If you were to ask me about the beach vendors of Rio, I would tell you about good guys with cool-boxes full of icy cold beers slung over their shoulders and a sack of Biscoito Globo in hand. I would describe people dressed in Arab style clothes selling esfiha and kibe, and the vendors laden with beach-balls, bikinis and cangas. I’d tell you about the shouts of “Alô mate! Alô limão!” from the orange clad ice-tea sellers and the clanking of the ice cubes in their twin metal barrels.
Here’s another thing I’d mention: Queijo Coalho (sounds like: KAY-zho KWAH-lyo). “Queijo” is Portuguese for “cheese” and the word coalhado means something like curdled or clotted. The first time I tried this firm, white cheese I had no idea how best to eat it. I had bought it in a supermarket and when I got home I cut it into chunky slices and put it in a sandwich. The result was not good – it was very salty, dense and generally quite disappointing.
Some weeks later Mrs Eat Rio and I were at the beach and a guy wandered past with a small metal tripod suspended above a stout wooden handle. When I was told that he was selling grilled queijo coalho I decided it was time to give this cheese another chance.
When grilled over hot coals, this cheese is transformed! It is quite similar to halloumi – it has a salty bite and squeaks against your teeth as you eat it! Before getting started, the vendor asks if you’d like oregano which is optionally sprinkled over the cheese before the grilling. A block of cheese is then mounted on a skewer and turned slowly over the glowing coals until it is browned and crisp on all sides. The end result is perfect for the hunger that develops over the course of a day relaxing on the beach:
However, I discovered recently that the joys of eating grilled queijo coalho on the beach were outlawed back in December 2011! This happened as part of a wider operation to regulate the beaches, which included a ban on cooking any food on the beach and the prohibition of ball games close to the sea during peak hours.
I feel a bit conflicted about this queijo coalho ban – I can see some good reasons for it. On top of the food hygiene question there is the fact that the beach was/is often littered with the lethal looking discarded skewers. Step on one of these sharpened sticks and you could do yourself some serious damage. There have also been cases of vendors tipping out their hot coals onto the sand, resulting in serious burns for unsuspecting passers by.
But then I think, what makes the beach different? The given reason for the prohibition of cooking food on the beach was food hygiene – but surely there is just as much potential for poor food hygiene with street vendors as with beach vendors – so why only the ban on the beach?
Is it too much to ask people to behave responsibly? For beach goers to put their used skewers in the bin? For the vendors to observe food hygiene standards and to dispose of their coals in a proper manner? Isn’t that the whole point of licensing beach vendors? Is the outright ban the only way? Call me naive, but I don’t think that eating queijo coalho on the beach should be an impossible dream!