Avoiding the tourist hype in Rio de Janeiro, Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spots are in the essence of the city – in the bustling indoor markets, dive bars, and on the locals’ favorite beach. While Bourdain left his mark on Rio, it seems the city also affected him, as he said in an episode of No Reservations, “What sick freak wouldn’t come to Rio, given the opportunity? Let’s call it what it is: perfection.”
Although his time in Rio was short, it didn’t take Anthony Bourdain long to uncover some of the most traditional and authentic spots in the city. There, he experienced Brazil’s food and traditions, from the deep-fried pastéis to the iconic caipirinha, a cachaça-based drink he described as, “shaken, not stirred, and you’ve got yourself one of the world’s greatest cocktails”. He was quick to see that Rio’s social culture is centered around botecos, casual Brazilian bars that range from hole-in-the-wall joints serving canned beer to spacious saloon-like rooms with flawless cocktails. He noted, “the heart and soul of Rio are places like these.”
Through his TV shows, he was able to tell the world stories of the unknown with enthusiasm and respect, pulling viewers away from standardized restaurants and instilling a curiosity for exploring food in the lesser-known places – just as he did in Rio.
Bar Urca is a favorite hangout spot for cariocas (a term for the locals of Rio de Janeiro) and it was a firm favorite with Bourdain as well. The famous chef described it as the place to go to “catch an early evening buzz, grab something fried, and watch the sunset like a big red ball dropping into the sea”. It was at Bar Urca where Bourdain understood how a night out in Rio is centered around food, especially snacks such as prawn pastéis and deep-fried sardines. He ate the seafood soup accompanied by beer, declaring as he filled up his glass, “one cannot possibly overemphasize the importance of a cold beer.”
Barraca do Uruguai is one of the many tents that line the beaches of Ipanema selling food and drink, and renting out chairs and tables. What was it about this particular stand that caught Bourdain’s eye and won his loyalty? Their freshly made pork sandwiches. Bourdain urged his viewers to “run, don’t walk, to the only place for sandwiches on this beach”. Bourdain put this family-owned beach stall on the map where it’s become known as one of the best beach tents in Rio and a firm favorite among tourists and locals alike.
You don’t just stumble across Adega Cesari, as Bourdain discovered during his trip to Rio. To get there, you need to first head to Benfica, an off-the-tourist-radar neighborhood in the North Zone of the city, go to the CADEG indoor market, walk past the stalls of fresh flowers and stands of knick-knacks, through the winding maze-like halls, until you come across the humble façade of Adega Cesari. Bourdain took his wife at the time, Ottavia Busia, to sample the traditional Brazilian barbecue.
Galeto SAT’s in Copacabana is famous for its grilled chicken, notably the spring chickens covered in seasoning and spit-roasted until tender and flavorsome. The décor is there for practical purposes rather than aesthetics as it’s clear the focus is all about the food. It’s Bourdain who made this place popular and now tourists regularly head there forspring chicken with broccoli rice and chips. Its late opening hours attract a diverse range of people, something that Bourdain noted: “Drunks, hookers, johns; I guess everybody loves chicken.”
Armazém São Thiago is located in Santa Teresa, a hippy, artistic hub and the “most magical neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro”, according to Bourdain. Set inside a 1917 renovated warehouse, the faded photos on the wall and rows of retro-labelled spirits lend the bar a nostalgic feel that has kept residents and tourists alike coming back for years.The bar’s charm must have rubbed off onto Bourdain too, as he enjoyed spending evenings there drinking cold beers with the locals.