The Taste of Rio

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Rio?  I bet it’s not food!  Well, Rio has wonderful food. Of course, you can partake in continental cuisine, everything from pizza to burgers, the usual comfort foods. And, of course you can go to a fancy restaurant for nouveau this or that and fusion this or that but Rio is a casual place and all about it’s culture and people.  So… we went for the local and national dishes.  The dishes and foods that tell you the story and history of the people.  I always say, if you want to know someone find out what that they eat and how it’s prepared.  You’re sure to get a story as well.

We started our food tour with one of the most famous style of restaurants in Brazil, the churrascia.  This is a Brazilian steak house or BBQ.  Churrascaria’s have made their way around the world and gained popularity among meat eaters.  I remember my first visit to Rio in the 80’s and eating at a churrascaria.  Then it was a plain and simple feast.  Meats were brought to your table and carved onto your plate.  Your table was set with sides and that was it.  There was no salad bar or sushi bar and there was no seafood.  But, with the growth of the churrascia, over the years I’ve seen this change not only in the states but in Brazil as well.  Now, they are complete with seafood, salad bars and sushi.  You may see some variances at the different restaurants in what they serve but the one thing that remains the same is the BBQ, the meat.  This is what we all come for, when our taste buds crave meat and we allow ourselves and our insatiable appetite to feast.  On this trip we went to the Churrascia Palace, just a block or two from our hotel in the Copacabana area.  The Churrascia Palace is a fairly small restaurant. In the back is a banner sized mural with caricatures of famous people.  Below the mural and mirror is a small stage with a piano.  Some nights there is a piano player.  We were there for lunch so no piano player. 

Just after we were seated a gentleman came to our table with a cart of libations.  We went for the caipirinha since it is the national drink.  Here the caipirinhas are made to order table side.  Fresh limes are muddled with sugar until the juice is extracted.  Then, the glass is fill with ice and cachaca (a Brazilian brandy made from sugar cane).  The contents of the glass are then poured into a shaker and shaken until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and finally poured into a glass and now yours.  Delicious and the perfect drink to go with all that meat.

And now it begins, the parade of servers with meats on large skewers presented to you for your selection.  Yes or no to lamb, chicken, shrimp, beef, sausages, pork and ribs. There are some traditional sides on the table but we ignore them just as we did the salad bar and sushi bar, that we didn’t even realize was there until later. Not that they weren’t worthy but we came for the BBQ and were a bit narrow sighted.
Our next food adventure is Feijoada.  Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil that historically gets it roots from the slaves.  Scraps of beef and pork like the ears, tails and feet were given to the slaves and they made a delicious and soulful meal out of these scraps along with black beans and rice.  I’m told that when a family prepares Feijoada they spend all day in the kitchen and all afternoon and evening at the table with friends and family.  Just don’t forget the music and some caipirinha’s.  I would absolutely love to enjoy home cooked Feijoada with a Brazilian family.  Maybe I’ll be able to do so on my next visit.  For now and much to our delight we are enjoying Feijoada at the Casa de Feijoada.  Casa de Feijoada is a quaint restaurant located in the Ipanema area.  I just love the atmosphere.  The first thing we are served is a black bean soup and an aperitif made with cachaca and fruit juice.  We were given passion fruit, lime and honey to try.  The alcohol really helps with the heavy and hearty meat dishes. 
We were talking and all of sudden we heard this sizzling sound and pots of sizzling meats and juices were placed on the table along with various sides like black beans, rice, pork rinds (not the kind from the bag but made fresh), collard greens, manioc (a root that I think is a lot like yucca), farofa (toasted and ground manioc) and hot sauce.  While here, the pots are not filled with the aforementioned parts of the pig, the meats that are in the pots are seasoned with them.  Our pots are filled with beautiful cuts of meat and the most delicious sausages.  Everything goes so well together.  OK, now our bellies are full and we could go to sleep.

It just keeps getting better.  After our tour and visit to the Rocinha community we head to lunch at a restaurant named A Mineira.  We had no idea what we were in for.  A Mineira is a chain restaurant throughout Rio and Sao Paulo and features cuisine from the Minas Gerais state, the second most populous state in Brazil that is very rural and has much farm land.  It appears to me that this is a mix of Brazilian fare.   A little bit of Feijoada, BBQ and other local favorites and very typical South American flavors.  I love that the price is right and even though it’s a buffet, the food is fresh, delicious and still tastes home made.  They also have a tasting of cachaca served in a mini barrel with tiny glasses.  You can help yourself to as much as you want but be careful because this is not flavored or watered down and can put some hair on your chest.
On our last night we went to Lapa, an area in downtown Rio where the locals hang out on pedestrian streets at local bars and eateries.  Some of the streets are always pedestrian but some of the main streets become closed to vehicular traffic on certain days and during certain hours.  The vibe is relaxed and lively at the same time.  How can that be? Well, people are just chilling with food, drink and conversation but are alive with the spirit of a good time.  That’s what I mean and as I said on an earlier post “I’m a bit jealous that we don’t have that same attitude towards enjoying life, plain simple life”.  How does this fit into the food tour of Rio?  We parked ourselves at one of the restaurants.  The restaurants are small and have the option of indoor or outdoor seating.  We chose outdoor seating.  The local favorite or bar food, fried chicken pieces with french fries and a bottle of local beer.  This style of fried chicken is called Frango a Passarinho.  The chicken is cut into small pieces with the bone in, seasoned with salt, garlic and herbs and fried to perfection.  Giordanna, our guide tells us to squeeze lime juice over the chicken, it adds that extra tang.  I fell in love with this dish and ordered it again when we stopped at a kiosk bar on the beach of Copacabana. The other is pao de quuijo, these are little bread rolls with cheese made from cassava flour from the manioc and cows milk cheese, I liken them to little cheese pillows.  They are served warm and are nice and chewy.

Caipirinha’s, Brazilian Beer, Churrascia, Feijoada, A Mineira, Frango a Passarinho, pao de queijo…..Try them all on your visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and inhale and digest the soul of nation.  You’re sure to bring back a story or two from the experience.

Saude! To your health in Portuguese!

“Remember, the world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page”

Ja’Vonne, The Wanderlusting Foodie, aka, Chica (A name I gave myself in Rio)

Co-Host, The Traveling Eye
Co-Owner, Advantage International, LLC
Photos by Howard Little/VideoTwist Productions