Dave and I just made really smart menu choices but we were both very pleased with our meals. When we arrived we were given a little shot of chilled tomato soup while we decided what to order. Dave went for a beautiful duck dish, with a creamy corn sauce, mashed potato and crispy fried spinach. The duck was cooked perfectly and the presentation, as you can see, was lovely. I also chose a duck dish, and from the description I had no idea what to expect. It was a duck risotto, which in my mind would be creamy and therefore not necessarily that good. But the reality was amazing. The rice was cooked in a rich, deep, flavoursome stock with pieces of dried orange peel that made the dish taste like Christmas. There was a crispy, juicy duck leg nestled on top of the risotto and more duck meat stirred through the dish. It was truly a delight to eat and I don't think I said a word while we ate that wasn't about how amazing my food was!

This last restaurant is one we visited during my birthday weekend. We cycled along the beach to a kiosk we had seen on a previous cycling trip. It's called Pesqueiro and is really quite fancy for a kiosk - it's more like an outdoor restaurant. And check out the view from our table! It was a hot day so the beach was busy and there was a live band playing while we ate. We ordered a "namorado" ("boyfriend") fish and it arrived on a platter with fried cassava and a salad. It was a tasty, meaty fish but full of bones.

And finally, here are a few noteworthy things we have eaten in not so noteworthy restaurants...

Yup, some more farofa! This time, instead of being mixed with egg, bacon, onions or beans it was used to coat pieces of banana. Bananas is a funny subject to discuss with Brazilians because they have so many types here and we just have one at home...the banana. I have no idea what the different ones are like because I don't eat bananas but I will consult with Dave for an explanation in a later post. Anyway, this was...okay. Not great. But a new way to eat our favourite sandy side dish!

This next one is just another example of the extreme lengths people seem to go to here, to have extra carbs with their meals. Delicious beef medallions, wrapped in bacon in a wonderful madeira sauce, with chips and...a ham and cheese risotto!  Yes it was tasty but where is the veg?! A bit of broccoli would have been a great addition to this meal. Or at the very least a pea or two. It feels like a strange thing to complain about but when we eat out we really do miss the vegetables.

Next up, a pineapple meringue pie with a crunchy nut topping. The meringue was lovely and soft and marshmallowey. The nuts added a nice bit of texture and the pastry bottom was acceptable. But unfortunately there wasn't much of a pineapple flavour going on. Desserts here are very sweet. Sweeter than we are used to and one problem with using so much sugar is that sometimes it overwhelms the flavours.

I suppose this one is a bit about the restaurant but not in a good way. Several people had recommended an Italian restaurant in Petropolis, so we decided we ought to go since it seemed so popular. The food was decent enough, with a range of pastas and grilled meats on the menu at reasonable prices and with big portion sizes but the service...the service was atrocious! We must have been in that place for 3 hours just to eat one course each and some self-service antipasti. 

Brazilians love to make food into balls and then deep fry them. You saw an example earlier of the bolinho de feijoada but there are loads of different kinds of bolinho. Generally I would say they are a pretty decent bar snack. Never packed with flavour but I have stopped expecting things to be at this point. This one here is made with carne seca (dried beef) and mandioca / aipim (cassava) and had a good ratio of crunchy to juicy.

And last but not least (but definitely least) is this little snack Dave picked up in Petropolis. As expected, they were overly sweet and lacking in any distinctive flavour. Two small, powdery biscuit balls that tasted vaguely of Bird's custard powder, with a later of chewy strawberry jam in the middle. We haven't eaten too much in the way of biscuits and dessert here, other than fruit and ice cream but we've sampled a few traditional ones and they definitely all seem to be overly sweet. Obviously it's just a taste thing and we are not used to it, and there are some great desserts here but I can't quite enjoy them as much as I want to without a gallon of water and some crisps to help keep me balanced!