Soaking up the colour of Brazil’s beaches and lapping up its hedonistic nightlife requires plenty of stamina and sustenance. Luckily, a wide array of sensational street food is on offer. This month, bring home the flavours of Rio, while enjoying SBS’s gripping Brazilian film season.
Much simmers in Cidade Maravilhosa, or the "Marvellous City" as Rio is sometimes called, and, often, little good comes of it. Brazil’s infamous favelas are complex urban communities with a history of lawlessness and rebellion that has intrigued filmmakers for generations. A symbol of social upheaval and the struggle to forge a better life, these shanty towns embody the fiery, forbidden essence of Brazil, the steadfast willingness of the population to embrace that which burns within the soul, however dangerous.
While some would have you believe that sampling foods sold on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and the capital Brasília may have your stomach in as much turmoil as the favelas themselves (travel websites often advise the casual traveller to treat street vendors’ wares "with caution"), such generalisations don’t take into account the burgeoning lanchonete (snack bar) trade often existing as an offshoot of the traditional family-run padaria (bakery).
These self-contained micro-cafes patronised by office workers and well-to-do tourists serve salgado delicacies: savouries such as empadinha (pastry filled with perfectly spiced meat, cheese and locally sourced prawns), coxinha (fiery chicken enclosed in cassava dough), esfiha (a crisp pastry shell with a cured-meat filling) and pão de queijo (cheese bread).
The protagonist in Breno Silveira’s Once Upon a Time in Rio – the first in the season of Brazilian films to screen on SBS TWO in October – leads an existence that encompasses the people and the food of Brazil in general, and Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Ipanema Beach in particular.
Dé (Thiago Martins) is an invisible fixture of modern Brazilian life. Every day, he ventures from his shanty home in Cantagalo favela to ply his cachorro quente (hot dog) trade – that is until he lusts after and becomes transfixed by Nina (Vitória Frate), the daughter of an influential family that’s above his social standing.
This theme of wanting what you cannot rightfully expect to have resonates throughout Brazilian cinema. The policemen in José Padilha’s Elite Squad pounce, at random and with brute force, on crime-infested favelas, but their actions amount to little more than barrel-chested posturing. In Carlos Alberto Riccelli’s The Sign of the City, a talkback radio DJ (Bruna Lombardi) yearns, with increasing futility, to find a common humanity in a wildly divergent population. In Sérgio Machado’s Lower City, two best friends allow jealous rage to escalate to a mortal feud over an alluring prostitute (Alice Braga).
Frankly, Brazil’s finest food and cinema should be dangerous – if only to fully represent the heightened, pulsating existence that characterises daily life in this compelling country.
Photography Brett Stevens.