So I had a 20 hour layover in São Paulo and ended up staying in a fantastic hotel (L’Hotel Porto Bay) right off Paulista Avenue, one of the main thoroughfare’s in São Paulo, which also happens to cross five neighborhoods. The hotel’s breakfast buffet went clear across the room, and I had to refrain from eating one of everything. But I must say the best was the fruit options. Mango, papaya, dragon fruit and on and on. And to top it all off, I was upgraded to a junior suite which only made the hotel even more fantastic in my opinion.
As great as the hotel was, the morning food tour I took through Around SP was even better. Vicky Constantinesco, a chef who teaches cooking classes among other things, met me promptly at 8:30 a.m. and we were off to the Mercado Municipal de São Paulo for a morning tour of the historic market.
The market was built in 1933 near the Tamanduateí River (which was obviously convenient for the delivery of fresh produce and meats). Today, the river is barely a trickle, but the market continues on as the main market in São Paulo (although there are a myriad of other markets in the city). The building is a mix of styles and I would be hard pressed to describe it as one particular design. However, the building is spectacular with a myriad of stained glass windows and two stories: the first floor for retail and the second floor for restaurants. (In fact, if anyone has ever been to the Granville Market in Vancouver, the building kind of reminded me of that market.)
The drive to the market took about 25 minutes and as we drove, Vicky provided me with an incredible overview of the history of São Paulo as well as the buildings and layout of the city. It was wonderfully informative. For instance did you know that after the Portuguese settled in Brazil, it took them 30 years to go inland and find the outpost of São Paulo (which was occupied by indigenous peoples). Vicky was full of interesting facts and I learned an incredible amount in the short drive to the Mercado.
Now once in the Mercado, we wandered around the seafood isle (where I saw THE largest shrimp I have ever seen in my life) and a myriad of salted and dried seafoods.
Next up I learned about the various kinds of nuts grown in Brazil, including, of course, the famous Brazil Nut, which apparently grows inside a larger coconut like shell. Vicky showed me the nut holding the nuts and when you shake the larger nut, you can hear the Brazilian nuts inside.
We wandered up and down the isles and saw the home of the very famous mortadella sandwich. And while I did not have one to eat, it is probably a good thing since this monster apparently weighs almost a pound. I ended up sitting at the mortadella sandwich stand while Vicky ran to pay for our parking and took a look through the menu. The sandwich consists of slices of Ceratti mortadella (apparently only made only in São Paulo), melted cheese, tomato, lettuce, and of course 10 oz of meat (sort of like bologna, but a lot spicier), all served on a roll. The picture of this behemoth was impressive to say the least.
We next walked past the spice row, including the most amazing array of peppers and pepper sauces. As we walked, we were tasting samples of meats, cheeses and nuts. (I ended up buying some enormous cashews). My favourite was the spicy cheese. Absolutely delicious.
Throughout the Mercado, there were small restaurants selling a variety of sandwiches. Apparently, another popular sandwich in São Paulo is the pastel sandwich that can include any number of meats, including the most famous pastel: the pastel de bacalhau (cod sandwich). Again, I did not try it, but I will return to feast on all of these gastronomic delights at some point.
Next up was the fruit stand where the proprietor provided us with a taste of plums, cherries, and a white fleshy fruit called an atemoi (it was very sweet and full of flavour). We then moved on to the pastry section where I saw a number of pastries that I remembered from my trip to Portugal many years ago.
After the tour of the first level, we walked upstairs and hit the restaurants. We did not have time to stop, but it was fantastic to be able to stand above the market and take in the action below as well as get up close and personal with the magnificent stained glasses windows that adorn one side of the Mercado. The images were of farm life and loading the produce onto boats to take the market. The windows are original and were absolutely gorgeous works of art.
By now it was 10:30. I had to be back to my hotel by 11:30 for my transfer to the airport so Vicky suggested that we go to a Cachaçaria, operated by an acquaintance, in the Edificio Copan (an old historic building in São Paulo). A cachaçaria, in this case, was a store that sold cachaça, a Brazilian drink made from fermented sugar cane. The liquor is used to make the world famous caipirinha drinks in Brazil. However, over the years, the liquor has become similar to whisky with different aging techniques. In fact, the store we visited had over 400 different labels.
When we arrived, we were shown the fermenting process and the different kinds of cachaça. Once the lesson was over, the tastings began. And all I can say is wowza. I may have only had a few sips, but I strongly suggest that you have food with the liquor. You will be snockered in quick order if you only sip this stuff.
The first taste I had was incredibly strong and reminded me of whisky. The next two were a little softer in flavour, but still strong. I am pretty sure if I did not have a flight to catch, the proprietor would still be pouring for me and I would eventually end up curled up into a little ball on the floor completely oblivious to the world. (I will be trying it in a caipirinha when I return in October, but think I will pass on the straight shots.)
Anyway, the time was running short so Vicky and I took our leave. We ended up driving along Paulista Avenue to my hotel. Along the way, Vicky pointed out old and rather enormous buildings that had at one time been the homes of the coffee barons, as well as museums and other historic buildings. One home in particular looked like it had been fantastic at some point, but had fallen in to disrepair. Hopefully, the building will one day be restored to its grand old glory.
We reached the hotel by 11:35 and I had just enough time to thank Vicky profusely for the amazing morning and then grab my luggage for the drive to São Paulo International Airport. Next stop… Dublin where I will pick up two travel companions: my sister Cheryl and my brother-in-law Don. Can’t wait to see them!