Friday, March 18, 2011

São Paulo's Municipal Market - A Mountainous Mortadela Sandwich

The mezzanine floor of São Paulo's Municipal Market houses a number of restaurants, open only for lunch, whose clientele ranges from shoppers in the market to market employees to discerning diners who come to the market solely because of the quality of the food. They all share a large open space and their tables extend in front of their bar/counter and are easily identified by color, table linen or by ropes dividing the space. All of the restaurants have menus posted and available to peruse, so it's easy to pick the restaurant that suits your mood, your appetite and your budget.

One of the most well-known dining establishments in the market isn't on the mezzanine, however. It's on the main floor and is called Bar do Mané.  Its fame rests largely (and I do mean largely) on one particular menu item - a mortadela sandwich. Mortadela is the Brazilian version of the Italian cold cut mortadella which dates back to the romans, and which Italian emigrants have carried around the world. A specialty of Bologna, mortadella evolved in the USA into the famous American bologna (or baloney) sausage. In Brazil, where it's hugely popular, it has remained basically unchanged from its original Italian recipe.

What makes the mortadela sandwich at Bar do Mané such a culinary celebrity is its bulk. The sandwich, served in a French roll, packs 250 gr - over half a pound - of thinly-sliced mortadela between its two halves, guarnished with tomato and lettuce. The mortadela is folded and stacked in the roll, making a mountainous mouthful.

Legend has it that the sandwich was created one day when a regular customer complained that his mortadela sandwich was somewhat lacking in mortadela. Someone in the kitchen staff decided to call the diner's bluff and loaded the sandwich to the ceiling with mortadela. When the diner was served his sandwich his eyes popped out of his head, but within a short time he'd finished the sandwich. The next day he returned and ordered a sandwich "just like yesterday's." Other diners saw this beast of a sandwich passing by and asked for the same thing. Eventually the bar had to put the sandwich on the menu, and it remains their most popular menu item to this day.

Other Municipal Market restaurants now offer the same sandwich, but when something is as closely identified as the mortadela sandwich is with the Bar do Mané, go for the original. See if you can polish one off. Depending on the options chosen (like cheese) the price for the mortadela sandwich ranges from R$11 to R$15. That's about USD $7.00 to $9.50. It won't break the bank, but it just might ruin your diet!


  1. Did you know that every immigrant who arrived at the Sao Paulo/Brazilian version of Ellis Island ( Hospedaria dos Imigrantes ) were given a Mortadela sandwich.
    The Italians, Portuguese and Spanish felt right at home but the Japanese immigrants would gag from the smell of Mortadela and would throw it away and eat only the frech bread.
    Mortadela has been a staple in Sao Paulo for over a century, it definitely was brought in the city by the first Italian immigrants that came off the boats.

  2. Oops, that was supposed to be french bread, and not frech.

  3. Thanks for noticing! It shows that, as editors say, one can't effectively proofread one's own writing. I've made the change.

    BTW, I took a quick look at your blog - looks very intriguing and I plan on going back.

  4. Thanks James,

    I am crazy for food, so you will see me around here often too. :)