We had an activity planned for Thursday that we were very much anticipating. After a leisurely breakfast, we headed across the city to the neighborhood of Lapa. The traffic in the Ipanema area was at a standstill but that apparently sharpened Glen’s photographic skills.
Many months ago, Harvey happened upon an article in the Globe & Mail describing things to do in Rio. One item, a walking food tour, caught my eye. I checked the website and was very interested. We emailed the tour guide and were easily able to schedule the tour.
Tom Le Mesurier is a young Brit who a few years ago was touring South America when he met and fell in love with a Brazilian girl, who would become his wife. He moved to Rio where he worked in IT for a couple of years before deciding to follow his dream. Tom now is a food writer and gives walking food tours of Rio several times a week.
We met Tom and the other 4 people on our tour at Nova Capela restaurant. It was a great group, with Austin & Fiona from Ireland, Fifi from Austin, Texas and Daniella from France. Coincidentally, Austin is a past president of ISQua and had also been at the conference.
To start our food journey at Nova Capela, we had a bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod and potato croquettes) with suco de abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple juice with mint). The croquette, which is one of the national delicacies derived from Portugal, was crunchy and delicious and the juice was delightfully refreshing.
Leaving the restaurant, we walked the streets of Lapa. This journey showed us the working class of Brazil in their home environs. While not in the state of abject poverty that is evident in the favelas, this rough and tumble neighborhood is also quite removed from the touristy opulence of Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra.
Tom pointed out many of the street murals, many by well-known local artists.
We passed under the Arcos da Lapa. This aqueduct was built in the mid-1700s to transport water from the Carioca River to downtown Rio. The 42 arches stand 64 meters high. Later, a tram (bonde) ran across the top of the arches. This was discontinued in 2011 after a tragic accident. The plan is to reinstate the tram but there have been many delays. Currently, they say it will start to run again sometime in 2015.
We were fascinated by the Escadaria Selarón, 215 steps leading into the hilltop area of Santa Teresa. Jorge Selarón started the creation of the steps in 1990 and continued adding to the tiles until his untimely death in 2013. It was never conclusively proven whether he was murdered or committed suicide but he was found early one morning dead on the steps.
We then visited a local street market in Lapa. These outdoor markets operate in different locations several mornings each week. The colors, smells and tastes were amazing.
As we passed through the market, Tom had us try:
– Tapioca (tapioca pancake). This is a fascinating item, made from manioc flour from the cassava root. The treatment of this flour results in a powdered product, which when placed in a frying pan, melts together to form something that resembles a crepe. Brazilians fill it with many things – ours had queijo (cheese) – or just eat them like we would have toast. It was interesting to watch them prepared and it was tasty and quite chewy – probably not our favorite item on the tour, but it was definitely great to learn about it and give it a try.
– Manga and Bananas. The fresh mangos and bananas were delicious.
– Sapoti. This fruit tastes of dates but has a fleshy texture. It was yummy! It was also our first glimpse of the wonders of Tom’s backpack as he whipped out a full knife to carve off pieces for us!
– Caldo de cana. We arrived at a booth where a lot of activity was occurring. Full canes of raw sugar cane were being pushed through a press and the resulting sugarcane juice was being collected. The juice was then filtered and cooled and dispensed in bottles. Out of the backpack came glasses for us all. First we tried the plain juice – this was met with various reviews. I personally didn’t mind it but some of the others found the raw, sweet taste quite unappealing. Then out of the backpack appeared a container of sliced limes. We each took a couple and squeezed as much lime juice as we could into more of the caldo de cana. The resulting mixture was greatly enjoyed by all; Tom tells us it is a great hangover cure. I must also mention that next out of the infamous backpack was water to wash the lime juice off our fingers.
– Bala de coco. Our final tasting in the market was this delicious candy, a mixture of coconut and evaporated milk, enveloped in a hard caramelized sugar shell.
The trip through the market was fabulous and Tom was able to provide us with so much information about the items for sale.
Our next stop was at a juice bar. These small shops are ubiquitous in Rio, with one on most any street. The juices are mixed ‘smoothie’ style, with a bit of sugar and ice. Out of the backpack came small cups and we all sampled 3 varieties: Acerola (a vitamin C hit!), Graviola (claimed health benefits) and Cupuaçú (related to Cacau, tastes like Skittles, with a bit of an alcohol or chemical taste).
We passed through Glória, Flamengo and Laranjeiras, soaking up the atmosphere of these neighborhoods. Our travels included a ride on the metro – always fun to do in any city. It was modern and clean. If we had more time in Rio, we definitely would have used this mode of transportation. But alas, it currently doesn’t extend to Barra where we were located and the complications of adding bus travel didn’t fit into our time constraints.
We visited a small cafe, Tacacá do Norte, serving traditional Amazonian fare. Here, in bowls from the backpack, we sampled Tacacá – an Amazonian soup, prepared from a plant that contains poisonous cyanide. The process to detoxify the plant is quite arduous, with a couple of three days steps, and one wonders how this process was developed – how many Amazonians were sacrificed determining the required time periods to arrive at a safe edible product? The soup broth was quite tasty; it also contained a heavily salted shrimp, which most of us found quite dreadful and greens which are often referred to as ‘the toothache plant’ as they left one’s tongue and mouth somewhat numbed for a few seconds after chewing them. The soup was accompanied by two Amazon beers, which, like most Brazilian cervejas we have tried, were very good.
After wandering through the Laranjeiras neighborhood, we completed our tour at Severyna. Here, we were treated to a veritable feast of northeastern Brazilian food:
– Pastel. These deep-fried pastry parcels, resembling empanadas, were filled with a variety of cheese, shrimp, crab and beef.
– Carne seca com abobora e feijão corda. This platter contained air-dried, salted beef (reminded us somewhat of the corned beef of our youth) with a pumpkin purée and beans. All elements were extremely tasty.
– Moqueca de camarão. This dish was a wonderful stew of shrimp, made with coconut milk, peppers and palm oil.
The meal was accompanied by copious amounts of Theresopolis Gold (a pilsner beer brewed in a town one hour north of Rio) and Caipirinhas, flavoured with fresh strawberries that Tom had bought in the market.
The afternoon was wonderful and far exceeded our expectations. Tom is an excellent guide and we would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Rio. I apologize to Tom for any errors I’ve made in my description of the tour.
Leaving the restaurant, we again couldn’t find a cab that would take us to Barra so we once more stopped in Copacabana. We found a lovely table at the Bacardi beach shack where we people watched, drank more caipirinhas and cervejas and did some shopping from the beach vendors. It was a great evening of laughter and story telling! We finished with a fun cab driver on our trip back to Barra and a glass of wine at the hotel.
This was one of our best days in Rio and we really must again thank Tom and his EatRio Tour for providing us with an unforgettable experience. For more on this tour, and valuable Rio info, visit http://eatrio.net .