Copacabana, street kids and popcorn in the rain

We had a massive storm in Rio on Tuesday night. I was leaving work in Barra and had just got on my bus when the first fat drops of rain started to fall. Within minutes the rain was coming down in torrents and the thunder and lightning started soon after.

The windows on the bus steamed up and the rain was so strong that it was like someone was spraying the outside of the bus with a hose. As the bus hurtled along the precipitous Avenida Niemeyer I thought that perhaps it was a good thing that I couldn’t see out of the windows.


When hurtling along Avenida Niemeyer at breakneck speed in the dark in the middle of a thunder storm, looking out of the window is not recommended. Source


The bus came down the hill into Leblon and then followed the beach into Ipanema. Every time the bus doors opened to let passengers off, I saw some new scene of watery mayhem – people cowering on the beach under a buckling gazebo or wading through flood-water and sheltering under wind-smashed umbrellas.

Then I made my fatal error.

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Brazilian Tapioca

When you see the word “tapioca”, what image comes to mind? Back in England we pronounce this word ‘tappy-OAK-a’ and it doesn’t have a great reputation – for many people it brings back memories of bad school dinners:


Frogspawn tapioca

Back in England, tapioca pudding is often compared to frogspawn. Ooh yummy!


In more recent times, these tapioca ‘pearls’ have become associated with Bubble Tea – a bit more trendy perhaps, but still quite weird and the resemblance to amphibian eggs is undeniable.

As is often the case, Brazil does things a little differently. Here we call it ‘tappy-OCK-a’ and it is a popular street food, prepared in little stalls on street corners and markets all over Brazil.

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Arabs in Brazil

People from the Arab world (particularly Lebanon and Syria) started coming to Brazil back in the late 19th Century due to overpopulation and persecution from the Ottoman Turks. Today most Arab Brazilians are fully integrated into Brazilian society, no longer speaking Arabic and playing a part in all aspects of society, from business and politics to football and acting.

One of the most obvious influences they have had on Brazil has been through their food. Here in Rio there are some great Syrian and Lebanese restaurants dotted around the place, but beyond that, there are a couple of snacks that are found almost everywhere.


Back in the UK, I would see these on menus as ‘Kibbeh’, but here in Brazil they usually spell it ‘Kibe’ (I don’t think either spelling is really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – just different ways of trying to spell out the original Arabic كبة). Regardless of how you spell it, these things are good! The outer shell is a mix of bulgur wheat and minced beef – inside is a spiced filling of minced beef, onions and pine nuts.

kibe kibbeh كبة

These little torpedo-shaped beauties are really good! In theory these should be made with lamb, but I think most places in Brazil use beef instead. Source

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The Mountain Burger in Botafogo

Next to the Metro station in Botafogo, I have recently noticed a little line of stalls selling burgers and hotdogs. Not especially interesting in itself – Rio is full snack bars and street stalls. But this sign caught my eye.


As the burgers get bigger, so the names get more impressive. "Big" (2 patties), "Tri" (3), "Mega" (4) and "Montanha" (5!). "Montanha" means Mountain in case you hadn't worked it out. Also notice the rather excellent signs behind saying "Fala Comigo!!!" (Speak to me!) and "Parada Obrigatoria!" (Stopping Required!).


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When it comes to learning languages, there are enough similarities between Spanish and Portuguese that I’m never really impressed when a native Spanish speaker tells me they speak Portuguese (or vice versa). My attitude tends to be “big deal – compared to English, they’re practically the same language anyway”. But when there are so many similarities, I do rather sympathise when a Portuguese word comes along that is just nothing like its Spanish counterpart.

Take this prickly customer:

I love pineapple! You know the French almost call this fruit bananas... (they say "Ananas").


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Friday Beach Quiz

I know what suckers you guys are for quizzes, puzzles and other chances to prove how clever you are (don’t even bother denying it). Well, it’s Friday, so I will indulge you. See if you can spot what the following three images have in common (there are many correct answers, but I can only accept the answer I have written down on my answer cards):

Ipanema last weekend...

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Beach Trader Barter

We’ve been having some great weather in Rio recently. I felt I should mention it to balance things up because I do like to complain when it’s bad. We decided to spend Saturday on the beach and I finally got round to recording a little audio. When I got home I realised it was pretty terrible quality, so instead of subjecting you to some fuzzy noise, I decided to get a little multimedia on your asses and put the sound of the beach in the background to this rather sweet little scene I witnessed:

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The Best Hotdog in Rio

A couple of days ago I told you about my favourite Brazilian food book, Gastronomia de Rua – a guide to 19 of Rio’s best loved street food vendors. I have only visited one or two of the people featured in the book and I would love to cross a few more off. Sometimes the problem is that they sell their wares in some far-flung neighbourhood (compared to my neck of the woods), in other cases the problem is that you have to get up early to catch them. But neither of these things apply to Oliveira, the man who sells what is commonly held to be The Best Hotdog in Rio.

That's quite hotdog! Here in Brazil the word for hot dog is Cachorro Quente - literally 'hot dog'.


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The Carioca Guide to Street Food

Some time back I picked up what is pretty much my favourite Brazilian food book. It is called Guia Carioca da Gastronomia de Rua (Carioca Guide to Street Food), the work of Sérgio Bloch, Ines Garçoni and Marcos Pinto, and it is brilliant!

Such a great book if you're into food and aren't afraid to try something away from the air-conditioned safety of a restaurant.


The book lists 19 street food vendors in Rio, covering all the major categories, from fruit salad on the beach to acarajé in Santa Teresa, caipirinhas in Lapa to empadas (little pies) in Guadalupe. For each vendor we take a look at the food they sell, find out a bit about the particular street or square that they frequent and there is an interview in which we learn about how the vendor came to be where they are today and what they like about their job.

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Corny Stop Motion

As I wandered home last night I passed a guy standing at a little metal cart selling sweetcorn (milho). This must be one of my favourite street foods – there’s just something pleasing about selling this as a quick snack. 


I know he doesn’t look it, but this guy was actually very friendly. It’s just when I took the photo (I did ask!) he put on his stern face.

Whereas most snacks are high in fat or sugar (or both!), here is a yummy snack that is relatively good for you. The sellers use the outer leaves of the corn as the wrapping, so there’s no need for plastic bags and all the usual packaging – once you’re finished you are only throwing away a biodegradable husk and some leaves! I wish it was more popular everywhere. 

However, last night I didn’t buy sweetcorn. I bought pamonha (sounds like pam-ON-ya). 

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