Best Bites of 2015 in Rio | Culinary Backstreets
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Editor’s note: To give 2015 a proper send-off, we’re taking a look back at all our favorite eating experiences of the year.

Tasty vegan chocolate cupcake was an oxymoron in these parts until Prana Cozinha Vegetariana came around. It took no time for Prana to become the hot spot on the natureba veggie-hunter circuit in this city. Vegetarianism in Rio has largely been lunch buffets with steaming griddles of tempeh and patties of varied permutations of potatoes, beans and soy products; Prana has upended the local logic by offering gourmet à la carte meals. (We like the griddle places, too.) If fruit is what Brazil does best, Prana’s passion fruit with cayenne – sweetened with apple juice – is one of the top sucos this city has to offer. Their mushroom bobó (coconut milk stew) with a side of pan-tossed collard greens is so light and punchy you’ll still be ready after your meal to hike up to the Dona Marta mount, a little sibling to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue that sits below the marble icon and whose trail is a short walking distance from the vegetarian eatery.

Foreigners often come to Brazil with a vague and ill-informed hopefulness of finding good Mexican food. In Rio, that only happens at Azteka. There are few restaurants we find as compelling in touristy beachside Ipanema as this one. The breadbox-sized eatery was founded by Miguel F. Campos, who worked for more than a decade in his native Mexico and the U.S. before setting up shop half a block away from the central General Osório plaza. This is Tex-Mex meets Brazilian sensibilities and contemporary creativity. We always mull over the menu extensively before unfailingly ordering the Guerrero grilled pineapple and onion burrito and an horchata for a sweet finish.

Cafe Marambaia, photo by Nadia SussmanFar from the Christ, the Sugarloaf and the Ipanema beach is Barra de Guaratiba, a fishing village-turned-beach getaway popular with the residents of the nearby blue-collar suburbs that ring Rio’s far west. This is the Rio that makes this city the treasure chest it is. Café Marambaia is the place (which is to say, the only place, save a few lackadaisical vendors on the beach) to be on a weekend night. Cool down from a day of hiking to Guaratiba’s remote beaches, accessible only by foot or jet ski, on the terrace of Marambaia with a pitcher of white sangria thick with diced pineapple, oranges and apples.

— Taylor Barnes
 

2015 was a bumpy year for Brazil’s establishment — FIFA officials, executives at Brazil’s oil company Petrobras, and billionaires previously thought to be untouchable were thrown under investigation and sometimes dazzlingly perp-walked before the public’s eyes. They won’t be dining at Rio’s imperial steakhouse Majórica as much in the future, so you should. The old stucco and stone house on a nondescript street in the Flamengo neighborhood has made its name on tender, salty picanha steak, a special Brazilian cut. As you savor it, take heed: Get too cozy with power and you, like some of Majórica’s past clients, could end up carved up on a plate next.

Rotisseria Sírio Libanesa, photo by Nadia SussmanSyrian refugees made their homes in Brazil this year eased by a long tradition of Syrian and Lebanese immigration to the country in the past. In Largo do Machado plaza, that means a quick and delicious lunch is synonymous with meat-stuffed cabbage, fried onions atop lentil rice and the strained yogurt spread labneh, known here as coalhada seca, eaten behind a storefront crowned with sepia-toned photos of Syrian mosques and a sheikh visiting Rio de Janeiro. The Rotisseria Sírio Libanesa has been filling stomachs for a bargain since rulers in Brazil’s military regime have come and gone in the ’60s and ’70s. While sipping their strong and cold house recipe of Brazilian mate tea and munching on the perfect cheese esfiha, we ponder Brazilian Syrian restaurants to come.

The inventive spirit of Rio’s street carnival zigzagged gastronomical this year with Rio’s first culinary carnival bloco. If you would like to see chefs with tin takeout boxes atop their hats in a conga line with Afro-Brazilian acarajé cooks, caipirinha drinkmasters and eaters of all stripes as a live band plays a food-themed anthem written by one of Rio’s most famous samba composers, keep updated on the bloco’s activities for carnival 2016.

Check the website for the next pre-Carnival rehearsal: https://www.facebook.com/poenaquentinha/
 
— Catherine Osborn

 

 

 

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Published on December 23, 2015

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