Tag Archives: Rio de Janeiro

Syrian Food in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil)

syriabrazilThere are two athletes from Syria on the Refugee Olympic Team, and two others on the team who currently train in Brazil. However, the connection between Syria and Brazil is not new. When we were in Brazil, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of Middle Eastern restaurants, from high-end fine dining to humble corner shops. We love traditional Brazilian food, but we like to try something different every once in a while, and we often turned to Syrian or Lebanese food for a change of pace. This is not just a cuisine trend in the country, there has been a large Syrian population in Brazil for over 100 years, and they are one of the most deeply established immigrant communities in Brazil. Now, there is a newer wave of immigrants fleeing the current conflict in Syria. One of the ways that this new wave of Syrians is contributing to Brazilian culture is through their food enterprises, such as Ahmad Ryad Hamada’s Syrian snack cart and Anas Rjab’s catering service, Simsim.

Kibbe

Kibbe at Al-Kuwait in Rio

Even before the newest Syrian arrivals, you could find foods that are traditionally Levantine all over Rio de Janeiro, as well as other places in Brazil, especially São Paulo. The first time we had the national food of Syria – kibbeh – was actually in Brazil! You will find kibbe and esfiha (small triangle shaped filled dough) at snack shops throughout Brazil, whether or not they have primarily Middle Eastern menus, showing how much Brazilians have adopted Syrian dishes as their own. Syrian influence can also be seen in that pita-like bread is called Pão Sirio (Syrian Bread) in Brazil. There are tons of great places to get Levantine food and spices in Rio, but here are some of our favorites: Al-Kuwait for Kibbe and Esfiha, Quiosque Arab for ambiance and Casas Pedro for spices and Pão Sirio.

Casas Pedro in Rio

Casas Pedro in Rio

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Pastry Post-Doc in Rio: Cinematic cakes at Bomboniere Pathe

cinelandiabrazilBack in the day, an area of Central Rio de Janeiro, Cinelândia (pictured above in 2013), as its name suggests, was the home of Rio de Janeiro’s opulent Art Deco movie theaters. At its peak, there were over a dozen, centered on the square called Praça Floriano Peixoto. Only one movie theater still remains, the Odeon (link in Portuguese), whereas the other grand movie palaces have been converted to performing arts centers, churches, bookstores, or adult movie theaters. Bomboniere Pathe (Praça Floriano, 45, Rio de Janeiro) used to be below one such grand cinema – Cinema Pathe (now a church), which opened in 1901 and closed in 1999. 

CakeStoreThough the theater is closed, this tiny corner shop that sells nothing but cake is still chugging along. The store is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-small. But don’t let the humble appearance fool you – the cakes are amazing! There are a dozen or so traditional and exotic flavors available every day, and are worth a special trip. It costs $R 5 for a slice, and $R 65 for an entire cake. With the current exchange rate of the Brazilian Real, that is a pretty reasonable price. The refrigerator case for the cakes is rolled right out into the street, enticing passers-by with scrumptious cakes.

KeyLime

So what kind of cakes can you expect? While we were there we sampled: A tri-color Neapolitan cake, a brigadeiro cake (chocolate condensed milk) with brigadeiro truffles right on top, coconut cake, prestigio cake, a traditional chocolate and coconut layer cake, passion fruit cheesecake, key lime, strawberry, blueberries and whipped cream, Black forest cake, and more! The selection changes daily, so be sure to ask ahead if there is something you have in mind. You can also buy single bite-size Brazilian treats like truffles, brigadeiros / casadinhos / cajuzinhos / beijinhos and small pudins (egg puddings).

Passionfruit

If you order a slice, you are treated to a hearty wedge in a little plastic container. Since this is a take out place, there is no “eating-in.” However, you will see some people gathered around the shop just noshing on their cakes. Another nice touch – for my birthday they even gave me a cake with a candle in it (see below)! We sampled cakes at least once a week and were never disappointed. Located near the business center of Rio, it is a popular choice for businesspeople on a lunch break, and the crowd strictly seemed to be locals. If you are in Central Rio and looking for a sweet, traditional Brazilian dessert, look no further!

ChocoBrithday

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The Olympics of Food: Rio 2016

Olympic-Cookies

The Olympics have finally come to Rio! When we were living in Brazil a few years ago, the country was already gearing up for the Olympic games, so we are excited to see it finally come to life. ETW will have some special food-related Olympics coverage this year, focused on the food of Brazil and the countries competing. We already have an extensive archive of Brazil and Rio De Janeiro food posts, so we encourage you to check it out in the meantime. This year, we will have special posts on the two countries competing in the Olympics for the first time – South Sudan and Kosovo (we also covered the 7 new countries in 2014) – and the multi-national refugee team. Stay tuned! Bom apetite!

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A real Brazilian steakhouse experience: Porcão

Porcão
Avenida Infante Dom Henrique
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

brazilGermany plays Brazil today, and while we still hope the Canarinho can pull it out, Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s suspension means this may be our last chance to highlight Brazilian cuisine before the end of the World Cup. In the United States, as well as Germany, it seems, the idea of Brazilian food usually conjures up the picture of a giant buffet with roving gauchos serving up meat on skewers. Fine cuts of meat are less Brazil-specific than they are at home in the broad swath of land between Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil – the land of the gauchos. Nevertheless, large transnational chains like Fogo de Chão and Texas de Brazil are responsible for popularizing this concept of Brazilian cuisine, which has now gained global popularity. But while we were living in Rio de Janeiro, we were curious if Brazilian steakhouses are the same or similar in Brazil. On many a carioca’s recommendation, we decided to head to Porcão, a high-end churrascaria north of Botafogo bay so large it has its own exit off of Infante Dom Henrique. Turns out, while beef is only a very small slice of Brazilian cuisine (think of fancy steakhouses representing all of US cuisine abroad), the experience at Porcão was very, very similar to those you would find in the United States. There were a wider variety of cuts of meat – Matt’s favorite anticuchos (hearts) come to mind – but overall, we have to say we were a tiny bit disappointed the experience was not more different. Don’t get us wrong, the food was excellent. But trust us when we say when you go to the Texas de Brazil or the Fogo de Chão in Chicago you are are getting basically the same experience (minus the Portuguese, of course).

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You know the routine. You pay a set rate for the meal (at the time we went for lunch it was R$110; about 55 US dollars, and then you stuff yourself on the lavish salad bar and buffet. Then, you return to your seat and wait for the roving guacho to come around with particular cuts of meat that suit your fancy. And come they did, as always: every cut imaginable, overall of a wider variety and a bit saltier than you find at US versions. This Porcão was quite large, and seemed to cater to the business executive crowd, who hosted clients and co-workers for marathon meat-eats.???????????????????????????????

The salad bar, was of curse quite extensive, and consisted of various salad fixings, fruit and veg, a small selection of cheeses and bread. Again – no pão de queijo – basically a food crime against humanity. There were some winners at the salad bar though. We really enjoyed the mango and goat cheese salad. One major difference from the US, though is that at Porcão, there was no fish or chicken – only beef. Now, there was basically every type of beef under the sun, but if you don’t like beef you are pretty much out of luck. Sides were only so so, perhaps a little better in the American rendition of the Brazilian steakhouse.

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However, where Porcão excelled was in the atmosphere. Most of Rio does, of course, and you simply cannot replicate it at a strip mall in suburban Chicago. In this particular location, the natural setting also plays a big role. Diners here are treated to a very cool view looking out on Sugar Loaf over Botafogo Bay (above). In fact, we don’t think we’ve ever been to a restaurant with quite so nice a view. So fans of the Brazilian steakhouse experience in the US – rest assured that your beloved meat skewers are very much a Brazilian thing – but you may not get quite the authentic view.

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Q Bar: see and be seen in Rio de Janeiro

Q Bar
Rua Dias Ferreira 617
Leblon, Rio de Janeiro

brazilQ Bar is a place to see and be seen – it’s no surprise it has been earning accolades from the international press, and attracting a cosmopolitan clientele. M’s father read about it a magazine as a bar that was a “must try,” so we figured it would be fun for a night on the town. This was a big change for us since we are usually more likely to be found in corner lanchonetes or old school cafes than anyplace favored by trendy Rio denizens. Happily, contrary to many “scene-y” places – the service at Q Bar was actually excellent, which we found to be exceedingly rare in Rio (and Brazil in general). Q bills itself as a “gastrobar,” and the focus is on small plates and creative cocktails. One of their most famous cocktails is the “Rocket Collins” – a Tom Collins with the addition of arugula, making it a shade of bright green $12 (R$ 23).

Q Bar in Leblon

Q Bar in Leblon

The menu at Q Bar is eclectic and internationally-inspired, and seemed similar to places we had been in Chicago. In fact Q Bar would probably be at home in many cities around the world. For starters we had fried goat cheese salad, and frankly, what salad ISN’T better with goat cheese? Keeping with that feeling, L had truffle goat cheese mac and cheese gnocchi, which came baked in a miniature cast iron skillet. The tiny skillet was a cute touch, and the mac and cheese itself was creamy and delicious, and not at all overwhelmed by truffle flavor. M ordered a deconstructed moqueca – a nod to our upcoming trip to Salvador – which was a moqueca risotto with shrimp and a filet of fish. The risotto was very well cooked, with a moqueca’s signature palm oil flavor, and the fish filet was excellent. M’s parents ordered the signature Q Burger and tuna tartare with caviar, both of which they heartily enjoyed.

Moqueca Risotto at Q Bar

Moqueca Risotto at Q Bar

Visiting Q Bar was a nice change of pace, and it is a great place to bring your international guests. Even if you are not a scenester (as we are not), you definitely feel cool eating your small plates on Q’s fun outdoor patio, in an already-buzzing street full of chic restaurants. Many of the servers spoke English, which is not common in Rio, and would likely make non-Portuguese guests feel more comfortable. Beware though, the prices are a little steep, with many entrees over $25 (R$ 50). However, if you are looking for a big city dining experience that is much more cosmopolitan than a boteco, Q Bar is your place.

Fried Goat Cheese Salad at Q Bar - everything IS better with goat cheese

Fried Goat Cheese Salad at Q Bar – everything IS better with goat cheese

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A Place for Spices in Rio de Janeiro: Casas Pedro

brazil

The Saara neighborhood is one of our favorite areas in Rio. It is a great place to shop for anything under the sun, people watch, and get a bite to eat on a sunny afternoon. The name “Saara” is rumored to derive from the word “Sahara,” an explanation that has entered into the public lore of Rio. Nowadays, the area is mostly given over to selling clothes, home goods, party/Carnaval supplies and any kind of bric-a-brac you would ever want (there is an entire store dedicated to Tupperware, for example). However, there are a few places in Saara that do specialize in Middle Eastern spices and foods. Our favorite, Casas Pedro, has several branches are sprinkled throughout Rio, including 3 in the Saara. You can get nearly any spice you could imagine at Casas Pedro, several kinds of cinnamon, tumeric, coriander, cumin, along with nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips and other oddities (even baking soda) sold by weight. You can also find “Pao Sirio” a kind of flatbread popular in Brazil, tahini paste, honey and other Middle Eastern packaged goods. If you are feeling hungry, a counter sells meat and cheese esfihas to go. 

Casas Pedro in Rio

Casas Pedro in Rio

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Our favorite Acarajé in Rio de Janeiro: Cida Acarajé at Largo do Carioca

brazilAcarajé, a bean fritter fried in palm oil and filled with various toppings is one of the iconic foods of Brazil. We were spoiled for choice by the cheap and plentiful acarajé options in Bahia, where acarajé is most commonly found, (a complete Salvador acarajé post is coming soon). However, we are happy to report we found a great and centrally located acarajé spot in Rio de Janerio as well. Right in the bustling Largo do Carioca in Centro, Cida Acarajé sets up shop every weekday at around 12:30. It’s a pretty big production, so we are always impressed that it seems to pop up out of nowhere every day at lunchtime.

Cida Acaraje in Largo do Carioca

Cida Acaraje in Largo do Carioca

An acarajé at Cida costs R$ 9 without dried shrimp, which is highway robbery by Bahian standards, but is largely in keeping with Rio’s generally inflated prices.  However, this was actually some pretty good acarajé, so we were prepared to shell out a little extra money for one of our favorite Bahian treats. The acarajé are made fresh to order in a giant vat of dendê (palm oil) – which is absolutely imperative to a good acarajé experience. As far as places in Rio go, we definitely preferred Cida’s acarajé to the one we had previously sampled at the Feira Hippie in Ipanema (another high profile location).

Acaraje in Dende

Acaraje Frying up in Dende Oil

The acarajé was perfectly fresh and we enjoyed the good renditions of the traditional acarajé fillings: vatapá, caruru and salada. M also appreciated the spicy sauce with a nice kick. If you are going for the full authentic experience you must also top the acarajé with dried shrimp (though we are on the fence if we actually prefer this). In addition to acarajé, there were various chocolate and coconut cakes by the slice, cocadas and even small puddings baked right in a coconut shell. This was our friend M’s first venture into acarajé and we are happy to report that she heartily enjoyed it. Another Brazilian food convert won over!

Cida Acaraje

The finished Acaraje with all the fixins

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Pastry Post-Doc: Brazilian Brigadeiros for Chocolate Lovers

brazilAs much as cupcakes and the myriad permutations thereof are popular in the USA, brigadeiros are the primary bite-sized dessert in Brazil. Named for a Portuguese brigadier in the 1940s, a brigadeiro is essentially a chocolate caramel truffle coated in chocolate sprinkles. However, much like cupcakes, riffs off of the traditional brigadeiro are increasingly common, including exotic flavors and coatings. If you are not looking for anything fancy, the basic brigadeiro is found at most Brazilian restaurants and cafes, and pretty much every snack shop has brigadeiros in stock for less than a dollar. Perhaps the best thing about the brigadeiro is how easy it is to make, and how few ingredients it requires. For example, this America’s Test Kitchen recipe has only condensed milk, butter and cocoa. Some other recipes, like these from Honest Cooking and Cuca Brazuca also require chocolate drink powdered mix. The typical finish for a brigadeiro is being rolled in classic chocolate sprinkles, though another Brazilian favorite is a coatings of large black and white candy puffed-rice spheres known as “crocantes.” Of course you can also play with different brigadeiro flavors, including peanut butter or almond

Classic Brigadeiro

Classic Brigadeiro by Mayra ChiaChia

If you are in Brazil, we highly recommend some exploration to find your favorite brigadeiro. Nearly every corner bakery/cafe/deli/lanchonete will have brigadeiros for sale, so you can sample dozens a day, if you would like. If you are going for something unique, visit Maria Brigadeiro ( Pinheiros: Rua Capote Valente 68) in São Paulo, where there are over 20 varieties of gourmet brigadeiros available at the shop, including esoteric choices like Port Wine or Sesame. Time Out São Paulo has a feature on the some of the other best brigadeiros in Sao PauloOur favorite Brigadeiro stop in Salvador was Brigadeira Mix in Shopping Barra, which was just a small kiosk, but it boasted a large variety of flavors, including our favorite, negresco (cookies and cream). But brigadeiros are not only the purview of fancy shops. In Rio de Janeiro you can buy them on the street (though it is a wonder that they don not melt in the heat).  Our favorite classic brigadeiros in Rio de Janeiro are found at Bomboniere Pathe (Centro: Praça Floriano nº- 45). But don’t take our word for it – go try some for yourself!

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Bobó de Camarão in Rio de Janeiro

Bobo de Camarao

Bobó de Camarão

We heard from a friend that one of the best renditions of the classic Bahian dish “Bobó de Camarão” in Rio was found at Marinho Azul (Av. Francisco Bhering s/n, Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro). Marinho Azul overlooks Arpoador beach, basically a rock outcropping that is the dividing line between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and you have a niced view of the Ipanema side. Marinho Azul (Marine Blue) unsurprisingly sells primarily seafood dishes, in straightforward preparations as well as regional favorites. The Bobó de Camarão (R$ 98 for 2 people) is a sort of stewed dish made from pureed cassava, dendê oil and shrimp. The term “Bobó” is used to refer to any dish thickened with cassava, a type of dish that originated in Africa. Unlike moqueca, which has coconut milk as a base, the cassava makes a bobó a lot thicker. We thought their rendition was very good for Rio, but Bahians would definitely blush at the price (and it is worth noting that the service is more than a little brusque). However, you can’t beat the location, and we lingered over our food to enjoy the view. Though we have tried our hand at moqueca, we have never made a bobó; but we like the look of these recipes from Cuca Brazuca, Maria-Brasil and Flavors of Brasil.

Ipanema Beach and Dois Irmaos

Stay for the view: Ipanema Beach and Dois Irmãos

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The Best Pizza in Rio de Janeiro: Bráz Pizzaria

Bráz Pizzaria
R. Maria Angélica, 129
Jardim Botânico  Rio de Janeiro

brazilPizza has taken on a life of its own in Brazil, and you can find a place to get a pie on nearly every corner in every town in the country. Though we have previously documented how Brazilian pizza is a little different, there are some Brazilian pizzarias that adhere to more of a traditional Italian style, and Bráz is one of them. Most of the outlets of Bráz are in São Paulo, the epicenter for high-quality pizza in Brazil, though now there is a location in Rio. Bráz is often honored as one of the best pizza places in Brazil by publications in the US and across Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. We visited the Bráz Pizzaria on the restaurant row of Rua Maria Angélica, near the Lagoa, and we are happy to report that it is now our favorite place for pizza in the city.

Braz Pizzaria

The Interior of Bráz Pizzaria, Rio de Janeiro

The Rio outpost of Bráz is brand spanking new, though it has been deliberately made with an old school flair, with white subway tiled walls and exposed brick. Naturally, the only thing to order at Bráz is the pizza. There are a wide variety of topping choices, from traditional Margherita and Four Cheese, to more unique specialties of the house (there are probably over 30 varieties in all). The house specialties included some with distinctively Brazilian flavors including the “Primo” with the Brazilian Caqui fruit (similar to a very sweet tomato), mozzarella and prosciutto. The “Tacchino” includes smoked turkey and Brazilian pizza staple, Catupiry cheese.

Braz Pizzaria Slice

Vai-Vai Pizza slice (somewhere under the arugula)

In addition to pizza, we ordered a Burrata appetizer, which was produced in Puglia, Italy. The cheese was very good, but did not compare to those we had in Naples (seeing as it was shipped over, I guess. We’re spoiled!) All pizzas came in a small, medium and large size. For our main course, we ordered two medium pizzas for four people – which was just the right amount (no leftovers). The first pizza was the tradicional “Calabresa” pizza, with olives, pepperoni and onion. The second pizza was the Especialidade “Vai-Vai” (named after our favorite São Paulo samba school) with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella. The pizzas at Bráz have a thin crust, with a slightly chewy bite, maybe just a little thicker than traditional Neapolitan pizzas. Both pizzas we ordered were generously topped, and all of the ingredients were fresh. However, be forewarned that everything you order will come with a LOT of said toppings, so you had better like onions or arugula.

Braz Pizzaria Slice

Calabresa Pizza Slice

For dessert we got a brownie a la mode (perhaps not the most adventurous choice) and a gelato. But we were a little surprised by the gelato – it came out as a wrapped Popsicle, not as a scoop in a bowl. As a final note, though the interior of Bráz was entirely pleasant, their bathrooms were a standout – each of the men’s and woman’s had its own private sitting area and outdoor garden. An outdoor garden with a fountain is definitely not something you see in a restroom every day. We greatly enjoyed our visit to Braz, it was definitely some of the best pizza we’ve had in Brazil, if not THE best. Even pizza aficianados from São Paulo would have to agree.

Braz Brownie A la Mode

Braz Brownie A la Mode

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A romantic night out at Zazá Bistrô Tropical in Rio de Janeiro

Zazá Bistrô Tropical
Rua Joana Angélica, 40
Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro

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Though we thrive on Açaí bowls and Acarajé, sometimes we want to visit someplace a little fancier. To celebrate L’s birthday we decided to gussy up and visit Zazá Bistrô Tropical in the heart of Ipanema, voted as one of the most romantic restaurants in Rio. You will notice the restaurant in its prominent corner spot right away – it is painted brightly blue and festooned with lights, giving you a clue to the eclectic decor inside.

Zaza Bistro

Zazá Bistrô

When you enter Zazá Bistrô you are immediately struck by the whimsical décor – the walls are brightly painted and covered in artifacts (we especially enjoyed the altars on the first floor). There are two floors in the tiny restaurant – the first has bistro tables and a bar, and the second floor was decorated in a Moroccan style – with low tables and throw pillows. Zazá is also known for its unique bar menu – featuring a number of flavored Margaritas and Caipirinhas. The electric décor and menu also attracts an intentional crowd. We were seated near a veritable United Nations of diners: Brazilians, English, French, Argentines and Germans. Also appealing to the international clientele, there is both an English and Portuguese Menu.

Zaza Bistro Altars

Zazá Bistrô Altars

The menu is eclectic as the décor, with a variety of Brazilian dishes with Southeast Asian touches. We enjoyed the cover: a basket of potato, manioc and sweet potato chips with wasabi yogurt sauce and tomato salsa (R$ 18). The international influence began with appetizers – which included Indian samosas and Moroccan chicken pastillas. For main courses, there was a wide variety of eclectic dishes, featuring seafood heavily. After a period of perusal, we ordered the mixed seafood ceviche with mangoes and green coconut curry (R$ 29) and the seared prawn and lemon risotto (R$ 65). A close runner up was the organic curry chicken (R$ 48) with coconut milk, lime, ginger and banana. Both of the dishes were flavorful and mixed Brazilian and Asian flavors elegantly, though the portions were slightly small. Vegetarians will also be happy to know there are several meat and seafood-free options.

ZazaRisotto

Zazá Risotto with mood lighting

For dessert there are a variety of house-made choices – we couldn’t resist the “Devil’s” chocolate cake (R$ 18), which was composed of a bittersweet chocolate souffle with a crunchy topping, accompanied with lemon sorbet. The rich chocolate cake, along with a little cafezinho was a perfect end to a night out. The food was tasty – but the lovely atmosphere, especially on the candle-lit second floor – completely made the night. Our evening at Zazá Bistrô was relaxed and delicious, and  we definitely recommend it for those looking for a fun (but still relatively reasonable) night on the town.

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Mineira Food in Rio de Janeiro: Bar do Mineiro

Bar do Mineiro
Rua Pascoal Carlos Magno 99
Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

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We visited Minas Gerais, the culinary heartland of Brazil, at the beginning of March for the first time. Brazilians love the homey and simple style of Mineira food, and it is popular throughout the country. One of the top places to get Mineira cuisine in Rio de Janeiro is a Bar do Mineiro, founded in 1992 by the Paixão family from Carangola in Minas Gerais. Bar do Minerio is located in the eclectic, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa, and is a simple affair, full of character.

Bar do Mineiro

The inside of Bar do Mineiro

Somehow Bar do Mineiro is more than the sum of its parts. The décor is unpolished, the food is simple, but it could not be more inviting! The menu is pretty expansive – especially the appetizers – which in true Brazilian fashions involves a huge variety of fried tidbits. We especially liked to bolinhos de aipim (fried manioc fritters) stuffed with carne seca or cheese (R$ 24) and the pastéis de feijão (black bean fried pastries – R$ 28). Another popular option is linguicinha mineira (R$ 36), fried linguiça sausage and onions served with sliced baguette.

Bolinhos do Aipim

Bolinhos do Aipim

If you want something more substantial, there are many chicken, fish or beef options including tutu à mineira (R$ 44) – a classic Mineira dish of meat and beans, along with entree options of steak and fries (R$ 48), or fried fish and rice (R$ 45). Bar do Mineiro is also known for its Minero-style feijoada on weekends (R$ 36 for one) – the iconic Brazilian stew of smoked meat, sausage, beans and greens (everyone makes it a little differently).

Bar do Mineiro

Grab a Table at Bar do Mineiro

Bar do Mineiro also served as the site of our friend M’s first taste of cachaça – in a caipirinha, of course! Along with caiprinhas and caipiroskas (caipirinhas with vodka instead) many of the patrons were enjoying a nice chopp (Brazilian draft beer). Bar do Mineiro is a great place for a laid-back meal or just to meet with friends over drinks. If you can’t make it to Minas, this is definitely the next-best thing.

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Pastry Post-Doc in Brazil: V Café

V Café
Rua Senador Dantas – 45, Cinelândia
Rio de Janeiro (Other Locations Nationwide in Brasil)

brazil

Sometimes you just want a nice icy Starbucks-style coffee beverage laden with sugar and syrup  – and when you do, in Brazil, the answer is V Cafe! There are tons of these cafes over Brazil (owned by Parent company Viena), and a small branch is even conveniently located in one of our favorite bookstores – Livraria Cultura. Our two go-tos at V Café are the Mocciolata and the Cioccolata drinks (R$ 11 each). The Cioccolata is a very frothy iced hot chocolate, and the Mocciolata is basically the same – but with a shot of espresso. We appreciate the attention to detail in V’s drinks – all of the drinks come in real glassware – not paper cups – and a little cookie on the side – how nice. Of course there are also a wide variety of hot espresso and cappuccino drinks available.

V Cafe Mocciolata

V Cafe Mocciolata (and cookie)

There are wide a range of desserts available – including a rotating variety of cake slices (chocolate brigadeiro, orange and hazelnut are favorites), puddings and cookies. But if you are in the mood for a little something more, there are sandwiches (including salmon and brie/apricot) and even some healthy-looking salads. Seating at V Café in Livraria Cultura is at a premium, and people often bring a stack of books to while away the time while munching. We definitely can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon.

V Cafe

V Cafe in Livraria Cultura

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Dining on the Lagoa in Rio: Quiosque Arab

Quiosque Arab
Avenida Borges de Medeiros
Parque dos Patins, Quiosque 7
Rio de Janeiro

brazilThe Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (most commonly known just as “Lagoa” or “Lake) in the Zona Sul of Rio de Janeiro is a wonderful place to hang out on a nice day. There is a trail around the lake, paddle boats for rent, and of course, a nice activity is simply watching the sunset over the lake. There are many restaurants surrounding the lake as well as many smaller open-air kiosks – “quiosques” in Portuguese. They range from simple beach-food vendors to full-service restaurants that just happen to be open-air. One such restaurant is called Quiosque Arab, the sister restaurant to the fancier (indoor) Restaurant Arab in Copacabana (Avenida Atlântica 1936), which as one might guess, serves Middle-Eastern food. The Quiosque is a pretty extensive affair, with a large number of tables, and a complete blanketing of big green umbrellas.

Lagoa

The view from the Lagoa

There was a pretty extensive menu at the Quiosque, with a large amount of Arab appetizers including, kibbe, esfihas, breads, hummus and salads. There was also a full menu of entrees, which was heavy on kebabs and beef and rice dishes. M ordered the chicken kebab (R$ 45), which was served with tomato-y rice and tabbouleh. L ordered the Falafel Sandwich – (R$ 26). The char-grilled kebab was flavorful, and with a generous potion, however there was so much rice it seemed to be a filler to make up for a lack of other sides. The falafel itself was tasty, heavy on parsley flavor, and slathered with a generous helping of hummus, though the pita itself did not hold up (literally) to its fillings. If we ever visit again we might partake in the tea service – which looked delicious (and included cookies).

Lagoa Food

Kebab entree + View of the Lagoa

The food at the Quiosque was very good, but it goes without saying that you are paying for the view. But it is quite a view, especially as you watch the sun set over Cristo Redentor. On some nights there is also live music starting at 9 PM and the lake takes on a club-like atmosphere until the late hour of 3 AM on weekends. For early-birds the restaurant opens every day at 9 AM, where you can get an Arab breakfast (Café da manhã árabe) for R$ 36. We would recommend Quiosque Arab for a light lunch or dinner, since the prices will add up pretty quickly of you try to eat heartily.

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Authentic Mexican food in Rio: Azteka

Azteka
Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 156 – Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro

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Mexico FlagLiving in Chicago spoils one for taco choices: there are amazing taquerias everywhere, from the high-end fancy places to tried-and-true local establishments, and the price is nearly always right. But Brazil seems to have the opposite problem: Salvador has but a few Mexican restaurants, and Rio de Janeiro even less, proportionately. However, Mexican food fans in Rio now have a new option.  The relatively new restaurant Azteka, helmed by transplanted Chicagoans  Aglika Angelova and Miguel F. Campos, aims to bring Mexican street food to the streets of Rio. When we heard chef Campos was from Chicago, we knew we had to visit, especially since our Mexican food cravings were strong after months out of the country (the tortillas we managed to find in Lisbon didn’t exactly satiate our craving).

Azteka Exterior

View into Azteka. Actually a lot of seating for an Ipanema establishment!

Azteka is a small restaurant, conveniently located right on Praca General Osorio in Ipanema. The decor is nice and modern, looking a little like a gussied up Chipotle. The menu at Azteka consists of burritos, tortas, tacos and quesadillas, with the choice of cochinta pibil (slow roasted pork), chicken, beef or pork al pastor. For starters there are dishes of house-made guacamole and pico de gallo. We ordered two cochinita pibil tacos for R$24 (about $12) and an Al Pastor quesadilla for R$ 26 (about $13).  Both were excellent: really good flour tortillas are difficult to pull off, and these made-in-house versions were great. The cochinita pibil was full of flavor and the al pastor was juicy and tender, and just a little bit sweet. Salsas were stars of the toppings, but the tacos were never overdressed: just lime, onion, cilantro and a little cheese, all the hallmarks of taco chefs who know what they are doing.

Azteka Tacos

Awesome tacos. Worth US$7 apiece? In Rio, definitely.

That said, Rio is an expensive food town overall, and Azteka is no different. The tacos were fantastic, and would easily compete with the best we’ve had in Chicago, but the price was no comparison: we paid over US$30 for four total tacos at Azteka, when we would pay $10 or less back home. But there can be no argument with the quality of food, the depth of flavors, and the care put into their preparation. We will always pay more for excellent food, and we were happy when the quality matched the price in a city where that does not always happen. The food at Azteka is definitely tastier than your average La Pasadita back in Chicago. Azteka satisfied all of our Mexican food cravings, and if we lived in Rio we would certainly be regulars.

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Pastry Post-Doc: Cappuccino at Confetaria Colombo

brazilM does not like cappuccino. Or coffee of any kind. At least this is the story he told himself, until an encounter with the most delectable, sweet, delicious coffee drink he has ever sampled: the famous cappuccino at Rio de Janeiro’s landmark Confeitaria Colombo. It took a lot of nudging for him to try it. With the parents visiting us in Rio for a week, M’s Mom raved about her cappuccino, proclaiming that it was the favorite thing she ate during her week in Rio. “Could it really be that good?” M thought to himself. A week later, having breakfast together with a friend, both L and friend were sampling cappuccinos in front of M, and finally, on a whim, he decided to go for it.

Colombo Cappuccino

The famous Colombo Cappuccino

He would end up having two. Topped with a generous amount of homemade whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon, this is more a sweet coffee drink than a real Italian cappuccino, hitting sweet and spiced high notes that purist coffee drinkers may scoff at. But not M: this was a pastry in a coffee cup, and just what he needed to get over his dislike of coffee drinks. If you are ever in Rio, do yourself a favor and head into Confeitaria Colombo, even if just to sample its famous – and very worth it – cappuccino. Score local points by standing at the bar!

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Middle-Eastern Food in Brazil: Al Kuwait

Al Kuwait
Av. Treze de Maio, 23 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro

KuwaitbrazilsyrialebanonRio de Janeiro is full of middle-Eastern restaurants, ranging from
four-star white-tablecloth places to corner botecos, owing to the large Arab Brazilian population. Al Kuwait falls into the latter category, and does a brisk lunch trade selling Middle Eastern dishes, salgados and juices. Moreover, we figured we had to try this place since Al Kuwait claims to have some of the best kibbe in Rio.

Kibbe

Kibbe at Al Kuwait

Kibbe is extremely popular in Brazil, and is found in almost all snack bars, Middle Eastern or not. A kibbe in Brazil is basically a miniature football-shaped meatball (again, sounds like something Ron Swanson would appreciate, right?) composed of ground meat, bulgur and other fillings, which are then fried. For lunch we each ordered a kibbe and an esfiha (one cheese and one meat), another iconic Middle Eastern salgado. Now, we always eat at Middle Eastern restaurants in Chicago and we have never encountered esfihas there. However, in Brazil they are nearly as ubiquitous as kibbe (you can even get them on the beach). Esfihas are savory triangle pastries filled with meat or cheese, which are prefect to eat on the go.

Esfiha

Esfiha at Al Kuwait

However, Al Kuwait had a nice outdoor seating area, so we took a seat to enjoy our snacks. The kibbe was much larger than we expected, but true to advertising, was excellent and had a great texture and flavor. The esfihas were also oversized, but not as memorable as the kibbe. We also enjoyed that we could wash down our somewhat-heavy meal with some fresh juice (Mango, Passion fruit and Pineapple were on order). There is also a full menu of entree-sized middle-eastern specialties if you would like something a bit more substantial, including hummus, baba ghanouj, kebabs and Brazilian specialties like picanha sandwiches. Al Kuwait is a great place for lunch, especially if you want a taste of typical Arab-Brazilian cuisine in a laid-back setting.

Al Kuwait

Dining Al Fresco at Al Kuwait

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Pastry Post Doc in Brazil: Casa Cavé

Casa Cavé
Rua Sete de Setembro, 127 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro is home to some beautiful colonial architecture as well as some wonderful, classic coffee houses that would be right at home in Lisbon. Casa Cavé is one of those places, featuring excellent pastries and drinks at reasonable prices in a salon that reminded us of our time in Portugal (there are even Portuguese azulejos on the wall). Cavé used to be in a larger, more ornate building just around the corner, which still bears the name “Casa Cavé” on the front, so don’t get confused (as we did – more on that in a future post). You can now find Casa Cavé by its distinctive green sign.

Casa Cave Sign

Casa Cave Sign

When you first enter Casa Cavé, you are greeted by an enormous wall of cookies and a wonderful pastry counter. The specialties at Casa Cavé are Portuguese pastries sold by the unit, and many people opt to take their cookies to go (you pay by the kilo – at a very reasonable price). Once you get past the long, glass counter of treats, you arrive in the larger tea salon, “sala de cha,” where you can enjoy coffee and other snacks. The interior is pretty, with almost a Grecian twist, very much reminding us of a Lisbon coffee house.

Casa Cave Interior

Casa Cave Interior

The selection of pastries was pretty overwhelming, and included everything you would expect in a Portuguese bakery, with some Brazilian favorites thrown in. In the tea salon you can get everything from the bakery, as well as a selection of coffee, juices and light sandwiches. Unfortunately there were not any iced coffee selections (this is Brazil in the Summer heat of 36°C/96°F, so we were surprised)! We had a “ratinho” (true to name, the treat was shaped like a mouse/rat), miniature bem casados (Brazilian dolce de leite sandwich cookies) and pastel de nata. All of the treats were delicious and freshly-made, and we were surprised that the pastel de nata was pretty much up to Portuguese standards, with a nice flaky crust. We were also pleased that nothing set us back more than 3 reais apiece.

Casa Cave Treats

Casa Cave Treats

We could have spent all day sampling the baked goods at Casa Cavé, and we were happy to see some of our Portuguese favorites in Brazil (Jesuitas, Linguas de Gato, Pasteis de Nata). If you are looking for a quiet spot to relax in Rio, Casa Cavé is a perfect break from chaotic modern-day Centro.

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Pastry-Post Doc in Brazil: American-Style Cookies at Besi in Rio

Besi
Rua do Carmo, 61 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro

brazilWe are very keen on the Brazilian idea of including cafes in bookstores and other places you might not necessarily expect a cafe. Case in point: Besi Cafe is located in the back of an adorable homegoods and kitchenware store. The cafe is all the way in the back and its is quite difficult to make it past all of the tempting Le Creuset implements and cast iron without buying something (though I suppose that is the point). Besi has a full menu of salads and sandwiches, however the coffee drinks and cookies are the specialties. What is called a “cookie” in Brazil greatly overlaps with what is a cookie in the USA. However, what is often absent from Brazilian bakeries is a good old Tollhouse-Style gooey chocolate chip cookie, or one of those big jumbo soft cookies you find in classic delis.

Besi Cafe

Kitchen goods store + Cafe = Besi

We were kind of homesick for that “big old cookie,” so we were very pleased to hear that Besi Cafe was known for their American-style cookies. When we visited, there were three varieties of cookie on offer (R$6 each): Sea salt chocolate, Triple chocolate chip (milk, dark and white chocolate), and Cinnamon with dark chocolate chips. The sea salt chocolate cookie was almost flat, but had a wonderful flavor (sea salt + chocolate is always a winner combination). The cinnamon and chocolate chip cookie was more leavened and had a strongly cinnamon flavor and was chock-a-block with chips. Of the two varieties, we preferred the chocolate for its flavor, but the texture of the chocolate chip. Unfortunately, Besi did not deliver a cookie that was top notch on all fronts, but rather a series of good cookies. We also greatly enjoyed the cappuccinos with foam art, not heretofore seen in Brazil, (R$ 8) made with Minas Gerais-gown Cafe Suplicy and the loose-leaf Moroccan mint tea ($R 5). While not a perfect imitation, the cookies at Besi are great for a quick fix when a craving hits.

Besi Cafe Cookies

Besi Cafe Cinnamon and chocolate chip cookie (one piece taken out and reassembled)

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The Best Açaí in Rio de Janeiro!

brazilHow time flies! Our time in Rio de Janeiro has drawn to a close, and we are in Salvador da Bahia now, which means it is time to tabulate the results for the best açaí bowl in Rio. We had a lot of fun sampling açaí spots all over the city, and you can see all of our reviews below. Along the way we learned the difference between regional styles of açaí and sampled more granola and tapioca puffs than we’d ever imagined. So without further ado….

The winner of the best açaí in Rio de Janeiro is: Tacacá do Norte

Incidentally, the best açaí bowl in Rio, at least according to our metrics, was the last bowl we tried! Tacacá do Norte had near-perfect Northern-style açaí, with a good price point. Our top Carioca-style açaí was at Polis Sucos.

The Results (Highest to lowest score):

Tacacá do Norte: 36 / 40
Barraca do Pará: 34 / 40
Polis Sucos: 34 / 40
Amazônia Soul: 32 / 40
Bibi Sucos: 31 / 40
Vero Suco: 30.5 / 40
Kicê Sucos: 27.5 / 40
Pioneiro dos Sucos: 22 / 40

Acai at Tacaca do Norte

The Winner: Acai at Tacaca do Norte

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