While it would be perfectly possible to spend a break in Rio consuming nothing more adventurous than US-Style fast food (yes, McDonalds and Subway are ubiquitous here too…) to do so would beto miss out on a vast range of deliciously different food and drink.
Rio de Janeiro is something of a culinary melting pot, having absorbed the influences of European, Asian, Arab and African cuisines. While local fare tends to be heavy and a little bland for some tastes, the wealth of opportunity to sample first-rate meat and seafood will keep carnivores more than happy, while vegetarians can wolf down delicacies such as palmitos (palm hearts) and more tropical fruit and vegetables than you could possibly count. Some of the best places for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike are the city’s many ‘por kilo’ restaurants, where diners pile up their plates from lavish buffets loaded with hot and cold dishes, and pay for the weight of the food on their plate.
Meanwhile, those with a taste for the spicier things in life will find that their culinary salvation lies in food from the baking hot Northeast of Brazil, where the food is often as fiery as the summer sun. Northeastern food is popular right across Brazil, and is wonderfully affordable – you’ll find street sellers cooking up deliciously spicy Northeastern concoctions in Lapa, Centro and Santa Teresa, as well as at the colourful Feira Nordestina (Northeastern Fair), a little off the tourist track in Sao Cristovao.
Meanwhile, sweet-toothed visitors to Rio will not be in their element. Brazilians love all things doce (sweet), and local specialities include Brigadeiro – a sticky combinarion of chocolate and condensed milk, covered in chocolate sprinkles – sugar rush guaranteed. For something that claims to have a little more nutritional value, don’t miss Acai – served by the cup or by the bowl, this is a combination of the famous Amazonian ‘power berry’ mixed with a hearty dose of sugar and topped with anything from fresh fruit and granola to chocolate and jelly sweets.
If all this talk of food has got your tastebuds tingling, check out our Top 10 spots to try all these goodies, and more.
1.Porcao. The most famous of Rio’s churrascarias (meat grills) and with good reason – waiters bringslice after slice of top-quality meat cuts to your table until you can eat no more, while the all-you-can-eat buffet groans under the weight of sushi, salads, pasta dishes, risottos, breads, cheeses and a whole lot more.
2. Carretao. At around half the price of Porcao, this family favourite might not scale the same culinary heights, but it’s still a great place to try above-average meat in unlimited supplies.
3.Casa da Feijoada. Feijoada is the Brazilian national dish, and is a hearty combination of beans and all manner of meat cuts. It’s traditionally served on Saturdays, but here you can sample it any day of the week.
4.Academia da Cachaca. From the national dish to the national drink, this is a great place to try the famous Brazilian firewater, cachaca, in a range of potent guises.
5.Bar do Arnaudo. Not actually a bar at all, but one of the best value restaurants in Rio, this friendly Santa Teresa institution serves vast portions of Northeastern food in a cosy setting. Be prepared to queue at weekends.
6.Lapa Street Party. On Friday and Saturday nights, the streets of Lapa are packed with vendors selling everything from mammoth fruity cocktails to all kinds of food – look for the white-clad women selling Acaraje – a Northeastern patty filled with shrimp, salad and a fiery pepper sauce.
7.Casa Cave. This antique spot at the heart of downtown Rio serves beautifully-constructed cakes and pastries that taste every bit as good as they look. Prices are surprisingly fair, making this a great place for a pitstop on a shopping or sightseeing tour of downtown.
8.Barraca do Jorginho. Up in the hills of Santa Teresa, right at the end of the Paulo Mattos tram line, you’ll find Largo das Neves, a picturesque little square flanked by bars and pretty whitewashed church. And, best of all, on Friday and Saturday nights you’ll find Jorginho – a local with a mean line in batidas (deceptively sweet drinks featuring a heavy dose of cachaca mixed with anything from pasionfruit to chocolate. My favourite is the maracuja (passion fruit). Yum.
9.Feira Nordestina. The Northeastern fair lies a little of the beaten tourist path, but it’s well worth a visit to try traditional dishes from the north as well as to hear live music and see expert dancers at work. Friday and Saturday nights are the best time to visit.
10. Siri Mole and Cia. One of the best spots in Rio to sample seafood – try the beach kiosk rather than the formal restaurant for the ultimate ‘I’m on vacation’ experience.