Hello Eat Rio readers! After another prolonged break I’m back. Let’s kick things off with the Olympics. What were your impressions? To me it seemed like things went pretty well – I was working non-stop so didn’t get to see any actual sporting events, but I picked up a lot of feedback from my food tour guests and generally people had very good things to say. I also managed a quick visit to the Olympic Boulevard one afternoon.
Certainly the dreaded Zika epidemic didn’t happen and although there were a few robberies, I think Ryan Lochte did Rio a great favour by acting like the archetypal ‘idiot abroad’ and so grabbing all the headlines (thanks Ryan!). Of course we could argue for days about whether the Olympics were a good thing for Rio and whether the entire Olympic machine needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with renewed focus on its original ideals (can you guess where I stand on this question?), but let’s leave that for the comments section!
Off to New York
The last few months have been pretty bizarre. Mrs Eat Rio moved to New York in July to do a very prestigious Masters degree at Columbia University so we’re in ‘long-distance relationship mode’. It’s pretty miserable to be honest, but it’s just a year and I’ve taken the opportunity to throw myself into a bunch of projects (more on that below). It also gives me a nice excuse to spend some time in New York which I’ll be doing as much as my schedule and bank balance allow (please feel free to bombard me with your NY recommendations – especially little family run restaurants, food stands and unmissable stuff which doesn’t cost a fortune).
Brazil’s Annus horribilis and some extra special tours
But let’s go back to the Olympics quickly. It felt like the stakes were especially high – we needed this thing to go well as we’ve had a very difficult year here in Brazil. Amongst other things we’ve had Zika (both the outbreak itself and the outbreak of overblown media hysteria), political turmoil, protests both for and against impeachment (strangely the police brutality only happens at the latter), continued economic recession, steeply rising unemployment figures (now above 11.5%) to name a few.
My little culinary tour business also felt the effects of all this Brazil-negativity – bookings for most of the year were very low – so I was delighted to have a big upturn in reservations for the 3 weeks of the games.
Atmosphere-wise, it felt a lot like the FIFA World Cup of 2014 – people from all over the world came to Rio and had a fantastic time. Here are the things I heard again and again from all these international visitors:
- All this fuss about Zika and we haven’t seen a single mosquito! I’m so glad we ignored all the warnings.
- No one speaks English here! But we’ve been getting by just fine with sign-language and a smile.
- People here are super-friendly and do their best to be helpful.
- The food at the Olympic venues is terrible.
- Getting between venues has been OK, but the lines to buy food and drinks (etc) have been a nightmare.
As well as taking out our everyday culinary tour guests, we also did a couple of extra special tours during the games. I led a tour which was filmed by NBC (you can see the little video they made here).
Then there was the time I took out the GB women’s 8 rowing team.
They booked early and were due to take my tour about 5 days after competing, so I was watching their progress carefully to see if I’d be greeting them with congratulations or commiserations. Happily they won silver medals so it was a very upbeat day. One of them was even nice enough to let me wear her medal – those things are heavy! Also, I discovered that professional rowers eat about twice as much as normal humans…
As fate would have it, my final tour of this very punishing Olympic stint coincided with my 40th birthday. With Mrs Eat Rio away, I was afraid it would be a rather miserable day, but that was before I met my tour group!
There was a time when I thought Brazilians were the most popular nationality in the world, but that was before I took 8 Jamaicans on a tour through Rio. I lost count of the number of shouts of “Boltche!” (that’s ‘Bolt’ in Portuguese speak) and the number of grins and Bolt poses we were greeted with during the day. There was even an impromptu singalong/dancealong with the Rasta busker outside Glória metro station!
Doubles at Junta Local
A while back I mentioned the excellent Junta Local food movement and food fairs. Having been impressed on my first visit, I returned on numerous occasions and always enjoyed the food, the prices and, perhaps more than anything, the ethos of the organisation (supporting local growers, suppliers and artisans – always with an eye on social and environmental responsibility). For a long time I harboured a secret desire to cross over to the other side of one of these food stalls and on the final Sunday of the Olympic games, along with my friend Laura, I got my chance.
For years, I’ve been obsessed with a delicious Trinidadian street food called ‘Doubles’. I was introduced to it by a friend back in London and a little while ago it occurred to me that the people of Rio might like it as well. The food takes the form of a sandwich. Lightly spiced, fried dough ‘barras’ surround a yummy chickpea curry, a spiced, green mango ‘kuchela’, a zingy tamarind sauce and optional hot sauce. It only occurred to me quite late on that this delicious snack is 100% vegan! I think many people see the ‘V word’ as a total culinary turn-off, so I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but if ever there were proof that you don’t need animal products to have delicious food, this is it!
To cut a long story short, the day went well. People were curious and a little tentative at first, but over the course of the day word spread and things got really busy. We even had several people come back for a second serving which must surely be the highest compliment. We did have a few hiccups – high winds and falling branches made it quite a challenge and at one point all our money flew away on the wind – but overall I think we did pretty well. We also learned a lot of lessons so that next time (hopefully there will be a next time) it’ll be a much more professional operation. Rio locals: look out for us at future Junta Local events and come say hi!
Eat Rio Bacon
With all my newfound free time I’ve also been working on other food projects. First off, bacon. I have a smoker, I have a ton guava wood, I love bacon and I like the idea of making it myself so I know exactly what’s going into it. Making it yourself also means that you can experiment with different flavourings and curing techniques. So far, so delicious (and I need to start running regularly again).
Eat Rio Beer
I bought a lot of beer brewing gear last year and then somehow never quite got around to actually doing anything with it. Finally I kicked things off just before the Olympics and the results have also been surprisingly good (I was expecting disaster – most instructions suggest there are a million ways to mess it up). I ended up with 32 x 600ml bottles of an American Pale Ale (that is pronounced ‘appa’ if you’re Brazilian). It came in at 5.2% abv so it gets the job done! Next up, a pilsner perhaps? Or maybe a red ale? Watch this space!
Eat Rio Salt Beef
If you’ve ever visited Brick Lane in London you should have seen an ancient and very famous bakery called Beigel Bake. It is especially famous for its bagels and salt beef (this is what Americans call ‘corned beef‘, a term which means something slightly different, and slightly disgusting, in the UK). Whenever I go back I always make time for a fat salt beef sandwich with lots of fiery English mustard and pickles. Well in the spirit of ‘Why can’t I do that here?’, I decided to have a go at making it myself. If anyone in Rio has a hankering for that Brick Lane-style salt beef sandwich then let me know and I’ll sort you out!
OK, that’s more than enough food bragging for now (and by the way, I’m not claiming to be in any way skillful with any of this stuff – I just had a go and it turned out to be surprisingly easy). Expect to see some snaps and updates from NYC in the coming weeks – updates will go to Facebook and Instagram first. Proper blog posts (as you’ve surely already noticed) tend to be more sporadic.