As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
But this year we are planning to dive even deeper into the cities we work in. Getting off the beaten path leads to fresh experiences, but more importantly, it’s a way for us to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to declare 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” one in which our focus will be on lesser-visited neighborhoods and the people and places that keep them going. To get things started, below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
Rio de Janeiro: Laranjeiras
Rio may be a beach town, but lately people have been heading for the hills. With rental prices in the most trendy neighborhoods of the city’s South Zone peaking in the last seven years, many cariocas have decided to move to less expensive pastures: far from the ocean, but closer to the forests. Laranjeiras is one such place. While still in the South Zone, this mostly residential district has remained affordable and is now home to many artists, musicians, journalists and even some foreigners. Located below Floresta da Tijuca (the city’s urban forest), the neighborhood spreads down the hillside, but doesn’t quite reach the sea, and is probably best known for its older buildings as well as its tree-lined streets.
Just as residents are running away from the exorbitant prices in Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana, so too are businesses. Many charming bars and restaurants have opened here in the past couple of years, adding to the neighborhood’s newly rediscovered vigor. While people have traditionally frequented the neighborhood’s numerous squares, like Praça São Salvador, for open-air music performances, these spots have become increasingly popular due to the economic crisis (cariocas are avoiding pricey clubs and traditional samba spots). São Salvador turns into an open-air party during happy hour every day, with the stalls, bars and markets lining the square selling hot dogs, hamburgers, tapioca dishes, beers and even bottles of wine poured out in plastic glasses. On Sundays, it plays host to a famous live presentation of chorinho, the uniquely Brazilian rhythm that mixes samba and jazz.
Visitors rarely see this side of the neighborhood: If they do come to Laranjeiras, it’s usually on their way to the picturesque red train at Cosme Velho station that whisks them up to Christ the Redeemer. But they’re missing out on some delightful gastronomic discoveries. There’s Rotisseria Sirio-Libanesa, a Syrian-Lebanese eatery right on the border between Laranjeiras and Catete that serves the best esfihas and kibes in Rio. The neighborhood’s main street, Rua das Laranjeiras (which turns into Rua Cosme Velho at its upper end), is home to Mercadinho São José das Artes, a former senzala (slave house) that now hosts a number of art galleries, eateries and popular bars. In the vicinity of Mercadinho is Pisco, the one and only Peruvian botequim in Rio that serves ceviches and tiraditos in the carioca way. For drinks, we usually head to either Bar do B, a bar with a dance floor or, if we feel like socializing rather than dancing, the gastropub Botero. The latter is always crowded with people standing up and eating its famous street food.
The most recent economic crisis is certainly contributing to the increased popularity of Laranjeiras – it’s chock-full of creative cheap eats and free music. But it’s not just about the money. This laid-back neighborhood has artistic roots, which can be seen in its elegant old buildings and the long-standing practice of musicians gathering to play in its squares. People and business are in search of originality as much as cheap rents, and Laranjeiras has it in spades. – Juarez Becoza
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.