Rio De Janeiro, A City Tasting Tour
A walk down Rio’s streets is a great way to get the vibe of one of the most famous cities in the world. Sun, sea, sand and samba are what Rio are famous for, but the city also has many digestive delights, and on every corner you can find a bar, cafe, restaurant or street vendor offering up Brazilian staples of Tapioca, Pastels, Acai, Churro’s, Pao De Queijo, Bolinhos, Coxinha, Pipoca; A Brazilian popcorn in both sweet (caramelised with your option of condensed milk) and salty (with bacon and cheese if you fancy it) and of course the country’s national dish Feijoada (a stew of pork, beans and rice).
Ok, it might not sound like fine dining but Rio has some surprising culinary gems and traditional twists to offer up if you know where to look.
The market next to Gloria metro station is a great place to start a city tasting tour. Here you can discover the interesting and unusual array of tropical fruits, vegetables and spices used in Brazilian cooking, such as Jack Fruits, Maxixe and strange spices you’ve probably never seen before. Its also the perfect spot to get an early morning snack and a taste of local street food at one of the best tapioca stalls in Rio.
Located in the centre of the market it offers a range of traditional sweet and savoury tapioca crepes, cooked in front of you, with cheese, tomato and oregano or grated coconut and leite condensado (sweetened condensed milk) for those with a sweet tooth. Best washed down with some fresh coconut water.
THE BEST COD BALLS IN RIO
Bolinho de bacalhau (Cod fish balls) are one of the most famous and abundant of portuguese snacks, but the quality can vary a lot, so for the best of the best head to Nova Capella. Located in the trendy samba district of Lapa, a short walk from Gloria market.
Its one of only 12 bars listed as a cultural heritage site by municipal decree, and specialises in traditional Carioca food such as crispy goat risotto cakes. The go to place for local musicians and bohemians seeking a late night samba snack.
For afternoon tea and to sample some of the best pastries in Rio there’s only one place to go; Confeitaria Colombo in Centro. Founded by Portuguese migrants Joaquim Borges de Meireles and Manual Jose Lebrao it is widely regarded as one of the best bakeries and cafes in Rio, and has been serving up a selection of sweet and savoury pastries for over 100 years.
As much renowned for its architecture as its food, with its grandiose ballroom, original turn of the century Belgium mirrors and impressive stained glass skylight, its the perfect setting for high-tea. Delicious Columbo specialities such as maracujá azedo (Passion fruit tart), Petit Four (cashew nut cookie) and Pastel de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts) are consumed in abundance.
For those of you in the mood for some sophisticated Brazilian chocolate decadence then designer chocolatier Aquim Gastronomia is your kind of place. A Brazilian family run business with over 2 decades experience in not only making chocolate, but also producing the cocoa beans used in their confectionary. Developed in partnership with cocoa producer João Tavares in the Bahia region of Brazil, Aquim offer a range of 100% cocoa chocolates, including their latest Q & Q0 series, created by chef Samantha Aquim, with packaging designed by world famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
More in keeping with high end fashionistas such as Georgio Armani and Yves Saint Lauren a trip to their Impanema shop, with their ornate array of chocolate boxes set in refined Brazilwood shelves promises a tasting experience filled with passion, style, elegance and sophistication. It won’t be long before these guys are partnering up with Cocoa Channel.
EXOTIC AMAZONIAN, A TASTE OF THE UNUSUAL
For the slightly more adventurous foodie Tacaca Do Norte is a small no frills cafe that specialises in Amazonian food.
On a recent trip my guide for the day, Tom Le Mesurier from Eat Rio introduced me to Tacaca, an unusual soup made with traditional amazonian ingredients; Tucupi, a yellow toxic (when raw) liquid extracted from the manioc root, Jambu leaves, (known as the toothache plant for its slightly anaesthetic properties), shrimp and tapioca gum.
The result? A sour version of Tom Yum Goong that makes your lips go numb. Definitely what you would call interesting.
BEST CAIPIRINHAS IN RIO?
Ok that’s a bold statement in a city which consumes more caipirinhas than other in the world, but there’s good cause for such media acclaim, and a city tasting tour of Rio would not be complete without a classic caipirinha, or 30 variations on it. Quiosque do Português (Portuguese Kiosk) is quickly becoming the go to place for Cariocas in the know. The father and son business, which started life as a Kiosk (what else) on Rio’s beaches has now relocated to the stylish waterfront location of Lagoa near Impanema, with a second branch at Jardim Botanico.
Carlos Alves and his father mix up colourful variations on the classic, using seasonal fresh market fruits such as siriguela, mango and pineapple, alongside caipirinha inspired twists caipivodka (substituting cachaca for vodka), Caipirissima (Rum) and Caipisake (you guessed it) but for a taste of authentic Brazil the original is still the first one to try on a visit to this vibrant bar, complete with Nina, its pet goose.
LATE NIGHT STREET FOOD
After a night of Samba and Caipirinhas in Santa Teresa you might find yourself feeling a little peckish, and in Rio there is no shortage of late night street food to tempt you. My favourite is Acarajé com camarões (fried balls of black-eyed peas with shrimp and onions) and the best place to get this is from the woman outside Bar Gomez, a popular bar, which in the run up to carnival hosts some excellent Blocos (Block parties).
There’s no better setting to soak up the drums and enjoy this authentic Brazilian speciality, made by a lady who’s been cooking it for over 50 years.