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In Brazil, the nordeste, or northeast, is the poorest region of the country. In the last 50 years, the harsh climate and lack of job opportunities in the cities have caused a massive migration of nordestinos to more developed centers, like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

This huge migration has had good and bad consequences in Rio. The explosive growth of the favelas, done with little in the way of urban planning, is one of the more problematic ones. Much less controversial, however, is the large number of nordestino-run botequins – small, often family-run bars serving simple, traditional food – that have opened in this city.

The northeasterner’s talent for cooking typical Brazilian food using cheap but delicious ingredients such as beans, offal and manioc, plus the low costs of setting up and running a botequim, were a major enticement for many of them to start up these businesses. And now, Rio has more than 300 excellent northeastern botequins spread all over the town.

Feira de São Cristóvão, photo by Vinicius CamizaSome of them turned into successful chains, like the famous Belmonte empire. Owner Antônio Rodrigues was born in the state of Ceará and came to Rio at the age of 13 to work as a server at a bar. He’s come a long way since then, opening 12 branches of Belmonte – the Praia do Flamengo location is the original and still the best – and in the process becoming a millionaire, as well as a kind of botequim celebrity in Rio. The food he serves is not straight-up northeastern – the bar has some Portuguese influence – but his entrepreneurial spirit is. The best-known dish here is the dried meat and cream cheese open pie.

Less famous but also good examples of this spirit can be found in the Sonho Lindo chain, with seven outlets in town, each run by a different family of immigrants. They serve a large array of northeastern tidbits, such as tapioca sandwiches (the bread is made out of manioc starch), sarapatel, a stew made from goat and pork (and sometimes chicken) offal, and angu à baiana, polenta also with slow-cooked goat and pork innards as well as beef and ox liver.

The acclaimed Nordestino Carioca is run by a family from Paraíba state and is full of memorabilia from the northeast. Take note of the pictures on the wall of Lampião, a sort of Brazilian Pancho Villa who lived in the region at the beginning of the 20th century and is the hero of the bar’s owner, Roberto Araújo. This is the best place in Rio to try the picanha de carne de sol, a noble piece of dried beef, very well spiced and cooked with clarified butter, and feijão de corda, northeastern-style beans. The bar also offers baião de dois, a mix of beans, rice, dried meat, bananas and northeastern condiments.

Feira de São Cristóvão, photo by Vinicius CamizaIf you really want to understand northeastern culture and gastronomy, the place to do it is Feira de São Cristóvão, also known as Feira dos Nordestinos (Northeastern Fair). At this huge open-air market, which is located inside a former velodrome, you can find more than 200 stands offering all of the region’s culinary delights, and you might also find musicians or dancers performing. The market is open every day, but from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, it draws more than 10,000 cariocas and tourists and becomes a real nonstop party.

 
  • Feira de São Cristóvão (0)
    Let’s say you have only two or three days in Rio. You want to experience a little real […] Posted in Rio
  • Feira de São Cristóvão (0)
    Let’s say you have only two or three days in Rio. You want to experience a little real […] Posted in Rio
  • Kalango Kalango (0)
    The calango is a tiny lizard commonly found in the hottest, driest and poorest parts of […] Posted in Rio
Vinicius Camiza

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