Brazilian Farmer's Market Guide
Every neighborhood has a weekly farmer’s market in the major cities, sometimes even every day. This day will be very obvious, as you will see hundreds of people toting their classic metal ‘Grandma Carts’ down the streets, filled to the brim with tropical fruits, vegetables, fresh cheeses, farm eggs, whole chickens, coconut water, bromelia flowers, root flours and chilis. Here is a little tutorial on ‘how to market’ like a local in Rio de Janeiro.
Farmer’s markets are often located in large squares or ‘praças’. The day time markets start early around 6am and can last up to 14h in the afternoon. Like all world markets, arrive first for the best selection and last for the best price. So that I don’t make rash decisions based on hunger, I like to stop for a snack before collecting my weekly goods. A piping hot pastel and a cold cup of caldo de cana are a classic Farmer’s Market snack. They are found located in little stands with a red and white striped awnings. A pastel is a fried pocket of filo dough stuffed with either minced meat, sun-dried beef, shredded chicken, shrimp with catipury (creamy cheese), or hearts of palm. The good ones are fried to order and come alongside a cold green sugar cane juice that is pressed fresh every few minutes.
Now that we are full, we can begin our rounds. Until you befriend your vendors, it is best to do a loop to see what everyone is offering. While there is a lot of variety in Brazil, the markets are large and have many people selling the exact same thing for very different prices. In fact, it took me nearly 6 months of weekly visits to find ‘my people’. The farmer’s market can either leave you samba-ing home or feeling like you have really been taken advantage of. If you plan on living in the neighborhood, it is highly recommended to make good friends with honest folks fast. They will be faithful to you in price, if you are faithful to them with your business. But buying groceries is not just a transaction here. There must be an emotional component, or for a Brazilian there is no sincerity and thus no sale. After talks about their kids, the small fight they are having with the wifey and the allergies we have from the weather, we can then make a transaction. There are some vendors that I enjoy so much, we often sit to have a beer together during the market. You might as well enjoy everything you do in life or what is the point?!
NOTE: Don’t be shy to accept free samples! It is a part of the culture to try all the food as you are making your choice of what to purchase.
Here is a list of your typical Brazilian farmer’s market goods:
Brazilian Fruits (Frutas)
Abacate- avocado (note: used for sweet milkshakes only)
Acerola- sour cherry-like amazon fruit
Bananas Maças- finger long bananas
Bananas Pratas- hand long bananas
Carambola- star fruit
Cherimoya- custard apple
Jabuticaba- bahian berry (note: eat only the seed and flesh, not the skin)
Brazilian Vegetables (Legumes & Verduras)
Batata Doce- sweet potato
Batata Baroa- parsnip
Cheiro Verde- mix of spring onion and parsley
Jiló- small bitter eggplant like veggie
Inhame- root vegetable
I also adore stopping by the cheese and flour stand. There is usually a half dozen types of Queijo Minas. This cheese gets its name from the state of Minas Gerais, which makes the best cheese in Brazil. Now, almost every state makes their own version, so it is good to sample because every cheese comes out a little bit differently. The various types of flours they offer are mostly made from corn or aipim (a white root vegetable with a hard brown skin also known as cassava, yucca or manioca). They can be used for making bolos ‘cakes’, farofa or tapioca. Farofa is a staple at every meal. It is made by frying dried aipim flour, either plain or with an accompaniment such as onion, bacon or hard-boiled egg. It is a food with little flavor that is meant to add texture to a dish. You can sprinkle it over anything, but is most often used on top of meats and beans ‘feijão’. Tapioca is made from hydrated aipim (manioc) flour that is sifted onto a hot frying pan which congeals the flour back together forming a ‘brazilian like pancake’. You can eat it plain alongside afternoon coffee or fill it with salty or sweet ingredients. Popular salty picks are cheese/oregano, dried beef or shredded chicken. Popular sweet delights are ’romeo & julieta’ a mixture of cheese/guava paste, ‘doce de leite’ caramel or coconut & cheese.
Now I can’t speak for all flower stalls, but at the Feira de Nossa Senhora de Paz, there is a gorgeous little stand run by two brothers. They have a small farm in the city in a neighborhood called Alto da Boa Vista. They have been running it for 40 years and to this day, I have never met them when they weren’t smiling. When the weather is favorable, which is most of the year, they grow all their own flowers. The majority are thick wild jungle flowers with vibrant colors such as coral, sunshine yellow, ruby red, burnt orange and florescent purple. They come on large stems usually a meter tall! And of course they always have a bucket of Arruda- a Brazilian herb bought by locals weekly to keep the evil eye of envy out of one’s house.
To top off the morning, I usually load up with a couple of bottles of fresh coconut water on my way out. The vendors will open up the coconuts right there in front of you! You can even buy a few cups full of fresh grated coconut to put in your cakes or on top of Açai. It doesn’t last more than a day in the fridge, which goes to show you how processed the food we usually buy is.
Working with the same concept we spoke about at the beach (good energy brings good things), if a Brazilian feels your good energy, they take such pleasure in being helpful! I often find myself lacking the self-control of purchasing in moderation. I end up gathering so many delicious things for myself and my guests that my Grandma Cart practically bursts by the end (in fact I am on my 3rd cart this year alone!). The coconut water boys are always the first ones to run up and offer to help me carry things home.
Interested in touring the market with a local? contact us at Casa Bromelia to make a date!