Sometimes, it’s not in the fancy restaurants or amidst a medley of complex ingredients where you find the best food in a city, but rather on the street corners or in backstreets. In Rio de Janeiro, it’s in these places that you can indulge in true food for the soul. Here are some of the city’s best street food markets to truly get to know the local cuisine.
A celebration of all things from Brazil’s northeast, Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão is a dizzying array of Bahian products, homely cuisine, and forró, a lively style of music and dance that proudly comes from the region. For souvenirs and authentic music, it is truly the place to go to, yet for food options, there is no other place like it. Stalls will serve up mammoth portions of rice, beans, fries, and meat – carne seca (dried meat) is a wonderful choice by the way – served with a bottle of melted butter to liberally pour all over the already gloriously calorie-ridden food and a dash or two of chilli-infused olive oil. The menu affirms that a serving is enough for two, but it usually comfortably feeds four or more.
Cobal, as it’s locally known, continues to blur the lines between bar hub, restaurant go-to, and open-air market. The large space is best known for its unrelenting crowds that bustle together in high spirits, fuelled by relatively cheap beer and hearty portions of Brazilian boteco snacks, Mexican treats, pizzas, and a whole host of other food options. During the day, though, the vibe takes on a rural spirit as stalls unfold to reveal offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables, wine – both national and foreign – and a collection of natural, organic foods. To sample native Brazilian foods that haven’t been long picked or made, Cobal is the place to go.
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Behind the looming walls of Cadeg’s façade lies a bustling warren of shops, restaurants, bars, and live music. Early arrivals will be treated to the sights and aromas of thousands of freshly picked and pruned flowers that line the stalls, a feature that later inspired the market’s affectionate nickname, Market of Flowers. Originally a mundane distribution centre for Rio’s restaurants and shops, it later transformed into a gastronomic hub ranging from pé-sujo (the term for the rundown, basic bars of Rio) to gourmet options. Go there on a Saturday morning to enjoy the Cantinho das Concertinas, a traditional Portuguese party that is replete with classic cod – try the bolinhos de bacalhau, a Brazilian snack of deep-fried seasoned cod balls – and cheap yet delicious green wine, perfect for washing down your meal.
The main draw of the Ipanema Hippie Fair is the mind-boggling range of clothes, jewellery, artisanal handcrafts, and Rio-scape-inspired artworks. The food is usually mentioned as an afterthought, which doesn’t do any justice to what’s in store for the curious passerby. Simple, makeshift stalls serve up Bahian fare in the shape of acareja, a deep-fried ball of goodness that involves beans, shrimp, and onions, or a mouth-watering range of sweets such as cocadas made with condensed milk, eggs, and shredded coconut.
Possibly one of the best things about Brazil from a food point of view is that the country natively supplies some of the most unique, flavoursome, and exotic ingredients. This bounty of food resources is best enjoyed fresh and organically, which is exactly the aim of Botafogo’s weekly organic market. Free from agrochemicals and certified as organic are the shared characteristics among all the items for sale, so dive into the humble offerings with peace of mind. Feel free to ask for a sample of the products – most stall owners are keen for you to try them in the hope that you will buy. The warren of stalls sells an ample variety of goods such as coffee, fruits, herbs, honey, freshly baked bread, and biscuits.
Opening in 2015 and still the biggest player on the food truck scene, Food Park Carioca is the first permanent food truck park in Rio de Janeiro. Located up in the north zone of the city, it remains outside of the tourist circuit, with locals frequenting it rather than crowds of foreigners and tourists. Yet Food Park Carioca has brought some much-needed substance to gourmet cuisine in the form of big, beefy burgers with flavoured bread and creative fillings, making it a must-go for those craving home comforts. The live rock music gets the crowd going, but it’s the artisanal beer that is more likely responsible for cheery behaviour. The venue consists of a ring of food trucks – mostly burgers, but with the odd hot dog stall, churro stand, and even an attempt at German cuisine – and becomes a bustling yet jolly crowd from 7 pm onwards.