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Many of the barracas (stalls) throughout the fair sell various food products that are typical from Bahia and other states further north of Brazil. Food from Bahia, Pernambuco and other northern states has been heavily influenced by African cuisine, so expect to see plenty of beans, herbs, dried meats, bottled chillies, cheese and bottled melted butter for sale. The melted butter is a common condiment at the dinner table to add on top of carne seca (dried meat) and is a delicious extra. There are also biscuits, jams and goiabada, a sweet hard jelly that is often eaten with a light cheese known as Romeo and Juliet.
Yet it is not just at the stalls where you can buy food. There is a huge food market that serves lunch and dinner in enormous proportions. The most typical food (and the ones worth trying) include prawns or dried meat served with rice, cassava and beans that takes diners straight to the northeast. Don’t forget to use the melted butter! For a lighter bite to eat, try the tapioca. It’s a pancake made from cassava and is a tradition of the north that has recently become more common in Rio. It can be eaten savoury with cheese and meats, or as a sweet with condensed milk, coconut and fruit.
The stalls also sell a wide range of souvenirs from the northeast that make unusual and charming reminders to take back home, including hammocks for those with plenty of space in their suitcase. One thing that this fair does not lack is cachaça, a strong liquor made from sugar cane, and the varieties are countless there. Try a little taster and pick your favorite to take home with you.
The fair is always lively and buzzing, especially on the weekend. There is always live music which is typically Forró or Baião, the anthems from the northeast, and the best acts are on Fridays and Saturdays. At any time of day, people will be singing or dancing to the music, getting swept into its rhythmic beats and getting out of their chairs to dance to some Forró which, with its intimacy and swinging moves, is wonderful to watch. As well as music, sometimes there are rodas of Capoeira where experienced capoeiristas form a circle and perform mind-blowing moves of immense agility and speed.
The fair is open Tuesday until Thursday from 10am to 6pm, and the entrance is free. On Friday it opens at 10am then continues non-stop until Sunday 9pm, with a R$4 entrance fee. The weekend is the best time to go as all the stalls are open, the atmosphere is contagious and there is live music all day and all night. It is easy to get to by taking the subway to São Cristóvão station and then take the 484L bus straight there or a taxi. It is possible to walk there from the subway and would take about 20 minutes.