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Food & Dining in Brazil

Sao Paolo

São Paulo is the gourmet capital of Brazil. It's the city with the money to attract the country's best chefs, with the clientele to pay the tab at the most outstanding restaurants. Plus, with no beaches or mountains to play with, Paulistas amuse themselves by eating out. People dress up for dinner here (or more than they would elsewhere in the country) and usually go out around 9 or 10pm at the earliest. It's becoming more common for restaurants to accept reservations, but many still don't. If waiting for a table drives you to distraction, better to arrive unfashionably early at 8 pm.

The variety of cuisine is larger than anywhere in the country. Like New York or Toronto, São Paulo is a city of immigrants. Many of the city's best restaurants are Italian. However, the city has a number of top Middle Eastern restaurants, as well as the best Japanese food in the country, plus Spanish, Portuguese, Bahian, and even Thai cuisine. Churrascarias are always a favourite, and the kilo craze is beginning to sweep the city as mad-for-work Paulistas discover the perfect way to fuel up for long hours at the office.

Tips: The Guia São Paulo, the entertainment listing published in the Friday Folha de São Paulo newspaper, contains a detailed restaurant section, handy for confirming hours and phone numbers. And note that the long street names are often abbreviated by Paulistas; for example, the Rua José Maria Lisboa may also be known as Rua Lisboa.

The Higienópolis' Dining Triangle

Smack in the middle of Higienópolis just behind the FAAP sits the delightful Praça Vila Boim. A lovely three-sided square with beautiful trees, the praça offers a number of great casual dining options. Sushi lovers will be pleased to find Sushi Papaia (Praça Vila Boim 93, tel. 011/3666-2086). The menu offers a large variety of sushis and sashimis; for a more hearty main course, the restaurant serves up heaping plates of yakisoba noodles and sizzling teppanyaki stir-fries. If you are in the mood for a sandwich or burger, look no further than the Yellow Giraffe (Praça Vila Boim 73, tel. 011/3666-9633). For a "Brazilian" twist on the burger, try the beirute, sandwiches made with pita bread instead of a bun. The menu also includes a variety of salads and ciabata sandwiches. Do try Piola (Praça Vila Boim 49, tel. 011/3826-6959). This pizzeria is almost as famous for its edgy, industrial-chic decor as it is for its pizza. However, with over 30 combos to choose from, including the Rimini (smoked salmon and ricotta) and the Mantova (mozzarella, brie, fresh tomatoes, and arrugla), there's something for everyone.

Rio de Janeiro

Cariocas love to eat out. Better yet, they love to linger over their meals. A waiter in Rio would never dream of coming by to ask you to "settle up" so they can go off shift. For Brazilians, that would be the height of bad manners. So take your time and enjoy.

Rio offers an endless variety of places to eat. There are the chopperias, the place for cold beer and casual munchies. Slightly larger, slightly more upscale are the botequins, many of which are open to the early hours of the morning. There are hundreds of food kiosks, each with its own specialty, be it barbecued prawns, Bahian finger food, or vegetarian sandwiches. And on top of all that, there's a wide variety of restaurants in all neighbourhoods, ranging from inexpensive to very expensive, from simple sandwiches to delicious steaks, from firm fresh sushi to the complicated stews and sauces of Brazil's Northeast. There's no excuse for going hungry in Rio.

Portions often serve two people, especially in more casual restaurants. Always ask when in doubt or you may well end up with an extraordinary amount of food. In Portuguese ask, "Serve para dois?" (pronounced sir-vay p'ra doysh -- "does it serve two?").

Brazilian food is hard to define, but what is considered the generic Brazilian menu comes close to what some restaurants label as international cuisine: pasta, seafood, beef, and chicken. Except in Brazil, these are served with a local or regional twist. The pasta may be stuffed with catupiry cheese and abóbora (a kind of pumpkin), the chicken could have maracujá (passion fruit) sauce. Brazilian beef is made from cows just like in the rest of the world, but in Brazil the cows are open range and grass-fed, making for a very lean beef which comes in uniquely Brazilian cuts such as picanha (tender rump steak), fraldinha (bottom sirloin), or alcatra (top sirloin). And of course, for side dishes no Brazilian meal is complete without farofa and rice or black beans.

Most restaurants are open from around 11am until 4pm and then again from 7pm until midnight or later. However, there are also quite a few establishments that will stay open all day, especially on the weekends when people leave the beach at 4pm to go eat lunch. Sunday is often the busiest day for lunch as extended families get together for a meal. Because Sunday lunch is so busy many restaurants close Sunday evening.

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