Rio de Janeiro is a city that collectively loves to eat meat, with the churrasco (barbeque) the focal point of any party, and the city’s churrascarias (all you can eat meat grills) famous among enthusiastic carnivores the world over. But while vegetarianism is still something if a novel concept in Rio, visit0rs who don’t eat meat needn’t go hungry or spend their time nibbling forlornely on a lettuce leaf.
While animal rights may not be at the top of many locals’ agendas, looking good on the beach is a major concern, and as such there are plenty of wholefood restaurants in the centre of the city and in the beach neighborhoods of the Zona Sul, many of which feature largely meat-free menus.
One good option for meat-free snacks on the hoof as well as sit-down buffet lunches is New Natural, on Rua Barao de Torre in Ipanema, handily located just a couple of blocks back from the beach and right next door to the little side street of backpacker accommodation that has become known as ‘Hostel Alley’.
In nearby Leblon, Vegetariano Social Clube is one of the best-regarded vegetarian restaurants in the city, with a vast lunch buffet and evening a-la-carte options that are all entirely free of meat and animal products. The restaurant manages to avoid any potential stuffiness, and even offers a range of potent cocktails made with organic cachaca and fresh fruit.
Vegetarians can also take heart in the fact that many churrascarias are in fact great places to enjoy a meat free feast. The set price to eat at legendary meat grills such as Porcao
includes unlimited trips to the buffet bar, which groans under the weight of a staggering array of colorful salads, fresh fruits, vegetables and cheeses, breads, pasta and rice dishes, sushi (much of which is fish-free) and tempting morsels such as palm hearts and stuffed olives.
Similarly, even the cheapest of pay-by-weight lunch restaurants (abundant in Rio) will offer a huge selection of meat-free salads and hot and cold sides, and it is often easy to tuck into a loaded plateful of fresh, healthy meat-free food while paying significantly less than at a dedicated vegetarian restaurant.
Do be wary when dining out in Rio, as soups, beans and other dishes very often contain pieces of meat or meat stock. If in doubt, avoid a dish, as even the most well-meaning of waiters will often insist that dishes are meat-free when they in fact are made with animal ingredients.The black or brown beans that are a staple part of the Carioca diet are usually hiding meaty ingredients, so avoid unless you are 100 per cent sure what you are eating.