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São Paulo - Julho 2023

Updated: Jul 6

Last stop on the Grand Tour of South America.

As our plane from Iguaçu Falls (IGU) was on final approach to Congonhas Airport (CGH), Mrs. AAR mentioned "Do you know São Paulo has over 20 million residents?" To which I replied, "Not until I looked out the window."

View from seat 3A - GOL Flight 1657 (15 Jul 2023)

When we were five minutes out from our hotel, after a morning exploring Iguaçu Falls, a 30-minute ride to the airport, a two-hour wait, a two-hour flight to São Paulo, a 30-minute wait for baggage, and now a 30-minute sunset Uber ride, Mrs. AAR mentioned that maybe for dinner we should go someplace "authentico," which was countered with the thought of maybe going to someplace "near-by-a-co." Which was met with yawning agreement.

Striking gold on your first foray for sustenance can really set the tone for a visit to a previously unexplored city, and Bar da Dona Onça, located in the Centro neighborhood just around the corner from our hotel, was pure gold. Not an Americano to be seen (or more importantly heard) with a delicious arroz frutos do mar (which sounds much more appetizing than rice and seafood), washed down by a caipirinha.

The caipirinha is Brazil's national cocktail and was invented in São Paulo a little over a hundred years ago. It is made with cachaça (basically rum made directly from sugarcane), sugar, and lime. And after tasting one, I formulated a theory about caipirinhas, the main tenet being that maybe I should be drinking more mojitos.

Dining at the Bar da Dona Onça also had the added benefit of enabling me to view the building that houses it, the Edifício Copan. Its swirling shape makes it the city’s most recognizable building. Designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (co-architect of the United Nations Building and most of Brasília).

I was a little disappointed that due to various issues, I couldn't book lodgings at the Rosewood São Paulo, so I did what I always do whenever I can't stay at the premier hotel in the city I am visiting, I visited the lobby to drink its cucumber water . . . which they didn't serve. Now what kind of five-star hotel doesn't have some sort of refreshment for its guests after returning from a morning of sightseeing!? Well never mind, though the lobby is quite nice. Next stop. . .

Paulista Ave is the Park Ave of São Paulo containing shopping, culture, and finance. On Sunday it is closed to traffic, and filled with pedestrians buying street food and street art. All while listening to a series of street performers, everything from a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, rappers, a pan flute act¹, and a guy dressed up as Batman singing karaoke. Some were quite excellent while others American Idol cringeworthy.

On the walk back home to our digs in Centro, a place called Pizzeria Famiglia Mancini was visited for the eponymous entrée. Oddly enough they only serve it after 7:00 pm (at $30/pie). Instead, we had some just as expensive anti-pasta, oddly served by the kilo with exactly 0.46 kilos being just right.

While looking out the Familgia's window I noticed numerous fountains, numerous adjacent restaurants named Mancini, well-dressed servers & security guards, and a driveway flanked with huge Roman planters atop stone columns. The whole street looked as if the Godfather turned the Corleone compound into a food court.

The Sights

When we were visiting Buenos Aires a week earlier I met a couple from São Paulo while dining at La Cabrera. When asked what one thing we should see in her city, the wife replied "shopping" and I became a little concerned about our plans to visit though in the end thankful she was not my wife.

I asked the same question a few days later while enjoying tango, to a Swiss couple who had just passed through São Paulo, with the wife definitively replying "Edifício Italia for great views of the city." After she said "Yes," when I asked, "Can I drink a cocktail while doing this?" I knew what needed to be done.

As fate would have it, our hotel was located on the same street as the Edifício Italia (which also goes by the less poetic "Italian Building"). And soon after I was enjoying some gorgeous 42-floor views from a bar atop the second tallest building in São Paulo. I then used the opportunity to order a mojito and thereby confirm my aforementioned caipirinha theory².

Mojito O’clock from Edificio Italia

In order to get the word on the street a Free Walking Tour of Centro was walked. Luci did a fine job introducing me to some interesting street food, street crime, and street architecture. The tour included a coxinha (chicken drumstick covered in potato dough, breaded and deep fried) at the oldest bakery in São Paulo, Padaria Santa Tereza where just outside I witnessed a woman's purse being snatched. I felt bad for the victim who looked a little shaken up, though it reconfirmed my practice of never wearing a purse when traveling (unless it's strapped across my body).

Possibly due to its sheer size and that much of it was built in the last 50 years, wherever I looked there was some impressive modern architecture.

The Jungle of Stone

As far as graffiti goes, Sao Paulo has no more than many other cities, but definitely higher than most.

The best museum in all of Latin America is said to be the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). The first time I attempted to visit the place, it was "Domingo grátis", and the line to enter was ridículo. Now part of my personal brand is: I've never smoked pot, never watched E.T., and never stand online for any appreciable amount of time, so instead we toured the balance of Paulista Ave (see above) and stopped for a coffee at Coffee Walk located immediately down a side street.

There we met a Brazilian lady and chatted with her about life and São Paulo. She only spoke Portuguese, but then again so did we . . . via Google Translate. Some things got lost in translation, not enough to matter, and we did understand that she is a Professor of Physical Education Teacher specializing in physical training for Adults/Elderly and a fellow social influencer. Though in her case via Instagram.

A few days later we circled back to MASP and we're glad we did. For 30 Reals ($6) I reviewed a temporary exhibit of what had to be the largest assemblage of Paul Gauguin paintings on the planet. When I was very young I found his work to be quite erotic and a little shocking. But now with the "benefit" of the internet, it unfortunately all seems a little less so. Though this one painting was still a little provocative. . .

Deux femmes tahitiennes (oil on canvas) - Paul Gauguin, 1899

The second floor contains the permanent collection which is a cornucopia of the greats: Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, etc., that is displayed via the most unique and innovative system I have ever come across, a glass easel. Basically, each piece is mounted on a sheet of glass that is supported by a concrete block. It was invented by the museum's first director.

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (with glass easel on right)

The Feijoada

The Free Walking Tour guide mentioned that the Brazilian national dish of feijoada should be eaten and it should be eaten at the Boteca Coutihno. Feijoada, which is unpronounceable to non-Brazilians, is a slow-cooked hearty stew of black beans, pork, tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Despite the fact that it’s made with slow-cooked offal such as trotters and ears we still wanted to eat it.

Unfortunately, we visited on a Wednesday and she failed to mention that feijoada is only available on the weekend. We rolled with it and instead ate fish balls and then went next door to Boteco do Ursa where it was also listed on the menu. Well, they didn't have any either, so we had meat on a stick and a zucchini pizza thing while listening to some very excellent and very loud live Brazilian music.

It worked out for the best as it introduced us to the hip cool Vila Madalana neighborhood and the nearby Beco do Batman ("Batman's Alley"), an alley covered with graffiti about the eponymous DC Comics superhero.

The next day, our last in the "Jungle of Stone," we made one last foray for feijoada after meeting a local and her dog Festa. She mentioned that it would definitely be on the menu at Casa de Porco. Well, an Uber ride later confirmed it was on the menu . . . tomorrow. The hostess mentioned that Bar da Dona Onça might have it, and the restaurant Estadão definitely would. I liked the idea of completing the culinary circle so we hit Bar da Dona Onça and . . . they didn't serve it. So we pushed on a few blocks to Estadão.

Bar e Lanches Estadão reminded me of the Long Island diners of my youth. A long sinuous counter with fixed barstools and plenty of linoleum. I settled in and excitedly said to the server "Feijoada?" . . . to which he replied with the customary "No!" Instead, we settled for an agreeable (and economical) serving of sirloin, rice, and frites. I subsequently found out they do serve feijoada . . . just "not today."

Beco do Batman being documented by a fellow photojournalist

Epilogue: After returning to the U.S. via JFK, a nearby Portuguese restaurant in Mineola, NY named Churrasqueira Bairrada was contacted in search of feijoada, and via phone they confirmed (and reconfirmed) it would be served the next day at lunch. Well, we visited the restaurant the next day . . for lunch and . . . no f***ing feijoada! Though the Dobrada com Feijão Branco was quite tasty.

I have come to believe that there is no such thing as feijoada. It is the unicorn of Brazilian food . . . and bait for naïve American tourists.

The Lodgings

The Sooz Hotel Collection is eponymously located in the Centro neighborhood. First of all, love the name almost as much as the rate ($60/night)³. And as well as just changing names, it had just been renovated in a very modern architectural style that borders on sterility - does it get any better than that!?

Much like every hotel we stayed at in South America, it came with breakfast. And by that, I mean a sumptuous breakfast buffet and not the crap they serve in the States . . . as there was not a waffle iron or breakfast sandwich to be seen.

Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.

¹ Anyone who watched too much TV in the early 80s will be too familiar with the pan flute and more importantly that Zamfir was its Master ("Zamfir plays the world's most beautiful melodies . . . this magnificent collection is not sold in stores. Use your credit card and save C.O.D. charges . . . " ).

² The caipirinha and the mojito both have sugar and lime juice. The caipirinha uses cachaça, while the mojito, rum. The mojito also has mint and soda water, which when combined with the mellower rum does a much better job tempering the lime juice.

³ You see, Mrs. AAR's Christian name is Susan though from now on her Nome do Brasil is "Sooz."

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Wow, Mike and Sooz, that was quite a trip! Not finding feijoada in Brazil sounds like not finding paella in Spain. Anyway, if you’re ever stuck near Newark airport for several hours, there’s a Portuguese neighborhood with lots of restaurants in downtown Newark (Please take a cab and have the name of a restaurant handy even if you choose a different one after you arrive). There’s also some Brazilian restaurants on one of the streets in the west 40’s (46th?) in midtown Manhattan, but you probably know that. Thanks for an interesting report, especially about the Caipirinha vs. Mojito. I had felt like I was missing out by never having had a Caipirinha. Now I don’t feel so bad. I…

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lindacgrady! Thanks for the feijoada leads. Hong Kong certainly has plenty of places with good views (and cocktails). Thanks for reading.

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