What is it?
Feira de São Cristóvão is a huge market/fair held in a large, open-topped pavilion that looks a lot like a sports stadium. Inside are almost 700 stalls, bars, restaurants, dance floors, stages, shops, beauty salons, you name it. While there are plenty of shops and stalls selling everything from cooking pans to clothes to traditional Northeastern foods and craftwork, the emphasis is on fun and enjoyment and as soon as you arrive you will sense a real party atmosphere.
Rio’s nordestino community come here for a taste of home – to eat, drink, dance and revel in everything Northeastern. In general, the nordestinos are not wealthy and this is reflected in the prices – if the fancy bars and restaurants of Ipanema have been hurting your wallet then this is a chance to enjoy a very different night out without spending a fortune.
How to get there
The feira is held at the Centro Luiz Gonzaga de Tradições Nordestinas, in the São Cristóvão neighbourhood. Don’t worry about that crazy long name – just ask the taxi driver for Feira de São Cristóvão (sounds like: FAY-ra de sowhn crish-TAR-voww). This is just past the Maracanã Stadium, about 30 minutes drive from Ipanema.
It may be possible to get a combination of buses and then walk the rest, but I would strongly recommend just taking a taxi – you will save so much money with the low prices once you get there that I think it is worth it to save yourself the complications.
Even if you have a car I would still suggest taking a taxi – parking space is limited and you may find yourself driving round and round trying to find a spot.
The market opens for lunch on Tuesday-Thursday, but the real fun happens on the weekend! All the stalls and restaurants open at 10am on Friday morning and run all the way through to 10pm Sunday night. There may be a lull in the live music after 5am, but expect it to start up again before too long on Saturday and Sunday morning!
Values are approximate and of course subject to change (last updated: Jan 2012). But the main message you should get from this is that this is going to be cheap! The taxi will feel like the most expensive cost of the night – everything else is amazing value.
- Taxi from Ipanema to the feira: R$30
- Entrance ticket: R$3
- 500ml can of beer: R$4
- A meal that will comfortably feed 3 people: R$35-50
Highlights of Feira de São Cristóvão
The Music: There are a multitude of musical styles from Brazil’s Northeast – most of them feature the accordion and the most popular is Forró (sounds like: for-HOH). Forró is danced in pairs and whilst I of all people would not say it is easy, I would suggest that giving it a try will be a lot of fun. Nordestinos are generally an unpretentious folk and no one is going to laugh at you, so let your hair down, grab a partner and have some fun! (Tip: the best forró is usually found on the smaller stages – the really big stages often play the less interesting Brega music)
The food: Portions are very generous (menus often use “2p” or “3p” to indicate how many people each dish will feed but, unless you have a huge appetite, you can usually add 1 to the number!) Many places won’t have menus in English, so if you don’t want to take pot-luck then read up on your Northeastern food. My personal dish recommendation is Cabrito Ensopado, a delicious, slow-cooked kid (young goat) stew.
Also: Look out for Repente – this is a fascinating blend of music and improvised poetry which is great to watch, even if you don’t understand the words. Just watch these guys draw their inspiration from the people and things around them – they will often have the crowd in stitches! And if all this music makes you want to get involved, keep an eye out for the various karaoke options – many people seem very happy to belt out their favourite song, regardless of whether anyone else is listening!
The Northeastern states of Brazil are home to over 50 million people and make up 18% of the country’s total area. Nordestinos are known for their rich culture, strongly influenced by the Africans who were brought over as slave labour. This African influence can be seen in all aspects of the culture, from the religion and folklore to the food, music and dance.
Between the 1950s and 1980s there was a massive movement of nordestinos from their native states to the large cities (primarily São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) in search of work. Today these communities still hold on to their Northeastern roots and their influence can be clearly seen in the Southeastern cities that they now call home. The Feira de São Cristóvão is a great way to get a taste of this important part of Brazilian culture that is a million miles away from standard tourist activities based in Zona Sul.