Discovering South American food in Pinheiros
It’s easy to understand why Brazil is perceived as a distant neighbour. It is the only country in all the Americas to speak Portuguese. In this sense, we have more in common with Angola and Mozambique than with Peru and Colombia.
But distance is also an issue. And food.
Brazil shares borders with Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay in the South. Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas and Suriname in the Center-North. But with few exceptions (like Ponte da Amizade connecting Brazil and Paraguay, near Iguazu Falls) our borders are farms, jungle and small, hard to reach towns. The important urban areas of São Paulo, Rio, Belo Horizonte or the political capital Brasilia, are separated from our neighbours by huge, scarcely populated chunks of land. The most urbanised areas of the Brazil are near the coast, facing the African continent – hence the strong heritage in Rio, Bahia and all Northeast Brazil.
And then there’s food. True, our Southern states share the grilled meat tradition of Argentina and Uruguay – and I dare point that our hermanos put on a better churrasco. Like Colombia, the best of Brazil’s coffee beans are exported. Also, in some places (as commenters on this post enlightened me) people fry green banana discs to eat as snacks. Other than that, we lack the variety of corn and potatoes of the Andean region. We never developed a ceviche-like dish in our coastal cities. The Atlantic seafood is different of that found in the Pacific. We don’t drink pisco. We eat avocado with sugar. Our red wines are never really good, but “not bad”.
Ten years ago it was difficult to go beyond Chilean empanadas, Uruguayan dulce de leche or Argentinian barbecue in São Paulo.
But this city works in waves of hype: each season people obsess over a dish or an ingredient. And this seasonal over-using of certain formulas is essential to our ever-growing bowling pot, making local gastronomy stronger and more interesting each day.
When the ceviche and new-Andean food hype came, more South-American food entered the scene. Soon there was a nice place selling sanguches in the Pompeia area. A family joint was offering arepas and patacones in Pinheiros. Small restaurants serving lunch for the South-American immigrant community gained attention, adding the Sino-Peruvian chifa tradition to the scene.
It was an essential step to install Colombian, Peruvian and Bolivian food in São Paulo’s food world, placing it among Italian, Portuguese, Armenian, Japanese, Spanish, Lebanese, Portuguese, French and Chinese, to name a few. Lucky us.
Bellow, you’ll find the best South American food in Pinheiros, one of the food-centric neighbourhoods of São Paulo.
Sabores de Mi Tierra (Colombian)
Inside a small garage, specialises in arepas (round, soft, white corn bread) and patacones (fried banana discs) with all sorts of toppings. Don’t miss the chance to drink a mojito and eat fried mandioquinha (similarly, but not exactly parsnip). Opens after 18h, but occasionally opens for lunch or Colombian breakfast.
Maíz (South American) Unfortunately closed :/
Arepas, tacos, empanadas and patacones on the cheap in a cool, easy place. The owner and chef are part of the Sabores de Mi Tierra family. Opens all day, every day, and offers a daily choice of lunch, usually grilled chicken with roast manioc. There’s also a choice of local beers.
Sharing a wall and owner with Maíz, dedicated to fresh and often creative ceviche. It’s a nice place for lunch or drinks, but best bet is to sit on the counter and watch the team in action. The “classic” option has Corvina fish, onions, lime and cilantro.
Comedoria Gonzales (South American)
Not more than a box inside the Pinheiros market, a tableless restaurant. The offer varies with the available ingredients found by Bolivian chef Checho on the market stalls. There’s always a ceviche option, but I like the roasted chicken or pork ribs, served with corn. The três leches dessert (sponge cake with cinnamon and dulce de leche) is quite nice. Crowded during lunch hours, but stays open until 6 PM.
El Guatón (Chilean)
Simples and honest place, where Señor Guatón and Dona Elba serve delicious, cheap and very satisfying empanadas. My favourites are corn and chicken pie (pastel de chocolo) and seafood empanadas. The homemade pepper sauce and bread are also delicious.
Not a typical Argentinian restaurant, but a minuscule rock’n’roll, burguer and beer bar. One of the owners carries Argentinian DNA and portrays it by using a mini-parrilla to grill the meat before serving on wooden boards with chimichurri sauce. Morcillas (blood sausages) and empanadas also available, as well as a limited but nice choice of red wine. It’s very small and tends to get crowded, so arrive early. The place shuts doors when it’s raining, and is under renovations, serving in a different (but very close) address – please, check instagram before going.
I also have a cool “what do to” Pinheiros guide available on Guidrr app – check it out!
Foto do destaque: Juan Felipe Rubio, via Flickr/CC.