This post has been published in collaboration with Brazogo, a brand new brazilian company that designs Rio de Janeiro‘s online guides after completing a personal survey and based on individual preferences, including only things their customers are interested in and for all kinds of wallets; from budget to luxury.
All photos are credited to Christopher Suttenfield and any kind of use and reproduction requires its consent.
If you’re on a budget, then finding decent food in Rio de Janeiro can be a challenge; most restaurants think that serving mountains of rice and beans under some kind of pile of greasy meat will satisfy its tourist looking for a traditional Brazilian meal.
However, it doesn’t have to be like this. Chris from Brazogo creates custom Rio de Janeiro guides and knows the city inside-out. I asked him to come up with a list of the some of the best budget places to eat in Rio, to help hungry travellers who don’t want to break the bank.
Cida Bahiana has been serving up acarajé for more than 30 years. Her modest street stall downtown in Largo da Carioca has grown into a larger scale operation and she now also serves up traditional sweets and other delicacies from Bahia, a state in Brazil’s north.
The standout dish from Cida Bahiana is acarajé, a type of fried Afro-Brazilian dumpling. It looks kind of like an oversized falafel made from snake bean flour; golden and crunchy outside, light and fluffy on the interior. The dumpling is fried in dendê (a pungent palm oil with a distinct flavour), then split open and stuffed with okra paste, fried shrimp, ginger and fresh coriander and tomato. Douse in chilli paste to finish it off.
Best place: Cida Bahiana, Largo de Carioca, (south end of the square)
When: Tue-Fri: 10:30 – 17:00
Average cost: R$10
Essentially, tapioca is a type of Brazilian pancake made from cassava flour. Watching it prepared is a cool experience; the flour “melts” together and forms a solid pancake.
Tapioca can be eaten either sweet or savoury, depending on everyone preferences. Try a banana, cinnamon and condensed milk combination, or get really Brazilian and mix guava jelly with grated haloumi; outstanding! If you want something savoury with authentic Brazilian flavours, order carne seca (dried shredded beef) and cheese.
Tapioca are cheap, filling and very easy to find in most parts of Rio. However, some of the best can be found downtown in Centro.
Best place: Corner of Av. Nilo Peçanha and Av. Rio Branco, Centro (outside the Itaú bank)
When: Mon-Fri: 07:00-21:00
Average cost: R$5.00
Getting the pronunciation right will help you order. Say ah-say-ee and people will understand you. Açaí is a kind of sorbet made from the berries of the açaí palm and it’s often mixed with guarana syrup to sweeten it up. Many of the best Rio de Janeiro guidebooks place açaí on the list of top ten things to eat in Rio.
Cariocas love açaí and consume it almost a sixth food group. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer, morning or night; açaí is always on the menu.
Depending on your taste, you can get açaí served pretty much any way you like; mixed with banana or berries, with chocolate flakes on top, smothered in ice cream sauce, or covered in crunchy granola. However, the best way is as nature intended; natural.
Best place: Amazonia Soul, Ipanema
When: Mon-Sat: 11:00-21:00, Sun: 10:00-20:00
Average cost: R$15.00
Pão de queijo
Described as a cheese bread and baked into little puffs about the size of a golf ball, they’re traditionally eaten for breakfast, yet great for a snack when you’re on the go.
There is no better place in Rio than Cultivar in Santa Teresa neighbourhood to enjoy “pão de queijo”. On weekends, there is a line out the door as people wait to snatch up fresh batches of piping hot treats. Cultivar’s pão de queijo are moist, tender and full of a strong cheesy flavour. If the batch looks a little dry, wait until the next one arrives.
Pão de queijo is made from tapioca flour, which means that they’re naturally gluten free.
Best place: Cultivar, Santa Teresa.
When: Mon-Fri: 07:30-20:00, Sat-Sun: 08:00:20:00
Average cost: Eight “paes de queijo”; R$8.80
Queijo coalho is a type of rennet cheese with a very firm texture. It’s never eaten raw, and when you bite it, it has an almost ‘squeaky’ texture. It’s very similar to haloumi.
Cariocas have a obsession with cheese, and will eat it anywhere, at any time, in any dish. The beach is no exception, don’t think a that sand and sun would ever stop the cheese consumption in Rio!
You will see men walking up and down Copacabana and Ipanema beach with a small bucket full of hot coals. Call him over and ask him to prepare one for you. The cheese is grilled on a kebab over open coals while you wait. It’s served toasted golden and comes with optional oregano flakes which are highly recommended.
Best place: Copacabana or Ipanema beach
When: Any time during the day
Average cost: R$5.00