Plenty of Rio de Janeiro street food classics can be picked up from traders cooking up a storm outside their homes. Think coxinhas (deep-fried chicken pockets), queijo coalho (grilled salty cheese sticks) and pastels (pasta-like parcels filled with salt cod and olives or cheese and prawns). If it’s cooked in front of you and there’s a crowd around the stall, you can’t go wrong.
For a late-night snack, look no further than Oliveira and his hot dogs. Sold from 6pm to ‘very late’, you’ll find him in a kiosk, on a pavement, in the middle of a busy road in Humaitá. He’s been here since 1995 and boasts of fuelling A-listers and football stars. And if you can think of a topping, he’ll probably have it. A favourite I witnessed was topped with olives, quail eggs, matchstick crisps, palm sugar, sweet honey mustard dressing and pepper sauce… I dare you.
But what really gets me excited about Rio is its beach food. And where better to start than Ipanema Beach, Post 9 at the legendary Barraca do Uruguay, which sells cold beers, caipirinhas and meat baps (pork and beef) drizzled with a chimichurri-style sauce. The lunchtime queue is a comical mix of sunbathers and blokes in suits.
On any beach in Rio you’ll find food — traders hop from one beach to the next. Look out for Marcus, a man pulling a life-size plastic camel on wheels (a leftover from carnival) full of Middle Eastern treats, such as esfihas (flatbreads with meat, cheese and oregano or spinach and aubergine fillings). He’s been plying his wares for more than 30 years and is still going strong.
Another character on Rio’s beaches is Rafael and his ‘cosmic Hareburger’. You’ll hear him coming from a mile off: “Hareeeeeeeburger”, delicious veggie burgers made from soya beans with a mango chutney and cashew nut topping. In a country of meat eaters, he does very well for himself — not just because he believes his burgers are a spiritual cosmic experience, but because they taste great.
Published in the June 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)