Editor's note: As Rio De Janeiro welcomes over half a million visitors for the 2016 Olympic Games, from 5-21 August, Firstpost presents a series that helps readers get to know the Brazilian host city a little bit better.
Rio de Janeiro's denizens — known as 'cariocas' — often boast of their city’s natural beauty, its music, parties and sporting events. But another notable aspect of carioca culture is their cuisine, which is redolent with Portuguese and African influences.
Rio’s sunny weather and cariocas' bonhomie makes their local bars and restaurants special meeting points at any time of day. Rio’s botecos — street side bar-cum-restaurants — is where the locals gather after work to eat, drink and have a good time. Their cold beer is always accompanied by salgadinhos (a fried appetiser) and to have this at a local boteco is almost the daily ritual of the cariocas.
Feijoada Carioca is the typical food of Rio. Feijoada is considered Brazil’s national dish as well. It is a dish found in any restaurant and is specially made on weekends. It consists of cooked black beans with stew of pork, bacon and sausage and is served with rice and farofa, mandioca flour. One can also find friend meat, fried potatoes, rice and brown beans in most restaurants of Rio.
The cariocas also like to grill their meat. Their traditional churrasco — barbecue of different kinds of meat — is often shared by friends and family, usually as they watch a sporting event or football games. One can visit the famous Brazilian Churrascaria, a barbecue restaurant, to sample popular grilled meats such as picanha, filet mignon, etc. Rio’s coast line also makes it known for dishes such as moqueca (made of fish, shrimp and prawns) and sopa leão veloso, which is a soup made of shrimp, lobster and other seafood.
Rio’s botecos serve very tasty appetisers, among which the bolinhos de bacalhau is an iconic dish. It is a croquette meat of cod fish with strong Portuguese influences. Snacks like pasteis (stuffed and fried dumplings), coxinhas (chicken leg-shaped dough stuffed with chopped chicken) are part of the typical carioca diet. Mandioca, ie cassava, plays an important part in Brazilian cuisine. The cassava flour is used to make tapioca, which can be salty or sweet.
Amanda Monteiro works with Rio’s town hall and has been kept busy because of the ongoing Olympics. She says, “I love Rio’s food. Apart from the typical food, some days if you are lucky you might find on Copacabana beach Bahian food (food from state of Bahia) that serves traditional acarajé, which is a kind of fried bread made with white beans and filled with a cream of shrimp — quite spicy, but tasty. Another place I would advise you try this is at the Hippie Fair in Ipanema that happens on every Sundays.”
Brazil has a variety of fruits, so fruit juices and salads are staples for cariocas. Tropical fruits such as guava, papaya, passion fruit, mango and coconut are the undisputed stars, but perhaps the cariocas' favourite fruit is açaí, a type of berry from an Amazonian palm tree with a lot of nutritional properties. They regularly drink its juice or eat it as ice cream with pieces of fruits and granola, which acts as a quick energy replenish-er. Guarana is another Amazonian fruit rich in caffeine that's consumed by the cariocas in the form of Guarana soda and juices.
As the cariocas bask in the hot sun, they love to drink the coconut water which can easily be found at any of the beachside kiosks in Rio. The cariocas also take pride in their national drink caipirinha — a cocktail made of Cachaça (a rum made of sugarcane), lime juice, sugar and ice. It is a delicious drink and the bars and botecos in Rio also offer caipirinhas made of other fruits, such as water melon, passion fruit, strawberries, etc.
Rio also has a mix of international cuisines like Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Arab and a bit of Indian. Sanu Pillai, who works in Sao Paulo and was in Rio for the Olympics says, “I enjoy the carioca cuisine a lot. My friends and I tried the amazing Brazillian moqueca and picanha, which I would recommend to anyone visiting Rio or Brazil.”
There are many ways to experience the multitude of flavours and cuisines that Rio has to offer. Beachside kiosks and botecos are an excellent way to explore the typical dishes of Rio, but one can also take a gastronomic tour that takes visitors through neighbourhoods of Lapa or Laranjeiras for a taste of carioca cuisine. The cidade maravilhosa will definitely leave visitors satisfied.
The writer is a business consultant and freelance journalist, who has been living in Brazil since 2008