On Sundays in Gloria, Rio’s oldest residential neighbourhood near Flamengo, there is a fantastic Farmer’s Market. Free Walker Tours, www.freewalkertours.com, does a guided food tour here every Sunday. It’s not free, it’s 80 reals, which is just under $20 Canadian, but it’s worth every penny and it includes all the food you eat on the tour. When we meet our guide, she hands us a menu that gives us some choice of what food we will be eating today. Our first stop is pastel and sugar cane juice. I don’t tend to eat street food when I travel, for obvious reasons, but with a seasoned guide, I feel confident that they know what is safe and what is not. The pastel - Asian dough stuffed with your choice of filling - is delicious. The pastry is crispy and steaming hot and the beef inside is perfect. The sugar cane juice is much different than I expected, it’s sweet, but not sickly sweet. We add some lime to make it a bit more tart, and I down the cold liquid in the morning heat. Our guide tells us that pastel and sugar cane juice are a typical Brazilian breakfast at a market like this.
We sample various fruits as we wander along the stalls - guava - which is slightly sweet but full of hard round seeds that ruin it for me. The mango is perfection, papaya is a bit meh but I love the jackfruit that we try. I’ve never even heard of it- it’s hard to explain the taste - chewy white flesh surrounds a hard seed, almost like a nut, and at first it reminds me of pineapple, but then I taste bubble gum. Despite its unique flavour, I quite like it. We see avocados the size of eggplants, (see photo) endless strawberries, passionfruit and fresh looking vegetables. It surprises me to see the Visa sign on many of the stalls.
Our next taste of real Brazilian food is tapioca. The cassava or manioc root is a main staple of the diet here and many different flours are made from this root. The famous pao de quiejo (delicious cheese balls) are made from this as well. It is gluten free so almost anyone can eat it. Tapioca is a pancake like meal made from cassava flour that is folded over any toppings you choose. Our guide recommends banana, coconut and cheese, which is very common here in Brazil. I’m a little concerned how these flavours will go together, but it’s surprisingly delicious. I’d actually order this again. We also drink coconut water straight from the coconut, and I’m grateful for this hydration. It’s only 28 degrees, but it’s so humid here that the sweat is pouring off me.
Our last stop is for something called Acaraje. This is how the menu describes it; “beans ball, deep fried in Dende (palm oil), stuffed with Vatapa (paste made of bread, shrimp and coconut milk), Caruru (okra stew), small sun dried shrimps, diced tomatoes, onions, fresh coriander and hot pepper sauce.” I’m so full by this time that I only try a bite, and it’s interesting - not good, not bad, just - different. We skipped the shrimp because they still had their houses on, and even the Colombian girl beside us leaves those on her napkin. I’m glad I tried it, but I definitely won’t be ordering those again.
This tour is one of my favourites so far. It forces me to try things I never would try, get more in touch with real Rio and meet new people. I love this market, I will definitely be coming back here over the next few weeks. I am so glad that I have all this time here in my favourite city - there is so much more to Rio than all the major tourist sites - which are spectacular, don’t get me wrong. But I love seeing how Cariocas live, what they do on weekends, and where they go to socialize. At the end of the tour, we stop for a beer in Lapa, and as a samba band plays, I watch the Carnaval goers dance by in their costumes. On the way home on the subway, we are treated to a real show by some Carnaval partiers. They are in full costumes, and they’ve brought their own beatbox with them so they don’t have to stop partying on the way home. It’s obvious they’ve been drinking, and even though they are loud, they are not (that) obnoxious. They are just having a good time. A really good time. Everyone is smiling at them; if this happened at home, people would be changing trains and making a big deal out of their behaviour. They dance and sing at the top of their lungs, and then, just before our stop, one of the guys uses the pole that people use to steady themselves as a dance partner. It’s hilarious and I know I need to document this so I take a video. This is the kind of thing you need to see to appreciate. It’s something I will never forget. The joy on their faces, the people enjoying watching them enjoying themselves and the atmosphere of fun that they have created on the subway, of all places, is pure Rio. (I also saw a guy with an amazing tattoo of Christ the Redeemer on his back) #dawnellesalantphotography #gloria #rio #rio2020 #gloriasundaymarket #freewalkertours