Just three nights in Rio, wish it could have been longer, what an amazing city! The coastal neighbourhoods are crammed between soaring tree-covered hills and mountains on the one side and the sea on the other. There are miles of long white-sand beaches with enough room for everyone, and everyone is there; rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight. I’m not saying there isn’t prejudice but they seem to have got it right more than anyone else.
I stayed in Ipanema at the Hostel Bonita. It’s nice enough with simple clean rooms (and dorms), friendly staff, a basic breakfast and just two streets away from the beach. They have a sister hostel up the road but I chose this one because it’s near the metro station for town and also because the famous Bossa Nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim lived here for a few years in the sixties. His tune ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ has the distinction of being the most recorded song in musical history.
I arrived at about 8 in the morning, well before check-in, so I went round the corner to Cafeina for breakfast. They had several variations on the menu but I went for the ‘Natural’, consisting of a flat white, granola and yogurt, two kinds of bread with two kinds of cheese, smoked turkey breast, butter, jam, honey, orange juice and half a papaya, phew!
After this I went to the food market in Placa General Osorio for a nosey. Most of the produce was familiar, pretty much what you’d get in a European market or international store.
There were a few South American fruits and vegetables that I couldn’t identify though. Any ideas what some of these are?
One of the stall holders persuaded me to buy a few strawberries and a Custard Apple by pushing free samples into my hand. They tasted amazing so how could I say no?
I also had a Pasteis, a deep-fried filled pasty, in this case filled with cheese, which I had with a glass of freshly poured coconut milk.
There are lots of Confeitarias or cake shops all over town, which is a great Portuguese tradition, but which also showed some Italian influences like pizza and foccacia. I’d really like to sink my teeth into this cake.
In the evening I had my first Caiparinha and a cocktail called ‘The Wallpaper’ at Astor, a posh bar next to Ipanema beach where you can sit outside (if you get there early) and watch the sea.
For dinner I went to Brasileirinho, a small rustic restaurant with traditional decor at 10 Rua Jangadeiros. It’s a recommended place to eat Feijoada, the Brazilian national dish, basically a pork stew made from black beans and different parts of the pig.
The aperitif for this is usually a Caiparinha but I was given a Batida, also made with Cachaca (sugar cane rum) but with the addition of various fruit juices. This time it came in a small shot glass and seemed essentially to be half Cachaca and half lime juice, ie strong and sour just how I like it.
The first stage of Feijoada is a small bowl of Caldinho de Feijao, a thick soup made from the black beans, which should come with a side dish of pickled chillies to perk it up.
For the main event the meat and the beans are served in separate dishes. Originally it was a slave dish and as they were only given the offal to eat, ear, tongue and trotters can all feature. I wasn’t in the mood on this occasion so I stuck with the less offaly option which had fresh beef, pork jerky, tail, two types of sausage and some other things I couldn’t identify.
Other sides are traditionally a portion of Farofa (fried manioc flour) for sprinkling over the stew, as well as kale fried with garlic, fried manioc root, white rice and pork scratchings. You also get a plate of sliced orange which helps to digest it all apparently. Together this would have been enough for four people but I gave it my best shot and ate about a third!
The dish originally comes from the Portuguese who like to mix several ingredients in their stews. The manioc (aka cassava) element comes from the local Indians and the spices are an African influence. So a true fusion dish, unique to Brazil.
For dessert I had some white soft cheese with Goiabada (Guava) jam which was delicious but I couldn’t find room to finish it (B).
With this a glass of Domecq which seemed to be a kind of local cognac (conhaque) but with a spiced flavour reminiscent of vanilla, which is just wrong in my book, avoid (D).
The next day I hired a bike and took the cycle path along the beaches for several hours. After riding along the waterfront in Ipanema my first stop was the Forte de Copacabana, an old fort on a strategic promontory between the two famous beaches.
You have to pay 4 reals to get in which gets you access to the military museum (I gave it a miss) but I was there to go to Confiteria Colombo, a branch of the famous Belle Epoque cafe in town (Rua Dias Gonçalves, in the Centro). It’s in a pleasant spot where you can sit outside and get a great view of Copacabana.
I had a Tarte di Camarao (prawn pastry) and a cold bottle of Bohemia beer to wash it down.
Brazilian beer is pretty good, Bohemia was my favourite bottle and Brahma is ok too. The name for draught beer is Chopp (pronounced ‘shop’).
Devassa is a chain of bars you will see all over town that brews its own Chopp on the premises. They have about six varieties including an IPA. I went to the one at 416 Rua Prudente de Moraes for a glass of Serara, a wheatbeer. It was very good but cost about £4 for a small glass. And that’s the main downside about coming here, it’s really pricey!
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