‘…¿Dónde está el Instituto Tomie Ohtake, por favor?’ I asked an unsuspecting Paulistano, she gave me a confused look and answered rapidly in fluent Portuguese waving her hands about and finally pointing north! ..‘muchas gracias, buen día‘ I said as I walked away. I realized that Portuguese did not sound anything like the rudimentary Spanish I knew and my curious tryst with Portuñol began. Laughing, at how likely we were to lose our way, at this rate.. my friend and I sauntered down the winding Rua Natingui on the cloudy Sampa tuesday. Our Brazilian adventure had begun!
1. Exploring the arty side of Sampa!
Eventually we did find the Institute of Tomie Ohtake, the galleries had exhibitions of Tomie Ohtake’s work (duh!) and Joan Miró paintings. Tomie is a Japanese naturalized Brazilian artist whose works include metal art installations, paintings and sculptures. I liked her work, its reds and yellows but Joan Miró on the other hand..I found his abuse of artistic license quite irksome. His work can easily be mistaken for kindergarten doodling! I remember thinking how my mom (who’s an artist) spends 3-4 months on one of her oil-on-canvas paintings and gets such little exposure for her art, here was a guy mucking around in red, blue and black paint exhibiting at such a big gallery in Sampa getting a thousand footfalls!
Sampa has a vibrant art scene.. a short walk away, there’s ‘Beco do Batman’. A group of winding lanes with walls covered with vibrant graffiti starting at Rua Gonçalo Afonso. Artists use it as their experimental canvas, new art is constantly taking over the old. The riot of colours is staggering, there are images of flowers, aliens, strange symbols, superheros, anti-war messages.. Other neighborhoods have some stunning graffiti as well. The roads around Praça da Liberdade,have some remarkable graffiti. Liberdade has the largest Japanese population in São Paulo. The graffiti here is quite different from the ones at batman alley.
2. Cafe hopping for Brazilian coffee and desserts!
Sampa has quaint cafe’s around every street corner, especially in Pinheiros, Jardins and Vila Madalena. As soon as we landed, our friend Tatiana took us straight to a cosy cafe where we had our first sip of Brazilian coffee and first bite of pão de queijo.
We tried a lot of local coffees, the cafe com leite-coffee with milk, the carioca– a light coffee, no milk-named after the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro-Cariocas, the cafe duplo-a double espresso, or my favourite- cappuccino com canela (a cinnamon cappuccino) and if you’ve a sweet tooth then go for the cappuccino cremoso de chocolate com canela (a cappuccino with chocolate, cinnamon) if you like whipped cream ask for chantilly. Cafe Ofner and Cafe Suplicy are trendy cafe’s that serve a good Brazilian cuppa! Ofner has the yummiest cappuccino-the Ofner special- which has little chewy lumps of the coffee mix. Kopenhagen (more of a chocolatier than a cafe) does good chocolaty coffees and brigadeiros (a Brazilian chocolate confectionery). Cafe Mathilde serves a delicious tart filled with custard called pasteis de belem.
3. Eating Brazilian food at the Padarias and Bahian consulados
There is another ‘must-do’ item on the gastronomy list for travelers in Sampa- the Padaria! A padaria is the Brasilian version of a bakery or a deli where you can sit and eat. It serves breakfast and lunch. Thanks to our friend Sergio, who’s daily morning ritual includes breakfast at a neighborhood padaria, we tried out half a dozen padarias in Vila Madalena and Pinheiros :) My favourite on the menu was the Pão de queijo-little bread balls made from tapioca with cheese inside, Açaí com Granola-an Acai berry sorbet with granola, and coffee :)
The Bahian (belonging to north Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Bahia) food is very tasty, textured, full of flavors and pimentas! Brazilian food can be a bit of a challenge for a vegetarian..but a little bit of Spanish (for those like me who don’t know no Portuguese) and a smile can go a long way. Most restaurants I went to, had friendly and helpful waiters who served me food sem carne! I loved the feijoada or feijão a stew made of beans, pork or beef-I managed to get the vegetarian version-served with rice and salad or sweet potato wedges. The tapioca wraps were fascinating and equally tasty- all one has to do is put a half inch thick layer of tapioca flour on the pan-sprinkle some herbs, salt, cheese-heat and fold and voila! Acarajé is the Brazilian version of bondas-made from bean flour and fried-we had it with pimenta sauce, salsa and a hummus like preparation. Consulado Mineiro, Gaia cafe & art, Santa Tereza (one of the oldest eateries in Sampa) are good places to get some local food.
4. Window shopping at the boutiques of Vila Madalena
I lived and loved in Vila Madalena! It’s a hilly neighbourhood with steep, winding lanes, colourful bookshops, street side cafe’s, dozens of padarias, clean parks and lovely boutiques.
It’s an upmarket neighborhood and fairly safe. Wandering around Rua Harmonia, Rua Fidalga, Rua Girassol and Rua Aspicuelta is like walking through neighborhoods in Paris and Italy at the same time! Cosy cafes, pizzerias and bars are reminiscent of Trastevere. The fancy boutiques selling leather bags, boots, antiques, local clothing labels are like Rue de Rivoli! I found a trendy art studio called Urban Arts with posters, vinyls, funky artwork and the coolest outdoor cafe! The lady at the studio was super friendly…she spoke un poco Ingles, offered us Festa de Junina candies made from banana, peanuts and jaggery.
I’m not a fan of malls but I enjoyed soaking in the fashion epitome that São Paulo represents, at the Iguatemi mall. I bought a much needed backpack cover at the North Face store there :)
5. Getting my first tattoo!
I spent nearly a week exploring São Paulo’s kitschy neighborhoods, graffiti streets, arty cafes and fashionable boutiques and whetting my travel curiosity. A lot of travelers and people I met had beautiful, intricate tattoos. I thought the atmosphere was perfect to ink the idea that had been on my mind for quite a while.
Tatiana found me a great tattoo studio on Rua Mourato Coelho and on Dia do namorados (a pure coincidence!) I headed over there to get inked! My tattoo artist spoke Portuguese and I tried to explain to him in Spanglish(!) that I wanted a mapa del mundo with un corazón in India and un punto para cada pais that I’d traveled to. It took us an hour to get the stencil right and half hour for the tattoo..ending my Sampa adventures on a high note!
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