Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rio's Street Food (A Guide)

Thanks to a recent post on blogger TomLeMesurier's excellent blog Eat Rio, we learned about a Brazilian book published last year entitled Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua, which means roughly - A Street Food Guide for Rio Dwellers. A title like that made it almost imperative that we buy a copy, which is exactly what we did a few days ago.

If any city lives on the street (and the beach) Rio de Janeiro does. The weather, which ranges from warm to hot during the entire year, the breathtaking natural setting, the spectacular beaches, and the year-long street festival that is the carioca lifestyle mean that a good portion of the population spends a great deal of their time out in public. Rio's weather isn't conducive to nestling at home - to quote Cole Porter. "It's too darn hot!" Who wants to curl up on the sofa when just a short ways down the hill there are miles of wide beaches, full of sunbathers - tourists and locals alike. Even at night, the tropical breezes beckon and there's bound to be a street festival, from a block party up to the citywide orgy of Carnaval, that you can't resist. And everywhere outside in Rio there's food for sale - which is the topic of Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua.

The book is divided into very short chapters, only about two or three pages long. Each one highlights one of Rio's favorite street foods, focusing on one particular vendor. For example, a chapter called "Acarajé da Nega Teresa" doesn't just tell the story of acarajé, the Afro-Brazilian deep-fried black-eyed pea fritter, and how it made its way from Africa to the streets of Salvador, Brazil and on to the streets of Rio. It also tells Nega Teresa's story. A passionate devotee of Candomblé, Teresa is a daughter of the fierce goddess Iansã. When she retired from a career as a professional handball player, she followed in the footsteps of all those other daughters of Iansã who sell acarajé in Candomblé's Rome, Salvador. Teresa can be found selling her delicacies in Rio's bohemian Santa Teresa district every Thursday to Sunday, from 5 to 10 pm. If you want to be specific (and this book does) she sets up her stand on Rua Almirante Alexandrinho, in front of address 1458. You can reach her by phone at 2232-1310 or by email at negateresa@gmail.com.

The Guia (Guide) has 18 more chapters featuring Rio's urban gastronomy and the marvelous people to make and sell it. There are chapters on snacks like pipoca (popcorn) and picolé (popsicles), heartier fare such as cachorro quente (hot dogs), churrasquinho (kebab) or sushi, and even a cocktail - the caipirinha, naturally. Each chapter introduces the reader to another fascinating character - Arnaldo, who brought his trade as a tapioca seller all the way from Ceará, in northeastern Brazil, or Val, who sells the best fruit salad on Ipanema beach.

What the book does best, besides introduce these marvelous characters and explain the street food they sell, is capture the outdoor soul of Rio - through text, gorgeous photos and even a DVD, included with the book. It's a paean to Rio's street food, and it has an entirely worthy subject. It's also a great guide for visitors to Rio, and the very last section is an excellent translation of the text into English. The book can be ordered online here and shipped anywhere in the world. If Rio's in your travel future, and you love street food, Flavors of Brazil highly recommends you buy the book before you go. You'll be introduced to some fantastic food, and wonderful people.

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