The best place to start off your culinary tour in São Paulo is the Mercado Municipal, a 12,600 square meter marketplace located in São Paulo’s historic Centro. At the Mercadão, as it is called by locals, you can find the freshest and greatest variety of produce and spices. Passing through the Mercadão’s fruit aisle is a delight, as vendors approach you to taste test their freshest fruit. The stands draw you in with their rainbow of fruit colors. Try the locally grown caquis (persimmons), mango and graviola. As you drift from the sweet aroma of the fruit aisles, the pungent scents of fish and calabresa begin to seep in. São Paulo’s Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish heritage is evident as you walk past dozens of olive oils, bacalhau (dried cod fish), savory sausages, and cheese. Head upstairs to have a real meal: the classics are the mortadella sandwich, a sandwich packed with layers upon layers of the delicious deli meat and pastel de bacalhau, a fried pastry stuffed with imported dried cod, green olives, and onions. The Mercadão has been open since the 1930s; on the weekends and around holidays it is packed with Brazilians from all over the country who come to purchase the best local and imported goods available. Despite the hundreds of people who visit the market, the Centro is a sometimes neglected area of the city by tourists because of its reputation. During the day the Centro is full of people.
Botecos in Vila Madalena Neighborhood
Brazil is synonymous with a good chopp – cold draught beer is taken so seriously here that refrigerators mark the below freezing temperatures on the outside. Luckily a good chopp is easy to find at just about any boteco; these neighborhood bars populate almost every street corner in the Vila Madalena neighborhood, lined up with charming décor and samba playing in the background. The bars on Rua Aspicuelta are especially packed on the weekends, with Paulistas spilling out into the streets as they munch on the greasy bar food with endless chopp and plenty of colarinho (beer head). Classics in the neighborhood include São Cristovão (Rua Aspicuelta, 533) covered in soccer memorabilia, Posto 6 (Rua Aspicuelta, 646), its name an homage to the actual Posto 6, a hot spot on the beaches of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, and José Menino (Rua Aspicuelta, 596) a two-floor samba-playing, traditional boteco with delicious grilled meat and of course chopp.
Bar da Dona Onça
Underneath the undulating curves of Oscar Niemeyer’s Copan building sits a haven for Brazilian comfort food. Bar da Dona Onça serves no-frills home cooking in generous portions, alongside fruity caiprinhas. The menu includes a long list of rice dishes like arroz de bacalhau com ovo caipira frito, and bife acebolado. The restaurants caipirinhas includes the classic caiprinha – a cachaça (Brazilian alcohol made from sugar-cane), lime, and sugar cocktail to more exotic versions starring passion fruit, tangerine, and lima da persia (sweet lime).
Located at the intersection of Consolação and Avenida Paulista, Riviera Bar was recently reopened after having closed in 2006. Much of the older structure was preserved including a grand spiral staircase and a panel of glass bricks, while a 360 degree bar was placed in the lower level to update the look. The current owner, Facundo Guerra, a well known club owner in the Paulista night life, collaborated with celebrated Brazilian chef Alex Atala to recreate díshes that were popular during the restaurant’s heyday of the 1970s. They worked hard to preserve the soul of the old Riviera, which originally opened in 1949, without being overly kitschy. Many of the older bars and restaurants have not survived São Paulo’s ups and downs. Don’t be surprised to find the portions smaller than what you’re used to, as portions have changed as well as tastes. It’s a reminder how São Paulo has evolved over time, with a testament to the past and a bit of nostalgia in every bite.
Pastel de Maria
The staple of all street fairs (feira) in São Paulo is the pastel: six inches of fried pastry dough goodness with your choice of filling. For the ultimate pastel, Pastel de Maria at Feira do Pacaembu (Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) takes the gold star, having twice won best pastel in São Paulo with mouth watering fillings. Make sure to have the meat pastel or try the camarão com requeijão (shrimp with Brazilian cream cheese) and then drink a caldo de cana (sugar cane juice) mixed with lime or pineapple juice to seal the deal.
La da Venda
Experience what it’s like to visit a casa da vovó (Brazilian grandma’s house). At La da Venda, reminisce about the simpler days with café coado (drip coffee), pão de minuto (scones), and homemade cakes. The highlight is their snowball sized pão de queijo or cheese balls, so cheesy and fluffy that if you love them enough, you can even take some frozen ones back home. The café has some outdoor seating and a shop where you can buy old school pots and pans, retro drinking glasses, and beautiful homemade bolos (Brazilian cakes). Bolo de cenoura (carrot cake topped off with Brigadeiro frosting) is an especial favorite.
The feijoada, one of Brazil’s national dishes, is a meal packed with flavor and history. The ideal setting for a feijoada is a lazy Saturday between sips of caiprinhas and naps on a hammock. If you are lucky, your Paulista friends will invite you to a home cooked feijoada. If not, there is still hope; feijoada can be found virtually everywhere on Wednesdays and Saturdays, readily available at almost any local restaurant. One of the best feijoadas in the city, however, can be found in the hidden gem of Star City, which has been around since 1953. The feijoada here is a rodizio style meal: pay a fixed price and enjoy endless feijoada. Once you order they will soon bring more food than you can possibly imagine – a bubbling stew of black beans and pork, and in a separate platter refried kale, cut in thin ribbons, white rice, pork chops, orange slices, and to top it all off, crunchy and freshly fried pork rinds. Once you eat the pig parts you like and realize that maybe you aren’t such a fan of tongue (or maybe you are) ask for a refill of your preference of meats and they’ll make sure to bring you another bubbling cauldron of feijoada catered to your taste buds.
Cantina de Castelões
Pizza may not be high on your list of traditional Brazilian food, but do not be mistaken – pizza is very much a part of the Paulista diet. In the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century, São Paulo received an influx of Italian immigrants. Today 30 percent of Paulistas are descended from them and with this Italian arrival, so came the pizza. Good pizza can be found all over, but for an authentic Italian-Brazilian pizza head over to Cantina de Castelões, located in the traditional Italian neighborhood of Brás. There may be very little left of the old neighborhood, but the Cantina, established in 1924 still gets packed with satisfied and loyal customers. Order the restaurant’s namesake pizza, the Castelões, topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and crispy Brazilian style sausage, calabresa cooked in a wood fire oven.
There are many upscale restaurants to visit in São Paulo, but few manage to capture the Brazilian ethos as well as Maní does. Maní, short for Manioca, an indigenous word adopted by the Portuguese for Cassava, is a cozy, unassuming space. The natural light and rustic interior leads to a relaxed ambience where you can focus on the true highlight, Brazilian dishes with high quality ingredients. Try the peixe a baixa temperatura no tucupi, fish cooked in a sauce from the juice extracts of the cassava root, or the falsos tortéis, a pasta dish that replaces the pasta with pupunha, the name for the large Brazilian heart of palm. If you are feeling less adventurous there are also many prato feitos (PFs) available during the week for lunch, which are just as delicious and less expensive.