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São Paulo city is famous for its varied, inventive and quality culinary. International hotel and restaurant chains will serve clients following the standards applied elsewhere, but in São Paulo a visitor can be surprised by the most simple and popular dishes. For obvious health precautions, avoid eating at apparently dirt streetcarts, kiosks or suspicious establishments.

São Paulo’s Culinary Experience

Until the 19th Century, São Paulo’s culinary was very similar to the rest of Brazil’s –a country style culinary mixing Portuguese traditions with local ingredients known as comida caipira. For example, the then expensive and imported wheat flour was substituted by the mandioca flour, obtained from a root cultivated by Brazilian indigenous tribes. Still a popular ingredient, the mandioca root is basic in Brazilian culinary.

Tip: If you want to taste some mandioca root, ask for a portion of mandioca frita (fried mandioca). Similar to french fries, fried mandioca is a snack served in bars, pubs and restaurants.

The arrival of thousands of European and Middle Eastern immigrants in the late 19th Century quickly began to increase and modify São Paulo’s culinary. In the 20th Century the strong presence of Japanese immigrants in agriculture created Brazil’s first metropolitan “green belt” and a wide assortment of vegetables and fruits were introduced in the paulistanos daily diet.

With more and different ingredients available, curiosity flourished. If some families preferred to keep their culinary traditions untouched, other families exchanged recipes and made kitchen experiments. After some generations that unortodoxal behavior became rule in town and changed São Paulo’s gastronomy forever. An example of that local mixed taste are the churrascarias rodízio, today known internationally as “Brazilian steakhouses”.

The Brazilian barbecue (churrasco) is essentially big meat cuts seasoned with raw salt and slowly barbecued on charcoal in the gaúcho (southern Brazil area, near Argentina and Uruguay’s borders) style. Until the 1970’s, churrasco restaurants served almost only barbecue because according to Brazil’s southern traditions eating meat with salads was considered a gastronomical sin. In the early 1980’s many churrasco restaurants in São Paulo were running out of business simply because paulistanos preferred a varied meal, with more vegetables, rice and pasta than meat. In order to reconquer clients some churrascaria owners decided to install huge salad and pasta buffets in their restaurants, and began serving barbecue directly at the tables in continous system – the rodizio. Small flags or green-red signs on the table indicates when customers want to have barbecue served or are already done.

Although shocking conservative gaúcho churrasco lovers, the rodizio system proved to be efficient and soon became São Paulo’s families’ most preferred restaurant style - churrascarias get overcrowded for lunch on Mother’s Day. Seriously taking the “a little something for everyone” motto, in São Paulo churrascarias’ cold buffets also serve some sushi and Arabian dishes like humus (chickpea dip), babaghannuj (eggplant dip), tabouleh (parsley salad) and fried or raw kibe/kebbeh (ground beef appetizer). In the 1990’s the churrascaria rodizio system created in São Paulo became the standard service followed by all barbecue restaurants in Brazil.

Tip: the best place in town to see, smell, taste and buy the huge variety of ingredients paulistanos appreciate is the Mercado Municipal Paulistano (Old Downtown City Market), or simply Mercadão. Located in a recently restored historical building from 1928, Old City Market is where chefs go at night to get the best ingredients as soon as trucks arrive, and where visitors can eat some São Paulo’s originals, like the traditional sanduíche de mortadela (“mortadella sandwich”, many fine slices of an Italian cold pastrami in a crispy medium size French white bread) or the pastel de bacalhau (“codfish pastry”, a big thin fried Chinese pastry with Portuguese style codfish filling).

Mercado Municipal Paulistano - Mercadão

Rua da Cantareira, no number

Mon – Sat, 6 AM to 6 PM and Sun and holidays, 6 AM to 4 PM.

See also:
- What do paulistanos eat?
- Padarias: more than bread - addresses
- Sao Paulo's Originals

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