Composer Pecê Ribeiro is famous for writing songs that spread the glory of Portela, one of Rio’s oldest and most beloved samba schools in the city’s North Zone. But his newest lyrics tell another story.
“Bring your little takeout box over here, and I will put a delicious snack in it,” the song begins. “I won’t put too much pepper so it doesn’t burn.” Chorus: “Love, love, gastronomy.”
This was belted out beneath a drizzly Saturday sky last month during the second of three public rehearsals for the debut of Rio’s first gastronomy-themed bloco, or roving Carnival party. In front of the restaurant Cine Botequim in the Port Zone, adjacent to downtown, chefs and food vendors from across the city tended sizzling roast chickens and spicy Afro-Brazilian acarajé cakes that kept increasingly rain- and beer-moistened revelers full of five hours’ worth of dancing energy. Créperia Cliché and artisan caipirinha maker Eduardo Rua, both based in the Port Zone, offered further fuel for dancing and mingling, as did the young Rio Cook’s Club, serving a simple, stick-to-your-ribs tomato and rice stew. Chef César Augusto Antunes represented Armazém São Jorge in Niteroi, the city across the bay from Rio and home to the region’s best fish market. He chopped and swirled a popular version of his tropical ceviche, barely slicing mangos, cilantro and local dedo de moça peppers fast enough to feed the wide-eyed foliões (partygoers).
Longtime food photographer Berg Silva organized the bloco with Cine Botequim manager Felipe Trotta and Port Zone cultural enthusiast Raphael Vidal based on an important commonality. “We love Carnival, and we love to eat,” said Silva, “so we called up all our friends who are chefs and like Carnival as much as we do.”
Rio’s Carnival festivities come in two breeds. One is the famous pay-to-spectate parade through the downtown sambódromo (samba stadium), for which samba schools rehearse meticulously choreographed routines and are judged for the precision of their music and dance.
At “street carnivals,” on the other hand, improvisation and boisterousness reign. Rio’s blocos take the entire city as their impromptu staging ground, simply claiming a starting point, time and route that won’t cause any musical traffic jams with the over 300 other groups on the sinner’s parade to Ash Wednesday. Foliões dance and drift behind marching bands or trucks with giant sound systems that blast each bloco’s anthem of that year, a riff on an often-humorous theme. A famous Ipanema bloco goes by the name of the Brazilian flirtatious come-on “Friendliness is almost like love;” the Communists parade in “It’s the Commune that Birthed Me;” and revelers dress up as their favorite boy band members for “New Kids on the Bloco.” Many other blocos were founded based on neighborhood heroes and lore.
The gastronomical bloco, Põe Na Quentinha (“Put it in the takeout box”), quite literally wants participants to try so much food that they’ll end up going home with boxed-up leftovers. At the rehearsal, organizers paraded in tall white chef hats with tinfoil takeout boxes glued to the top and flipped over to-go containers in the carioca tradition of turning any small object with a flat surface into a samba tambourine.
The founders are still deciding what route they might parade from the Cine Botequim starting point – turning the food stalls into mobile food trucks – or whether the bloco should remain a parked affair. Stationary, it already has all the joyful tumult of a traditional carioca street carnival. Several dozen attendees of the second rehearsal, including the band’s trumpet and saxophone players, charged around the Port Zone neighborhood of Saúde late in the festivities, banners and umbrellas waving. Several old women in wide-brimmed hats sat and slowly sipped beer, chuckling to themselves as they watched the events.
The music, food and drink, with new dishes from chefs and new participants, including a maker of molasses-infused cachaça, will be back tomorrow afternoon in the Port Zone. Sun is forecast, and all are welcome.
Third open rehearsal for “Put It in the Takeout Box”: Saturday, January 17, 2015, 2pm
Official launch: Saturday, February 7, 2pm