Two weekends ago (I’m behind on posting – the struggle to obtain internet in Bauru is real), we took our first trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Although we’ve taken six flights into and out of Sao Paolo by now, we’ve never spent any time within the actual city.
So, with nothing in particular going on at home, we decided last minute to rent a car and check it out.
Brazilians seem to have a lot of mixed feelings about Sao Paulo. When we were here last year, we had planned to end our trip with a weekend in the city, but nearly everyone insisted that we go to Rio de Janeiro instead. Being a lover of beaches, we were happy to take their advice and had a fabulous time, but I remained curious about Sampa.
I will admit I had some reservations, based on locals’ comments about how expensive and crowded the city is. It’s often compared to New York City, a place that I like but don’t love the way many people do. I’m from a very small town, and NYC can overwhelm me. So I was worried that Sao Paulo, being even larger than the big apple, would kick my ass a bit. Turns out, those worries were very unfounded.
The drive was relatively easy, and scenic, and within three hours (not including a 45 minute pit stop at a pet store, long story) we were pulling into the outskirts of Sao Paulo. The traffic was certainly on par with that of New York City, but Tom handled it like a pro. The only disconcerting thing was all the motorcycles zipping past us in between lanes, one non-signaled merge away from disaster.
We got into the city around 2 p.m. and checked into our hotel, Quality Jardins, before heading out to explore Avenida Paulista a short walk away. We chose to stay in the Jardins area based on friends’ recommendations. We’d actually hoped to stay in nearby Villa Madalena, but couldn’t find pet friendly accommodations there on such short notice. I’d read reviews online comparing Vila Madalena to New York’s Greenwich Village and Jardins to the Upper East Side, but with my relatively limited experience in either of those neighborhoods (I’ve spent the majority of my time in NYC in Brooklyn and Chelsea) I don’t know how accurate that is.
Because we got in past the typical Brazilian lunch hour (Brazilians are very specific about their meal times), we found a lanchonette on Avenida Paulista to grab a quick meal. Lanchonettes are a great option for quick, affordable dining at almost any time of the day. We picked one crowded with locals and ordered beer and sandwiches to sustain us for a few more hours of wandering.
One of my favorite things to do when entering a new city is walk until my feet are throbbing. I think it’s the best way to get a feel for a place.
We entered into this trip with almost zero plans and very little knowledge about Sao Paulo, so we missed out on several key attractions along Avenida Paulista, but we were content to walk along watching as the Brazilian way of life unfolded around us.
We’d done a bit of research about places to eat, and settled on Brasil a Gosto, which translates to Brazil to Taste, a restaurant that focuses on presenting the different foods from the many regions of Brazil. It must be a somewhat unknown place among the locals, catering perhaps more to tourists, because when we got in our first cab to go there, the guy had no idea where we wanted to go, even when we showed him the location on a map. The hotel porter discussed it with him for several minutes, but at the end of the conversation he simply refused to take us.
The restaurant was only about a seven minute drive away, so I found this shocking. We tried again, and after another long round of discussion and a couple of wrong turns later we found ourselves in front of the charming restaurant on a quiet side street.
We were very hungry from all of our walking, and also curious to taste as many type of Brazilian food as we could, so decided to do the chef’s tasting menu of six courses, with wine pairings.
The food was fantastic. I personally love all of the food in Brazil, from the diverse per kilo lunches to the pasteis to the churrasco to the very prevalent pizza, but this was something special.
My favorite dish was Arapaima, a very large fish native to the Amazon river, grilled in a banana leaf served with a decadent coconut sauce, mashed banana and perfectly roasted root vegetables.
Served with a delicate Brazilian Chardonnay (there IS good Brazilian wine, I promise!) it has been the culinary highlight of my time in Brazil so far. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m very picky about fish, but this was not at all “fishy” and tasted almost sweet, even more dousing it with the coconut sauce. I will certainly eat this again before I return the U.S.
And then, because we’re still lame Americans at heart, we went home with and played with our dog and went to bed early. We really only do the true Brazilian night out once a week, if that. I am just not sure I’m built to stay up past 1 in the morning. The early bed time made it easy to get up early and hit the streets for more exploring. This time we walked over to Parque Ibirapuera, a huge urban park we took Ashton to so he could get in his share of sightseeing.
Sao Paulo’s skyline seems to go on forever.
It was a warm morning, but slightly overcast, which made the walking more pleasant.
It was a busy Sunday morning in Sao Paulo, with a free orchestra concert going on at the park and a large protest on Avenida Paulista, which were also going on all around the country. We didn’t attend, but did have a fun moment when a woman asked me if I would take a photo of her and her friends/family in their protest gear (and I understood what she was asking me!). When she realized we were American she talked with us for a bit and she encouraged our poor portuguese. Brazilian people really are as nice as they come.
After our walk we lunched at a nearby cafe, owned by a New Yorker who’s lived in Brazil for twelve years, sipped wine at a French bistro and checked out an expat bar so Tom could watch the final hours of the Masters, making for a very multicultural afternoon – something that seems quite common in bustling Sao Paulo.
We concluded our first Sampa weekend with dinner at The Figueira Rubaiyat, a popular steakhouse built around a century-old fig tree.
We selfied, enjoyed a wonderful Argentinean Malbec, ate some figs and, as usual, thoroughly confused our waiter with our combination of English and terrible portuguese.
The experience didn’t quite hold up to Brasil a Gosto with somewhat stiff service and an overcooked steak (probably because we don’t know how to properly order medium rare, our fault) but it was still a pleasant atmosphere and a great end to a lovely introduction to Sao Paulo.
I’m already trying to figure out when we can go back and get further acquainted.
If anyone reading has any recommendations for things we should do, see or eat while there please leave them in the comments!