Brazil’s traffic clogged city of 20 million is one of the best restaurant cities in Latin America and it also has one of the best public markets. The 135,000-square-foot Mercado Municipal Paulistano near estación São Bento, was built in the 1930’s and recently renovated, is my number one choice for a meal downtown.
There are two levels. The ground level showcases hundreds of stalls, mostly selling raw ingredients. There are fish mongers, butchers, spice shops, cheese shops, sausage makers, sweets shops, and most importantly the fruit. Brazil has one of the most diverse selections of fruit on earth and they all seem to be here: passionfruit, jaboticaba (a large, endemic black berry), pitaya (dragonfruit), pinha (sugar apple) and caju (cashew apple), acai berries, papayas, mangoes, bananas, and dozens of other tongue curling flavors and unusual textures. Juice stands sit by the hndful and are ready to whip them any of them up into a glass for a few reais.
Upstairs, amidst the glow of Ramos de Azevedo’s stain glass windows are a handful of restaurants and cafes. One is Japanese, though the rest are classic Paulistano eateries serving several of the city’s iconic dishes. Hocca Bar, open since 1952, is the go to spot for many, though the lines can be long and the neighrboing restaurants have almost the same menu of sandwiches and pasties. Mortadella, the cured and spiced pork sausage that was born in Rome and brought to São Paulo by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century (the entire state of São Paulo now has an estimated 33 million people of Italian descent according to a recent census)has become a symbol of the city and often served as a sandwich (on a hard roll, often with tomatoes, melted cheese, and oregano).
Hocca Bar’s Pastel de Bacalhau (pastie stuffed with salted codfish) is celebrated around the city, though their Bolinho de Bacalau (breaded and fried stuffed codfish balls), served with a lime and olive oil are equally as satisfying. Carne de Sol, a sundried shredded beef popular northeast Brazil, makes in appearance in both sandwiches and pasties at Hocca Bar too. In a city known for expensive eating, a meal anywhere in the Paulistano market will set you about 10 reis.
Open Monday to Saturday from 5am to 4pm.
Mercado Municipal Paulistano
Rua de Cantareira 306, Parque Don Pedro
São Paulo, Brazil
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.