Athletes, spectators and everyone else gathered in Rio for the Summer Olympics will have no shortage of good eating options – and not just in the usual touristed areas. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots around town.
The 100,000-square-meter market is divided into three warehouse-style floors, with a pavilion just for flower sales at the rear of the second floor. (The building sits on an incline, so you can enter from the street either on the ground floor or from behind the second.)
The market is open 24 hours. Early mornings on Thursday and Saturday are the top time for flower shopping. Saturday afternoon is Cantinho das Consertinas’s Festa Portuguesa, with up to 1,000 attendees queuing for a host of salt cod dishes on the second floor. Even at 2 a.m. on a weekend, partygoers will stumble in for a nightcap of beef and fries. Expect some crowds; CADEG averages 10,000 people a day.
Among our favorite stands are Sorvete Brasil, an ice cream shop that uses market produce to make flavors like graviola (soursop) and cupuacú (a tart Amazonian fruit), Santo Gostinho, a bakery specializing in bread and croissants, aptly named Mundo das Cervejas (World of Beers) and Corujao, a grill serving sizzling meats from open pits.
Tia’s Hot Dogs
Rio locals love hot dogs, and while vendors of the chacorro quente abound, what makes Tia’s dogs so popular are her variations on the dog itself.
Her family has established an exclusive relationship with a vendor in the neighboring pastoral state of Minas Gerais to provide chicken and shank dogs. She also avoids some of the frills of the typical Rio cachorro quente and focuses instead on heaping portions of favorite basics: thick amounts of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, crispy potato straws, chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced onions that cook slowly in between the bun and the hot sausages. Clients are also faithful to her secret sauce, a recipe she says she only nailed down a decade after she started out with an aluminum pushcart, in 1982.
A former electrician, Emerson Gama has become the Rio de Janeiro chocolatier with the most dedicated cult following. Only a few South Zone specialty stores carry his Quetzal chocolates, which are made in the three-by-three-meter kitchen in his family’s tidy three-bedroom home in the North Zone neighborhood of Encantado.
Our top choice from Gama is the toasted coconut and curry bar, which has a satisfying crunch and a nice tingle-of-the-tongue from the peppery curry. The baru bar, which is 85 percent cacao, has the namesake nut’s flavor, somewhere between a Brazil nut and a peanut. The baru nut comes from Brazil’s central cerrado scrublands and is used as an aphrodisiac.
Gama gets much of his cacao from a co-op in the Amazonian frontier state of Pará, which is one of Brazil’s cacao powerhouses, along with neighboring Bahia.
Bar do Momo
Known for the variations on Rio pub food dreamed up by chef Toninho, Bar do Momo has been charming residents and visitors alike in this laid-back North Zone neighborhood since 1972.
In addition to hosting Tijuca old-timers, who gather to play and watch at live music circles, Momo is becoming a growing hub for the city’s chefs as it continuously wins culinary accolades and participates in events such as Rio’s first Carnival bloco.
Among the many excellent dishes on the menu, two dishes starring jiló – a green, meaty, slightly bitter eggplant-pepper cross brought to Brazil from West Africa during the slave trade – are particularly magnificent. The first, jiló recheado, not unlike a chile relleno, is stuffed with beef and mozzarella cheese that melts into a savory broth. The other is the only Brazilian guacamole worth your time: made from tangy pickled jiló, red onion, tomato, lime, cilantro, and Brazilian dedo de moça pepper. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a cold beer, be it a traditional Antarctica or Original, or a craft Rio de Janeiro lager called Hija de Punta.
The first thing you’ll smell when you walk into the charmingly historic Charutaria Syria (“The Syrian Smoke Shop”) today is coffee. While the family-run business still sell cigars – boxes from Cuba and Nicaragua as well as Bahia sit in the glass case at the entrance – it has shifted the overall focus of the shop to coffee, baked goods and prized food products from across Brazil such as jams and chocolate bars.
The Arabica coffee is strong, deep and steaming, and the gleaming espresso machine behind the long wooden counter taps and whirs in the background throughout the day.
The sweets, which Charutaria buys from a local bakery, are traditional Brazilian cakes and tarts, such as cheese custard with guava topping and a not over-sugared carrot cake draped in bittersweet chocolate sauce. Customer favorites include cakes of honey-drenched walnut and of delicately layered prune and apricot, both on display at the front of the counter.
Frenchman Charles Cavé founded the oldest still-operating bakery in 1860 in a pink Victorian building as frosted in white trim as the pastries it purveyed. Casa Cavé’s interior, exterior and menu remain close to its origins to this day.
Most famously, it sells the Portuguese pastel de Belém, also called pastel de nata, a sweet egg custard tart invented in the 1830s by monks in a Lisbon monastery. We recommend asking that the pasteis be warmed in the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon. A heavenly host of Portuguese pastries with religious names graces Cavé’s shelves, many likewise invented at convents or monasteries: the puff pastry Jesuita, folded around cream and topped with meringue and chestnuts; the rose-shaped, powdered-sugar-covered and almond-filled pastel de Santa Clara; the sticky cake papo de anjo (angel’s chins); and the unforgettable barriga de freira (nun’s belly), egg custard with breadcrumbs wrapped in rice-paper casings. These sit between sugar-drenched palmiers, lemony girassol cookies and mil-folha, Portuguese versions of the multi-layered French mille-feuille.
In addition to the pink building crowning the corner of Uruguaiana and Sete de Setembro streets, Cavé has another location two doors down on Uruguaiana, a quiet tea room entered through a pastry-filled hallway.
The world-famous black-and-white Copacabana promenade hosts a daily fish market where local fisherman sell their morning catch. While the market sells all the usual fish, those in the know make sure to drop by on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, when there are also oysters for sale. These pristine oysters are not harvested from Copacabana or even from carioca waters. They come from Ilha Grande, an island paradise located on the south coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, 200 kilometers away. They are incredibly fresh and sell out quickly to those locals or visitors who happen to know about this secret stash of shellfish and are lucky enough to get their hands on them. we love to enjoy them right there on the beach under the trees’ protective shade.
One of the most beloved botequins (small bars serving simple, traditional food) in the South Zone, and near an area full of TV stations and movie producers, Bar Rebouças is the preferred watering hole of many actors, directors and screenwriters, who can be found drinking, eating and kibitzing late into the night.
Serving them all is Jorginho, who has been for more than 20 years the one and only waiter in the tiny but big-hearted bar in Jardim Botânico, in Rio’s South Zone. Not only is Jorginho the sole waiter, but he’s also the botequim’s cook. One of our favorites among his specialties is the caldo verde, a typical Portuguese soup made with potatoes, kale and pork sausage. We also love the pot roast sandwich with cheese and oregano. Jorginho fries up Bar Rebouças’s famous shrimp and cheese balls, but these delicious nuggets are actually made by the owner’s wife, Gertrudes, who prepares them along with the meatballs and cod balls.
Capitania Dos Copos
Ilha do Governador, a timeworn seaside neighborhood near the Rio International Airport, is full of old seafood restaurants and bars, a lot of favelas and a dozen polluted beaches. Among the few establishments worth mentioning that serve good meals with a beautiful, unusual view of Guanabara Bay is Capitania dos Copos, a classic seashore bar on tiny Tubiacanga beach.
The restaurant’s big wooden porch sits right in front of the sea, facing hundreds of little boats resting in the calm waters of the bay. Every sunny afternoon, the porch gets packed with couples, families and groups of friends looking forward to the beautiful sunset that is to come. In the meantime, they take in the view and eat plenty of fresh seafood, of course.
Shrimp gets the star treatment at Capitania dos Copos, appearing in numerous combinations and preparations. Our favorite is the shrimp risotto, which perfectly suits the ambiance of the place.
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