SAO PAULO, Oct 11 — The next time you find yourself in São Paulo, remember that Paulistanos (what residents of the largest city in South America call themselves) are great meat lovers. So you may expect to chow down on plenty of prime Brazilian beef and then some.
Here’s a taste of the best São Paulo has to offer… from dawn till dusk!
A marketplace breakfast
Most Paulistanos are late risers, but you’d do well to head early to the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo (the Municipal Market of São Paulo). For one thing, you’d avoid the brunch crowds that snake in long lines for the tasty treats.
Beyond a wide selection of gourmet foods – freshly butchered meat and poultry; salted seafood; a confectioner’s wonderland of sweets and candy; seasonal fruits and vegetables; the finest grade spices from around the world – Mercadão, as the market is fondly called by locals, is also an architectural wonder.
The first things you notice are the splendid stained glass windows created by the Russian artist Sorgenicht Conrad Filho, famous for his work in hundreds of Brazilian churches including São Paulo’s Sé Cathedral.
The market building itself was designed by architect Francisco Ramos de Azevedo and officially opened on January 25, 1933. Today, more than 1,500 people are employed at Mercadão, handling over 450 tons of food per day.
Head upstairs to the Hocca Bar, founded in 1952 by Portuguese immigrant Horácio Gabriel. The bar dishes up two family recipes that have since become symbols of São Paulo’s culinary heritage.
The pastel de bacalhau comes piping hot and packed with shredded salted codfish in savoury gravy. Also try the half-pounder mortadela sandwich, made with Ceratti mortadella and considered the Brazilian version of the famous Italian cold cut. Magnificent!
Lunch beneath “the faraway tree”
If your childhood was spent reading Enid Blyton books (as mine was), you might have imagined a picnic up in the branches of The Faraway Tree. How about the next best thing: lunch beneath the sprawling limbs of a gigantic tree?
Possibly the most beautiful restaurant in São Paulo, Figueira Rubaiyat has been built around this magnificent 130-year-old fig tree. An ingeniously designed glass-ceilinged patio allows diners to bask in the sun under the tree boughs without worrying about falling leaves.
Rubaiyat specialises in beef, most of it raised with care at owner Belarmino Iglesias’s private fazenda (cattle ranch). Using Inca-inspired cooking methods such as traditional earthenware ovens, Chef Francisco Gameleira does justice to the grass-fed beef, grilling the steaks to perfection.
Non-steak lovers need not fret; the menu also features paella, fresh oysters, octopus and some of the best Spanish cheeses in town. On Sundays there is also feijoada, the national Brazilian stew of beans with beef and pork served with rice and sausages such as chouriço and morcela (blood sausage).
Designer coffee, anyone?
After a heavy lunch, it’s time to perk up your afternoon with some coffee. Why not do it in style at Octavio Café?
Founder Octavio Quércia, whose forebears arrived from Italy in 1890, began by producing high quality coffee blends in Pedregulho. Today the café bearing his name is a mecca for full roast enthusiasts who spend lazy hours lounging in coffee-coloured, Eames-inspired swivel chairs.
Constructed by award-winning architect Seragine Farné Guardado and interior designer Marcello Dantas, Octavio Café is considered a contemporary landmark. The building’s curved shape resembles a coffee filter whilst the shades shift in colour to simulate the palette change of coffee beans from green to roast.
Have fun when walking up the ramp to the restrooms on the upper level; your every step may be lit up with trivia about coffee.
The coffee itself has many fans: Octavio’s baristas have already won accolades at competitions in Brazil and Tokyo. You’d be spoilt for choice between a shot of dark espresso or siphon coffee brewed in front of you at your table. Try both; after all, what’s the hurry?
Once you’ve had a restful siesta and the sun has gone down, it’s time to consider supper. Most Brazilians don’t leave home for dinner till 8pm at the very earliest. (It could well be so they could digest all the meat they’ve consumed earlier in the day.)
Head to Churrascaria Estância, a local rotisserie where meat is cooked in Churrasco (Portuguese for “barbecue”) style. Start the night with caipirinha, a heady Brazilian cocktail made with limes and cachaça, a liqueur made from sugar cane, before the meat parade begins.
Centuries ago, the gaúchos of Pampa used to roast meat over fire. Today, a modern churrascaria will offer rodízio service where you pay a fixed price (preço fixo) and passadores (“meat waiters”) come to your table with knives and skewer of different barbecued meat.
Once you’ve had your fill of your lamb or sirloin, simply flip the coloured coaster provided to the red side. If you want more, show the passadores the green side and they’ll keep the meat coming.
Consider following Oliver Twist’s lead and pleading, “Please, sir, I want some more” – I know I did!
Mercado Municipal de São Paulo
Rua da Cantareira 306,
São Paulo, Brazil
Open: Mon-Sat 6am-6pm;
Av. Brigadeiro Faria Lima 2.996, Jd. Paulistano, São Paulo, Brazil
Open: Mon-Fri 7:30am-9:30pm; Sat & Sun 9am-10pm
Rua Haddock Lobo 1738,
São Paulo, Brazil
Open daily 12pm-12:30am
Av. Vereador Jose Diniz 3271, Campo Belo, São Paulo, Brazil
Open: Mon-Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 11am-11:30pm; Sun 11am-10pm
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 10, 2013.