It’s not always easy being a vegetarian in Rio de Janeiro. The enthusiastically carnivorous population bases much of its social life around meat barbeques, with vegetarians often left nibbling on a piece of grilled cheese, trying to dodge the meat fat. Vegan? Prepare to be something of a social outcast.
Happily, however, there are pockets of the city where the vegetarian lifestyle is not considered an inexplicable behavioural quirk.
Particularly in the affluent Zona Sul, where the beach-loving population always has its collective eye on its waistline, a vegetarian or vegan diet is considered by many to be a shortcut to a healthy lifestyle and a fantastic beach body.
Accordingly, there are increasing numbers of meat-free cafes and restaurants in the city, and Leblon’s Vegetariano Social Clube has to be one of the best.
This pocket-sized, informal restaurant is refreshingly affordable compared to other lunch and dinner spots in this upscale neighborhood, and features a wonderful lunch buffet as well as a-la-carte evening options.
I headed here to try out the buffet, which, at R$22 (R$24 at weekends) for as much as you can heap onto your plate is excellent value.
The menu changes daily, but I helped myself to fresh salads and super-grain quinoa, followed by a hearty bowl of vegetable soup, followed by an even heartier plateful of brown rice, beans, midly spiced vegetables and rice noodles.
All ingredients are organic, and entirely vegan, so even the staunchest of animal-product avoiders can eat heartily here.
A-la-carte options start from 7pm, and include such tasty-sounding delights as chestnut mushroom stroganoff with palm hearts and sliced yucca.
On Wednesdays, diners can even tuck into a meat-free version of the classic Brazilian feijoada (bean and meat stew), here made with tempeh and smoked tofu instead of animal off-cuts.
And while the food is virtuous, you don’t need to be a saint – alongside the power-juices you will find organic wine, and potent cocktails made with organic cachaca (sugar cane rum). Converts swear that the organic version of this local firewater doesn’t give you the famously harsh cachaca hangover, so why not test out the theory?
Vegariano Social Clube is at Rua Conde Bernadote 126, Leblon.