For a carioca (a person born in Rio) that moved to the U.S., one of the first things I like to do when I arrive back in my hometown is to go to a botequim. It gives me the sensation of going back to my local culture, allowing me to be the Brazilian that I really am, and to participate in the local culture of eating in botequins.
A botequim (botequins, plural) is a simple type of restaurant that started in Brazil in the late 1800s, by and for Portuguese immigrants. The idea was to be a restaurant where immigrants could unwind, meet, eat petiscos (finger food) and drink, but mostly, to take a break from home and work.
Botequins are really an official institution all over Brazil, but especially in Rio de Janeiro, where Portuguese culture seems stronger than in other regions of the country. It serves Portuguese and Brazilian food on the cheap. Or that, I should say, was the whole premise of a botequim. As the Brazilian economy is booming, going to a botequim these days has changed in a monetary sense, which is why, I choose carefully where I go.
Here are the places that I’ll hit every time I’m back in Rio, and where you should go for a real taste of the city…
Katia Barbosa, the chef at this exciting botequim located near the Praça da Bandeira section of the city, is playing with the most traditional dishes of Brazilian cuisine and creating new classics. As a tourist, you might have never heard of Praça da Bandeira. Trust me, you want to go there.
The food being served at Aconchego is captivating diners from all over town and fueling the renaissance of a whole neighborhood. The décor is warmer than your typical botequim with hammocks hanging on the ceiling, and photos of the northeast embellishing the ambience. There is no reason to dally: start with their signature bolinho de feijoada, a black bean dough stuffed with collard greens and meat. Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, is a black bean stew with lots of different kinds of meat cooked inside. She turned that — our most famous dish — into a bolinho! And it’s amazing!
Actually, she does that a lot; stew dishes tend to be reinterpreted into fried morsels in Katia’s kitchen, and she strikes a homerun with every one of them. But she doesn’t stop there. Other dishes like the costelinha de porco na goiaba — slow roasted pork ribs with guava paste served with cornmeal turnovers (pictured) — is one of the most creative and delicious plates of ribs I have ever tasted. She continues to dazzle on the dessert end; a cachaça pudding is prepared with tapioca, sugar cane, and cachaça.
This whole meal, this whole place, elated me. And it persuaded me, as much as any other talented, passionate, and devoted chef, that Katia Barbosa — born and raised in Rio de Janeiro — is the chef of the moment.
Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 379
Praça da Bandeira
Tel: (55 21)2273-1035
Located on a perfect corner of Leblon, Jobi represents the quintessential carioca spirit. For over 50 years, this place has been enchanting the city with its impeccable Portuguese cuisine prepared in a tiny little kitchen. Like wine, Jobi gets better with age.
On my last visit, I met with a friend from Rio for a quick chat. I ordered cod fritters with a super cold chopp (beer) and she ordered some empanadas that should be the model for all empanadas in the world; golden, buttery, and flaky — they melt in your mouth. When I am in the mood for a meal, I order purê de abóbora com carne seca — mashed pumpkin puree with jerk meat — in my opinion, the best in town. Jobi is located just a few steps away from my house in Rio, and I am always smitten, surprised, and convinced that one of things I miss the most about my life in Rio, is this place.
Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 1,166/ Loja B
Leblon, Tel: (55 21) 2274-0547