Everyone says São Paulo is a massive, sprawling metropolis.
“Big deal,” we thought, “so is London.” It was only until we took in the views from the top of Edifício Itália on our first morning that we realised this urban beast was MUCH larger than the comparatively twee Big Smoke.
Innumerable skyscrapers and tall buildings literally as far as the eye can see – and 42 storeys up, we could see for miles!
We didn’t find São Paulo to be as beautiful and glamorous as Rio – in fact parts of the city are downright ugly. The main attraction of the city of “Sampa” for us was the many opportunities to eat very well.
After the dizzying trip up the tower we needed something to steady our nerves and restore blood sugar to normal levels. We headed straight for the Mercado Municipal, which was one of the highlights of the trip so far.
The fruit in the Mercado was a revelation – perfect specimens of hundreds of different varieties displayed artfully by the stall holders, who deftly sliced and thrust samples of this and that at you. We tasted the most perfect orange imaginable – superlatively large, sweet and juicy – and almost bought the lot until we realised they were 15 R$ (£5 sterling) EACH. We have looked in vain in more modest markets for something similar ever since but with no luck.
Of more considerable substance than the odd scrap of fruit was this epic mortadela sandwich which made us very happy!
The mortadela sandwich, consisting of generous piles of thinly sliced Italian mortadela between crusty bread with optional extras (e.g. cheese, sundried tomatoes, mustard, chilli) is a classic offering at the Mercado and many stalls sell them. We opted for the historic Hocca Bar on the top level, which has proper seating with views of the bustling market below as you get your chops around the juicy, meaty goodness.
Other places on the ground floor are cheaper but you have to negotiate your sloppy sanger standing up at a bar – not advisable for amateurs!
The next day we thought it might be good to cleanse the last of the meat sweats out of our system, so headed for Liberdade, the city’s Japanese neighbourhood.
London was in the midst of a ramen “moment” when I left to go travelling, with excellent places like Bone Daddies, Shoryu and Tonkotsu getting the city’s foodies excited (my fave of the three is Bone Daddies, for what it’s worth). I was keen to try out the Sampa version of ramen (also known as “lamen” in Brazil) at Aska.
The no bookings policy and 45 minute wait made me feel right at home; we could have been waiting on a Soho street for our bowls of noodles and broth. As soon as we got a table it was easy to see why Aska is so popular – the chefs bustled around calmly but efficiently in the open kitchen while patrons of all ages and ethnicities slurped at the surrounding bar and separate tables, creating a pleasant and buzzy atmosphere.
My tonkotsu ramen was decent with a tasty broth, though not a patch on Bone Daddies. Aska’s noodles were thin and soon went a bit soggy, and they were a bit stingy with the other goodies I like to root around for in a bowl of ramen. Still, it was one of the best value meals we had in Brazil, let alone São Paulo and did the trick of making us feel sated yet healthy and refreshed.
After a few hours of sightseeing on foot we were sure we had burned off the last of the mortadela, just as we happened to stumble upon an ice cream parlour and a huge queue of people winding down the street. Like typical Brits we dutifully joined the queue and were rewarded with some knockout ice cream or “sorvette”: chilli chocolate, maracuja (passionfruit) and house bacio di latte were all excellent.
Afterwards I remembered that I had read somewhere that many consider Bacio di Latte to serve Sampa’s best ice cream. So maybe what seemed like serendipitous discovery was actually my greedy unconscious leading me to the next treat…?
Another Sampa food highlight was dinner at A Figueira Rubaiyat, which is as famous for its food as the magnificent 200 year old, 5 metre wide fig tree growing smack in the middle of the restaurant.
My “picanha sumus” (premium top sirloin), a specialty from the Rubaiyat family farm, was delicious and cooked “a punto” accurately. Mark said his ribeye was one of the best he could remember.