Friday, July 9, 2010

Praça da Republica Street Fair , São Paulo, Brasil: Saturday in the Park

Praça da Republica, or Republic Square, as it has been called since 1889, is located downtown São Paulo.It is the link between the historic center and the newer neighborhoods of the traditional Italian Bela Vista and the upscale Jardins Paulista to the southwest.

It is a frenetic part of town bombarded by buses, people entering and exiting the Republica metro station, street vendors selling pirate DVD's and designer imposter shades, and a center of culture. There are music performances, demonstrations, and on the weekends, food and crafts vendors.

While running over to catch the weekend eats in the praça, one of those Brazilian downpours tried to foil my plans, but the vendors are rain or shine. Quickly covering up with plastic, the vending carried on.

Brazil has these intense rains that beat you down for about 15 minutes and then they go away, perfect time to slide into a bar for a beer.

Ducking under umbrellas and tarped roofs, we checked out the great street food scene at the Praça da Republica.

The second largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Tokyo is in Sao Paulo, so, yakissoba is a typical street food of São Paulo. You can also find this in São Paulo's Japanese neighborhood, Libertade.

The biggest lines were for pastel, a rectangular savory pastry that you can stuff with just about anything.

At this pastel booth you can choose from about 15 to 20 different fillings including:shrimp, chicken with catupiry cheese(Brazilian cream cheese),sun-dried omato and cheese,calabreza sausage,beef, sun-dried beef, salt cod,and hearts of palm.

Pasteis, are consumed with condiments, which can be mustard, ketchup, mayonaisse, olive oil, and malagueta chile pepper sauce which is called pimenta.

But curiously, Brazilians prefer ketchup, even on the salt cod! Sometimes you get a vinagrete, which is like a pico de gallo sauce, but don't be afraid to squirt ketchup like a Brazilian.

The pastel has a lovely flaky, wonton-like skin. It should be amply packed with its recheio, which is Portuguese for filling.

In addition to its strong Japanese presence, Brazil has a true Italian culture and gastronomy in its populace. Italian immigrants have made a huge impact on Brazilian gastronomy, only second to the Portuguese. There is better Italian food in Brazil than in Boston, Chicago, or New York in the US.

At the fogazza stand, there was a Brazilian woman whose husband was Italian, and fogazzas are an Italian derived member of Brazil's array of salgados, or savories. The fogazza is similar to a stromboli, but smaller.

She also has empadinhas(mini pies) of chicken with that dreamy catupiry cheese, to which I have no resistance.

You could spend a month in Brazil, or more just exploring the world of savories, which is such a disappointment here in LA. Most Brazilian restaurants in the US only do a few mini versions of these savories, and not very well.

This chicken and cheese pie also had green olives, so delectable and a fine crust.

There were two acaraje booths facing each other at the end of the food stalls. Acaraje, the black-eyed pea fritter from the state of Bahia, Brasil can only be cooked by a baiana, a woman from Bahia. And, I was right smack in the middle of these two ladies, both staring me down with that,"uh-uh, you better not go to that other stand!" Well, that's the way I felt. Bahia is also the home of Candomble.....voodoo.

Man, I didn't want one of these ladies making a macumba(curse) for me, so I got something from both stands.

I ordered acaraje with vatapa, a shrimp paste made with dende oil(palm oil). It was finished with dried shrimp, tomato sauce, and lots of hot sauce.

This fantastic creation is found in the streets of Salvador de Bahia's Pelourinho district, the historic colonial center, by Bahian women dressed in traditional garb.

It is the size of a softball and just screams of Afro-Brazilian flavors. I've only found one place in LA that does these, but, they are much smaller. This is acaraje.

The acaraje also comes with other traditional fillings like caruru, made with okra, shrimp, and palm oil.

Another dish I had been eager to try was cuzcuz paulista, couscous São Paulan style. No, you're right, it doesn't look like couscous at all. Its only relation to couscous is that it's made in a couscous pan. Don't try and overthink this one, just take a bite.

Cuzcuz paulista is made with a base of manioc flour,corn meal, tomatoes, and chicken stock, which is cooked in a couscous pan and set to cool. In the mold you will find sardines, hard-boiled eggs,hearts of palm,bell peppers, peas, and more.

At this stand, the baiana added fresh tomato and cooked corn. It is cool, gelatinous, and loaded with mouth-watering surprises.

There were also bolinhos de camarao, shrimp balls, at the other stand, well they both had the same menus, but I split my love between them. The shrimp balls were no slouches, even after such incredible tastes of Bahian acaraje, and one of São Paulo's exclusive dishes, cuzcuz paulista. You won't find cuzcuz paulista in Salvador da Bahia's acaraje stands, but this is one of the advantages of being in a cosmopolitan city, and the third largest city on the planet.

A little Guarana to wash down this tasty lunch, and home made hot pepper sauce was splashed on everything.

I passed up the green coconut cart, which I love, for one of the coolest bars I've ever encountered. While the fake sunglasses guys were playing hide and seek from the cops all afternoon, this guy with well cachaça and beers operates with impunity. I do love Brazil.

Velho Barreiro and 51 brands of cachaça aren't suitable for all. They are fine for caipirinhas, and most of my caipirinhas in Brazil are made with these brands. My wussy friend Craig didn't want to partake, but man, count me in for this.

I could open a killer wooden cart bar for downtown LA's Artwalk!

This is truly the bar of the proletariat. Cheap shots, and cold beers.

The food stalls only come out on the weekends in the Praça da Republica, where you can feel the pulse, or one of the many pulses of São Paulo, enjoy affordable home cooking, and sip yourself into a nice high, one little plastic cup at a time.

Praça da Republica
São Paulo, Brasil

Street Fair on weekends only.


Food GPS said...

Fun post, and there's even a rare (for your site) shot of the Street Gourmet himself. Does this make you the mayor or Sao Paulo too?

streetgourmetla said...

Oh, I'm definitely the mayor of Sao Paulo. I got my own Sao Paulo crooked cop!

Nick said...

Sorry to nitpick but the spelling for Jardims is wrong. It's Jardins :) But man, do i miss my hometown São Paulo and its wonderful street food!! Abraços

streetgourmetla said...

Nick- Beleza, cara. Ta bom. I appreciate any and all corrections, I am a poor editor, every now and then, I try and do a typo sweep.

My email is great for that, it's what I do as a courtesy when I catch an error somewhere else. (Hint )

I'm always depressed when I have to leave Brazil.