10 things we love about São Paulo cuisine
With Brazilian and Italian roots, Rafael Cagali, chef-owner of East London’s Da Terra, showcases both cuisines on his menus – but here shares his highlights of his home city
Want to learn more about Brazilian cuisine? Looking for Brazilian dishes to try? Read Rafael Cagali's guide below, then check out our Brazilian recipes. You can also find Rafael's recipe for Brazilian moqueca here.
Rafael Cagali grew up in São Paulo, and his heritage and passion for Brazilian culture helps to guide his creative vision at two-Michelin-starred Da Terra in east London. He spent years living in both Italy – where he worked with Stefano Baiocco at A Villa Feltrinelli – and Spain, where he worked with Quique Dacosta and Martín Berasategui, before moving to the UK to work at Simon Rogan’s Fera and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. At the latter, he met his husband Charlie, who he opened Da Terra with. São Paulo, however, will always be Rafael’s home.
Churrasco is the term for a barbecue that originated in southern Brazil. It’s made with a variety of meats – pork, sausage and chicken – that are cooked on a purpose-built churrasqueira (barbecue grill), often with supports for spits or skewers and cooked over embers. NB Steak is a great place to go, and there are a few locations around São Paulo.
These bakeries are everywhere in the city, and bread is baked twice a day, seven days a week. Breakfast is a very Paulistano thing to do, and we are very passionate about our bread. Order pão na chapa – a piece of french bread that’s cut in half, toasted and spread with butter – with some café com leite (coffee with milk) and freshly squeezed orange juice. You shouldn’t leave São Paulo without trying pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), either. It’s made with tapioca flour instead of wheat, giving it a soft, chewy texture.
The Municipal Market of São Paulo was designed in 1933, specialising in fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats and spices. When you go there, get a sanduíche de mortadela (mortadella sandwich) served warm or cold, with cheese or vinaigrette.
4. Walk through Oscar Freire
If you’d like to get a bit of shopping done, you should head to Rua Oscar Freire, a street stretching throughout the Jardins district of São Paulo. I love spending a relaxing day here looking around the shops and stopping for coffee in Cristallo, a historic café on the street. Its bomba de chocolate (chocolate éclair) is one of my great weaknesses. It’s worth visiting for some good coxinha (fried dough with filling), too.
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This kind of deep-fried puffed pastry is a must-try when you travel to Brazil, especially pastel de pizza. My favourite place to go is Pastelaria Brasileira, really close to the Palmeiras football stadium, where I like to go to watch games with friends.
Moqueca is a dish that really showcases Brazilian history and tradition. To achieve its vibrant colour, dende oil, extracted from the fruit of dendezeiro, or African oil palm trees, is used to cook down the vegetables and spice paste before fish stock and coconut milk are added. Dende oil is an integral part of the Afro-Brazilian cuisine of northern Brazil.
At Da Terra, a large pot is brought out to diners before returning to the kitchen to be plated and finished tableside by our chefs. It’s a warm and filling dish that is great for parties. Check out Rafael's recipe for Brazilian moqueca here.
7. Nikkei cuisine
Liberdade district is the city’s Japantown, home to the world’s largest ethnic Japanese community outside of Japan. The streets are gorgeous here, hung with lanterns and filled with people grocery shopping. Dining options include sushi bars, ramen shops and yakisoba noodle stalls. Check out Nikkei cuisine recipes here.
8. Coconut water at Ibirapuera Park
Ibirapuera Park was the first metropolitan park in São Paulo, designed along the lines of English landscape gardens and inspired by modern drafts from the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. The park is a lovely space to ride bikes and scooters, rollerskate or walk around drinking fresh coconut water.
Bar culture is one of my favourite things about São Paulo. Happy hour is very popular in the afternoon – there are normally a lot of different snacks to eat with ice-cold beer.
This purple fruit comes from the northern region of Brazil. There, açaí ‘paste’ accompanies a main meal, along with beans and rice. Here in São Paulo – as in most of the south-east – açaí has become a dessert, served sometimes as ice cream or with fruit toppings. It’s great for cooling off after a long day.