So our first full day in Rio we were going to spend on a food tour with Eat Rio Food Tours. Tom and I had a very small breakfast before grabbing a cab and heading to the meeting point in the Botofogo neighborhood. We arrived at the designated meeting point about 9:50 a.m. just as another couple from the Miami was arriving. We were shortly joined by two couples from England and a young woman from New York. Just after 10:00 a.m., Vinicius or “V” arrived to meet us all and take us on our food tour around Rio. First up was a nearby travelling market. On Mondays the market sets up on a street in Botofogo and is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. so off we set to the market about a block away.
As soon as we turned down the street, we could smell the fresh fruit and fish from the nearby fish stand. V immediately walked over to a fruit vendor and bought some manga palmer (mangos) and limes. Next up was a trip to view the various yucca (including the angry yucca) and root vegetables. V also picked up some atemoia (they look like an artichoke, but taste like an apple), jabuticaba (it looks like a large grape and is very tart), caju fruit (which is the source of the cashew nut, which grows on the end of the fruit like a stem), jaca (jackfruit), maxixe (spiky, lemony cucumber) and jiló (a small green bitter vegetable related to egg plant/aubergine).
After the produce purchase, V took up residence at a Tapioca stand (more about that later) and proceeded to cut up the fruit and veggies and hand us a piece of each he had purchased to taste. All of the produce was quite good, although I found the jabuticaba too tart. My favourites were the atemoia and the absolutely fabulous mangoes that were not stringy like we find in the U.S. and Canada.
Now a little about the Tapioca stand. The Brazilians make tapioca flour and use it in a variety of forms. This stand used tapioca flour to make these little tortilla like pancakes filled with cheese called beiju de tapioca. We each received a small bite and while it was OK, I wasn’t wowed by the food.
We then wandered down to the end of the market where V handed the limes over to the vendors at the last stand, who, among other things were making sugar cane juice aka caldo de cana. We watched as one of the young men fed the long stocks of sugar cane through the machine. The stalks were passed through the machine three times before being tossed aside.
The first small glass of sugar cane juice we drank was the pure extracted juice. Tom immediately said it tasted like brown sugar water. I actually thought the juice was tasty, albeit rather sweet. We then tried the sugar cane juice with limes and it was absolutely wonderful. The tart limes minimized the sweet flavour of the sugar cane making a lovely, tasty drink. And while we drank our sugar cane mixture we were entertained by the servers who would chant in sing song Portuguese “Christmas came early” every time someone would tip them. Hilarious.
So after the market visit, we broke up into groups and took cabs to the Lapa neighborhood where we went to the Portuguese restaurant Nova Capela, which was established in 1903. Everything about the restaurant had an old time feel, including the formally dressed wait staff. We were going to taste two traditional Portuguese dishes. The first was bolinhos de bacalhau, essentially a fried mixture of potatoes, bacalhau (codfish), eggs, parsley, and onion. Delish. Then we tried a pastéis de nata, a rich (really rich) custard tart. This was also very good. We also tried a drink called suco de abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple juice with fresh mint leaves). Really refreshing.
We then took a very short walk a block or so down the street to Boteco Belmonte where we had our first drink of the day, and of course what else but a caipirinha. Now I have decided I am not a fan of this traditional Brazilian drink (I do not like the cachaça which serves as the base for the drink.). Now at this point, the only caipirinha I had tried was a traditional caipirinha made with lime. V gave us the option to have a “fruit” caipirinha so most of us opted for the mango caipirinha while Tom opted for the traditional.
We stood and watched the bartender fill each glass with ice, spoon copious amounts of sugar into each glass, drop in the fruit, muddle the mixture, pour a very, very large shot of cachaça, shake and then pour into “to go” cups. (Yes that is right, in Rio you can walk around drinking from to go cups sort of like Vegas or New Orleans.
Once we all had our drinks we took a taste and … still a no for me on the caipirinha. The cachaça was so overwhelming I just couldn’t get past it. However, with all the ice in the drink and the very hot day, I figured the drink might get better as the ice melted. And it turned out I was right. In the mean time, Tom said he liked his drink (but Tom also likes scotch, which is kind of like what cachaça tastes like even thought it is made from sugar cane.
So we took our drinks and did a bit of a walkabout around the Lapa neighborhood, which is known as the bohemian area and well known for its colonial architecture and a wonderful arts scene. Now one of the first historic architectural sites we passed was the Arcos da Lapa (essentially a Roman via duct looking structure) built in 1723 to bring water from the nearby Carioca River to parts of the city. Today, the viaduct is simply a remnant of the past, but also serves as a signal for the cable cars that climb the hill of Santa Teresa.
We then passed a serious of refurbished colonial buildings before turning down a narrow street to see the world famous Selarón Steps. In 1990, Jorge Selarón, a local artist, began decorating the steps in front of his house with blue, green and yellow tiles, which are the Brazilian colours. Over time, Selarón continued to add tiles, some of which he painted and others donated by visitors. Eventually, 215 steps were covered with over 2,000 tiles, ceramics and mirrors. Selarón continued to change and alter the stairs up until his death in 2013.
So once we reached the steps, Tom and I decided to walk up the stairs to the top. We actually climbed up to the top where the tiled Brazilian flag was constructed, and then stood and listed to a guitar player. We could have climbed a few more steps to the actual top, but decided we were good and walked back down. As we climbed down, we came across two young boys playing soccer on the steps. It was the epitome of a Brazilian moment.
Tom and I caught up with our group at the bottom where V had us taste Brazil’s famous cheese ball bread called pão de queijo. It was really good. Not overly salty or cheesy, just a nice subtle cheese flavour. Delicious!
We then walked on through a more commercial neighborhood, while I continued to finish my caipirinha. Next up was a trip on Rio’s subway system which was surprising clean and air conditioned. We took the subway two stops and got off at the Largo do Machado stop in the Flamengo neighborhood. We then stopped at a sandwich shop, Tacacá do Norte, where we were going to try two dishes. The little shop only had a handful of seats, doubled as a bit of a store and was busy, busy, busy.
First up was a soup dish called, what else, tacacá soup (hence the name of the sandwich shop) common to North Brazil and revered in Brazil and widely consumed. The soup was made with jambu (guava), and tucupi (a yellow sauce made from the tapioc root), as well as dried shrimps and small yellow peppers. We each received a small bowl of the soup, which I found quite sour and a tad too salty, but actually rather tasty. And because the jambu contains a natural anesthetic, we all ended up with slightly numb tongues.
The second dish was açaí, a Brazilian super fruit that was blended into a pulp-like substance and mixed with granola. Now the dish had a deep purple almost blackish colour, and I had no idea what to expect from the taste, but it turned out to be wonderful. Sweet, but not overly sweet, and the granola added a nice crunchy texture. It was one of my favourite dishes of the day.
So after the visit to the little sandwich shop, we walked about five blocks through the area neighborhood to our last stop of the day, a Brazilian restaurant named Severyna, in the Laranjeiras neighborhood. We were going to have lunch here with V ordering two appetizers, Queijo coalho com melado (grilled slabs of cheese from northeast Brazil served with sugar cane syrup) and Salgado (shrimp croquettes). V then ordered the main meal consisting of two different dishes similar to Shepherd’s Pie called escondidinho de carne seca (creamy mashed cassava with cured beef, topped with grilled cheese) and escondidinho de brocolis (creamy mashed cassava with broccoli, topped with grilled cheese), a dish called carne seca com abobora e feijão de corda (air-dried, salted beef with pumpkin and beans), and a dish called moqueca baiana (stew of shrimp or fish, made with coconut milk, peppers and red palm oil) served with rice and tapioca flour and some greens.
Before the food arrived, V insisted that we all take a shot of cachaça. Ugh. V said this was very good cachaça, but after yet another shot of this stuff my face puckered, my eyes watered and I swore never again. This stuff is nothing short of gross. No idea why anyone would want to take shots of this stuff (or even drink it in a caipirinha).
Once the food came, we all had a taste of each dish, and my favourite by far was the rice, tapioca flour and shrimp dish. Fantastic.
At the end of the meal we said thanked V profusely for the wonderful day. The group had been a lot of fun (despite my aversion to group tours) and we had been lucky that everyone was so nice. After saying goodbye, Tom and I grabbed a cab and headed back to our hotel. We then went up to the roof top pool, but decided that despite the magnificent views it was too windy so we ended up going to our respective rooms to each take a nap and meet back up at 6:30.
When we met back up, Tom and I decided we still were not hungry so we wandered along Copacabana Beach where several market stalls were set up selling a lot of Chinese trinkets as well as the periodic handmade items. I bought a couple lovely handmade pieces of artwork, including a stone hyacinth macaw (I have no idea where I am going to put all the artwork I have purchased), and Tom bought a few items as well including a couple of traditional Brazilian musical instruments and an old Brazilian license plate.
We then wandered down the boulevard along the beach and decided to stop for a couple drinks and appetizers at a lovely little restaurant. We sat and ate some shrimp and cheese balls and some fish bites (which turned out to be a huge basket), had a couple drinks and called it a night. Tomorrow our guide Ederson will be taking us on the first of two five hour tours of Rio and we would be meeting him at 7:30 to beat the crowds. So we walked back to the hotel and agreed to meet at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast before our tour. For now, it was time for a good night’s sleep.