5 things you should know about Caipirinhas

One of the first things that many people want to do when they arrive in Rio, is try a genuine caipirinha (cai-pi-REE-nya). I was exactly the same when I got here – I had indulged in Brazil’s most famous cocktail many times in England, but now I wanted to know what a real one tasted like.

In the two years that have since passed,  I have been researching this topic with (ahem) diligence and dedication and today I will share with you some of my findings.






1. Caipirinhas don’t necessarily contain cachaça

When you order a caipirinha in Rio, it is quite normal for your waiter to ask “With cachaça?”. The first time this happened I was confused. Would he ask me if I wanted gin in my gin and tonic? The reason is that many people here have their caipirinhas made with vodka instead of cachaça. “Aha!”, I hear you say, “But that is called a caipiroska (or caipivodka). A caipirinha, by definition, is made with cachaça”. Personally, I agree with you – it’s just that most of the waiters and bar staff in Rio don’t. Every so often, if you don’t specify, a caipivodka will arrive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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The Yakuza drinks White Horse

I had to do a bit of “work” this Saturday. I’m using the quotation marks there to indicate that it was only nominally work, because in fact I went to a bar to drink cachaça. However, it was work because I was on an assignment which hopefully I can reveal in a week or two (mysterious right?). Anyway, I was carrying out my assignment in a bar I’m particularly fond of in the neighbourhood of Catete, not far from where I live. As far as I can tell, the bar is officially named Britan Bar, but the owner is called Zé and so the name that most people use is Bar do Zé. 

Bar do Zé is old and dusty, it doesn’t have air conditioning, it doesn’t look particularly clean and Zé doesn’t seem particularly friendly. For all these reasons it is my favourite bar in Rio.

Bar do Zé - ramshackle in the best possible way.

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How to make a great Caipirinha

Before I get going on the steps for making a great Caipirinha, I want to reiterate the warning I gave in an earlier post – this is a powerful drink. When I arrived in Brazil I thought of the Caipirinha as being the same strength as a standard large measure of spirit (rum, vodka, whisky) with a mixer. It isn’t – I estimate that the standard version served in a bar or restaurant in Rio contains at least 5 or 6 standard measures of Cachaça…


The basic tools required to make a Caipirinha

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A Word of Advice…

…the Caipirinha is a powerful drink and should be treated with respect.

Do not make the mistake of underestimating the power of Brazil’s most famous cocktail. When I have recovered from my hangover, I’ll tell you how to make one for yourself.

The Brazilian Hangover Cure

Imagine a 100% reliable hangover cure that was only available until 1pm (and you’d have to venture right out into the world to get it – it can’t be kept in your bedside drawer). That would lead to some tricky mental balancing acts on Sunday morning wouldn’t it? 

“My head is in a world of pain and I would love to fix it up, BUT that would require me to get out of bed, get dressed and make my way to the market…” – tricky right?

When I am up early enough to catch the Sunday market in Gloria (it starts closing down around midday), the busiest stall by far is the one that sells Pastel (a light, crispy deep-fried pastry filled with cheese, meat, or various other fillings) and Caldo de Cana (sugarcane juice). 


Those golden pastry pockets have various fillings. Most popular are cheese (pastel de queijo) and minced meat (pastel de carne). This is the first part of the cure.

Pasteis (the plural of Pastel) are one of the great Brazilian lanches (snacks), ranking up alongside Pão de queijo and Coxinha. You can buy the pastry ready-made and conveniently cut to shape in every supermarket here and I find that serving a few pasteis makes me very popular when we have guests. If you’re interested in making them for yourself and don’t live in Brazil then you should check out the excellent Flavors of Brazil blog which has a recipe for the pastry.

So, you’ve got your pastel – crispy, a little greasy with oozing melty cheese inside (the cheese ones are my favourite). This all sounds good for combating hangover symptoms. But on its own this will not be enough. You need a drink. A fresh, sweet drink. 

Step 1: Get a truck full of sugar cane
Step 2: Pass sugar cane through industrial sugarcane mangle machine. Catch juice in jug.
Step 3: Take mangled sugarcane stems, twist them together, then pass them through a second time.
Step 4: Discard sugarcane pulp

Follow these steps and you will get this, a golden-green cup of magic:

Golden-Green Elixir – this will fix you up
Ice cold cups of caldo de cana are pretty much mandatory alongside your pastel. A sip of this sweet juice, followed by a bite of cheesy pastry, followed by more juice and before long you’ll be making plans for a trip to the beach, perhaps a few beers and later on maybe a churrasco!

Pé Sujo – Dirty Foot

-Vamos aos bares não só para buscar alegria, mas também para destilar as emoções.

We go to bars not only in search of happiness, but also to distill our emotions. (Meu Pé Sujo blog)

Literally translated, Pé Sujo means “Dirty foot”. This is the term used to describe the many low-end bars that pepper the city. You will find a Pé Sujo on almost every street in Rio. As the name suggests, these bars are not known for their standards of hygiene – if your feet weren’t dirty when you went in, they most likely will be by the time you leave. They say that when the waiter wipes your table with a cloth, it actually makes the table more dirty! But these grubby drinking dens are loved as a quintessentially Brazilian place to drink beer and share gossip. 

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How to drink beer like a Brazilian

Right now it is quite chilly in Rio. In fact it has been cold for the last few weeks and I have to say I am starting to feel somewhat aggrieved – this is not what someone from my part of the world expects from ‘Sunny Rio’. Thankfully, most of the year the weather is just how I like it – hot, very hot or boiling. And the drink of choice when you are in need of refreshment? Cerveja! [ser-VAY-zha]

In the course of my (ahem) exhaustive research I uncovered some interesting beer facts. Brazil is the fifth largest beer producer in the world, making nearly 10 billion litres each year. Most of this is made by an evil company called Ambev which has something approaching a monopoly here. But I was surprised to discover that the average Brazilian drinks just 53 litres each year – compare this to the average Czech who drinks 158:

Top drinking from the Czechs. No big surprise to find Ireland near the top! (

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