As we burst out of the end of the street market into the bright sunlight and roar of traffic, there was time to take a deep breath and then on to the next taste of Rio. A juice bar. With the plethora of amazing fruit much of which we’d never heard of, It might have been a little daunting to try this without a translator and guide. From a long alphabetical list we were handed a flimsy cup of peach pink Goiaba (Brazilian Guava) Sweet with a flavour reminiscent of a mix of pear, mango and strawberry. Then another bendy cup with Caju – (cashew nut) fruit juice, which is sweet and slightly astringent. Having already had our fill of the pressed sugar cane juice, I was nearly at stopping point when the final cup arrived. Umbu juice – sweet aromatic and slightly acidic. Well refreshed, if a little awash with liquid (I could have said no) we sauntered down the busy street to our next stop.
This was a real surprise. A simple tiled interior with a sit up bar in the centre and around the perimeter. There were a few bags of maize on shelves but little else and not much fragrance of food cooking. A group of locals who knew each other, eyed us with distant disinterest. It was friendly, but less so than the other places we’d been. Perched on high stools we were each handed a large bowl of very dark purple thick puree, matt in colour and with a very slight fruit aroma. This, we were told, was considered to be the fixer of all ails. Makes men strong, cures illness and wards off sickness. Acai Berries. The ads for these wonderberries are everywhere here and I have to admit to being sceptical. In the Amazon this is medicine. Eaten every day and an essential part of a young man’s diet.
The Acai was swiftly followed by a thin soup called Tacaca. A mix of plump pink prawns and plenty of greenery that left a strange numbing effect on the mouth much like a dental anaesthetic that only lasts thirty seconds, this is the Jambu greens. It was our first experience of real Amazonian food.
After a gentle walk through old colonial squares with tranquil sprinkling fountains and past streets of multicoloured houses, we arrived at our final destination in the old slave quarter and market. Mercado San Jose, is given over to various bars, the most successful of which is Botero.
A bar owned by Brazilian chef Bruno Magalhaes who spent time in well respected Manhattan eateries and came back to Rio to open a casual restaurant serving updated traditional bar food. There’s a choice of eclectic soft seating or tables with red and blue gingham cloths and rush seated chairs.
In the evening the atmosphere is lively, with plenty of beer flowing. But we’d arrived well after lunch time and it was quiet, allowing us the luxury of taking things easy after the amount we’d already eaten.
We began with Pastel, a small rectangular pie that’s deep fried and arrived at the table with a crisp bubbly outer and wonderful savoury interior. I chose Oxtail and watercress, Mr Glam had the salt cod with thyme and black olives. These were followed by Stracotto Em Cerveja Preta Com Alho Confit, a dish of beef slowly cooked in dark beer and topped with parmesan and confit garlic.
Finally, after an intro of being the best ever tasted and a wonderful story of a young boy building an empire on the recipe, we tried the Chocolate Brownie. If the young boy did make his fortune from this dessert I’m not surprised. I’m still trying to work out how something so gooey could be so light and so very crispy on the outside. Utterly delicious topped with ice cream and the essential South American Dolce De Leche. We stayed chatting until late afternoon, only leaving when we realised we’d soon be overtaken by the evening crowd.
A wonderful food tour by Eat Rio, full of fun and lively chat. It’s great to get a taste of the politics as well as the food and to have found out so much about Rio that we certainly couldn’t have done on our own.
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