Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, should be a pilgrimage for foodies. Food is a sport in here, and is treated with the same reverence as futbol and Samba. Whether you’re looking down on the city’s gilded financial district, savoring micro gastronomy masterpieces, or eating wood-roasted peanuts on a street corner, every time you sit down to eat in Sao Paulo you embark on an adventure. Which means that when fans from all over the world descend upon the city this summer to attend the 2014 FIFA World Cup, restaurant reservations will be a hot commodity.
The dining scene in Sao Paulo is as much about theater as it is about food. Every Saturday, the hardworking people of Sao Paulo loosen their silk ties and hit the bars and cafes along the streets of the Centro district for a night of eating and dancing. At the table you’ll be seduced by dishes like Feijoada (a black bean stew, slow cooked with cured meats and fiery spices) and Empadãos (a baked pie with green olives and hearts of palm, slowly mixed with spicy chicken and corn). More traditional restaurants might serve mandioca fritas (yucca fries) and vatapá (a super spicy, slow cooked cream with shrimp and peanut sauce). On the dance floor you’ll be lifted on the tide of Samba and Brahma beer (a pilsner).
Viewfinder Tip: Street food is king in Sao Paulo. For the best of the best, wander the corridors at the Mercado Municipal.
Bars in Sao Paulo are all about drama, too. The View Bar, for instance, is a high-end watering hole balanced on the precipice of the glitzy downtown area. While the place is pretty pricey, the drinks are innovative and the view of the city is unreal—you’ll sip on açai cocktails while staring out at the winking lights of the city from high above the rush.
You even can find cuisine from other cultures in Sao Paulo. Restaurants on the streets of Liberdade offer dishes and street foods that can only be achieved by the genius of Chinese and Korean immigrants living in Brazil. Dishes like açai dumplings and Japanese prepared Brazilian beef steaks shouldn’t be missed. They’re the ultimate (cultural) mash-ups.
I’ve mentioned açai several times already—the super berry is fully finessed in Sao Paulo. You can get it as a smoothie; mixed with yucca, coconut, and local herbs; or as part of a new cocktail combined with the local favorite, cachaça (a Brazilian liquor made from sugar cane, vaguely reminiscent of rum). Wherever you turn you will find some new adaptation of this local delicacy.
Sao Paulo has a variety of wining and dining experiences, from down-home bars with Samba music and futbol games to fine dining restaurants with meticulously prepared dishes and fine cuts of beef. Usually you’ll find all of these options within one city block. The food scene in this great city is always changing, but two constants always will be high quality and an overarching passion for taking food to the next level.
What do you look for from a destination’s food scene when you travel?