Food & drink

Eat by weight

I´m not a huge fan of South American food and have tried hard to look beyond the rice and beans, deep fired snacks and gloopy stews. The food we´ve had in our hotels has been fine, but often because it´s just simply cooked.

But one of the bargains in Brazil has been to eat in the "quilo" places where food is simply weighed and charged at 60p – 1.10p per 100gms you eat. It´s a mixture of simple salads and some specialities of the house; perhaps a mini churrascaria or some stews. It's very difficult to spend more than a couple of pounds. You take a card at the entrance and have the plate weighed after the self-serve.

Some have a desserts display; one even offered isles flottants (poached egg whites), possibly the lightest pudding available and the one least designed for sale by weight.

Porcao in RioThe other eating delight is the fixed price churrascaria. For 40-50 Reais you eat all you want from a massive and pristine salad bar before being faced with waves of waiters weilding skewers of grilled meat.

There's a proper way to approach this; don't be waylaid by the starchy offerings of the first group of waiters.  Limit the empanadas and the chips and the other goodies.  Don't get sidetracked by the man with the caiparinia trolley, eager to fill you up with fruity variations of the cachaca cocktail. And, most importantly, lay off the salad bar; it's meant to be tempting.

The meat waiters will come round with skewers of  beef, lamb and pork.  With the exception of the chicken heart skewer these are massive joints of meat from which the waiter slices off cuts which you collect with a pair of tongs. 

Waiters are controlled by the little traffic light disks that you display on your table to control their interest.  (The ones above are from Porcão in Rio.)

Food & drink

A night in Lapa

Four year´s ago we went on a tour of one of Rio´s favelas, the idea being to introduce tourists into these areas that are so completely off-limits and show what life is like there. (and this was before the City of God film). I don´t remember much other than having various gangs pointed out and shown the kite flying that allegedly told the drugs gangs where the police were. (The favelas still dominate all the hilly areas of Rio, with just one or two exceptions, if you live in the flat areas of town you´re rich).

After the tour the guide invited his small group to meet up late that evening in a club in Lapa. It´s a part of town just off the central business district and one that you´re generally advised to avoid in the dark: we later read in the Rough Guide that it said we really shouldn´t have gone in there at all. But there´s a lot of paranoia in the guides about Rio, one reason that I don´t have any photos of the last visit there, and certainly one of Kim´s work colleagues was mugged there a few days before we were there.

Lapa lived up to expectations. Crowds hung on street corners around burning braziers (for food not warmth), prostitutes flashed at us and transvestites cavorted in the gloomy streets. (We found the club, and eventually the guide and spent the evening samba-ing.)

But four years on Lapa is the place to go in the late evenings and is in the midst of gentrification. It´s one of the few places in Rio that still has a sense of the past; many of the buildings date to the beginning of the last century, and some of the city´s few landmarks are here; the modernist cathedral and an iconic viaduct (a sort of concrete Pont du Gard) over which Rio last tram travels.  This time the old dance halls have been painted up, there´s a new set of bars and clubs, even live music on the streets.

We found a backstreet Samba club which was full of a drunken post-office crowd who proved that Brazilians can (a) have a really good time, and (b) can´t necessarily dance any better than I can.