Brazil, as everybody knows, was colonized by the Portuguese. But even with the end of colonial Brazil, the Portuguese continued to come: at the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of them immigrated to flee poverty in Europe and to start anew in Brazil – especially in Rio. As the capital of the colony for more than 400 years, Rio has been the most influenced by Portuguese traditions, architecture and, of course, gastronomy.
The Portuguese immigrants also brought with them the boticas, or typical grocery stores where customers could shop and also have a drink at the same time. Those evolved into today’s botequins, many of which are run by Portuguese immigrants or their sons or grandsons. And the Portuguese taste for pork, seafood and egg-based desserts has also found its way to these bars, which serve the cheap and hearty popular cuisine that is at the center of Brazilian gastronomy.
There are no offical statistics about the number of Portuguese-influenced botequins in Rio, but we believe a reasonable estimate would be over 2,000 establishments. Most are very humble, but that does not mean they offer poor food. On the contrary: some of the simplest offer their customers sophisticated and delicious gastronomic experiences – and at low prices. These are a few of our favorites.
Adonis is a commom Portuguese family name. This bar is located in Benfica, which is also the name of one of the most important districts in Lisbon. So it makes sense that the carioca Benfica is one of the most important centers of Portuguese traditions in Rio. And Adonis is the best example of a typical Portuguese botequim in Rio. The thing to get here is the bolinhos de bacalhau, or cod balls, a typical Portuguese snack that is very popular in botequins. The menu also offers traditional rabada, a rich stew of tender oxtail punctuated by a heap of agrião, or cress.
At the entrance you’ll find a fine and expensive downtown restaurant – the oldest in the city, actually. But ignore the main entrance and go straight to the back of the building, where you’ll find an iconic U-shaped counter outside, under an awning and perched along the road, with aged but kind waitresses serving the same dishes that the main restaurant serves, but in small portions and at lower prices. And the dishes! All of the best Portuguese seafood, including many squid dishes, a superb octopus with broccoli rice and the famous Leão Veloso soup, a traditional seafood broth that has Portuguese roots but was created right here, more than 100 years ago.
Also known as Bar dos Passarinhos (“Little Birds Bar”), this was once a venue for trade in exotic birds. A Portuguese family has run the place since the 1960s, maintaining its beautiful architecture and wonderful atmosphere. It’s perhaps the best-preserved old botequim in the city and is worth a visit just to see the walls and decorations, with Portuguese tiles and traditional Catholic iconography cohabitating with beer racks and cheap bottles of cachaça. But, of course, Varnhagen offers much more than just aesthetic pleasures. Despite the recent passing of Mrs. Natalina, the renowned Portuguese matriarch who commanded the kitchen for more than 40 years, her daughter, Cidália, still offers a delicious Portuguese-Brazilian menu, including a terrific rabada, every weekend.
Cantinho das Concertinas
More than a botequim, this place is a party! A Portuguese party, obviously. Located inside CADEG, also in the heart of Benfica, Cantinho das Concertinas is run by a group of Portuguese and their friends, and everything inside this unpretentious bar is about their traditions. The cod balls here are almost as good as the ones at Adonis, and we also highly recommend the sardinhas ao escabeche com batatas, or boiled sardines with potato, as well as the bacalhau frito, or fried cod. The botequim keeps unusual hours, opening late at night and closing the following afternoon. And Saturdays are really special, when a typical Portuguese party takes place all day long, packing in clients with a lot of music, dance, wine and, of course, plenty of food.
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