Feria de San Cristobal
This will be the first of many posts about Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where my husband Tony and I lived for two months this year (he was playing for the Fluminense Water Polo Club). Tony was born in Rio, his Dad's family is from there (and still live there), and it has quickly become one of my favorite personal destinations. This post is about the Feria de San Cristobal, a Northeastern "fair" located in a huge outdoor enclosure within the city. This enclosure is lined with streets named after Northeastern States and filled with market stalls, typical restaurants, small businesses and shops.
I first became fascinated with the Northeastern Region of Brazil when I read the book "A Death in Brazil" by Peter Robb. So I was really excited when Tony's cousin Guillerhme called us up and asked us if we wanted to spend an afternoon at the fair.
The minute you walk in the gates, all your senses overtake you-- there are vendors selling delicious looking sausages straight off the grill, drink stands, and two large stages where diverse artists and local bands play forro and other national music. We wandered around a while to soak it all in, bright colors everywhere, vendors offering traditional crafts from the region.
We finally found our way to the restaurant where Guillerhme wanted to take us to lunch-- right when we walked in there was some kind of hollow donkey hanging from the wall. I was looking at it curiously and the maitre d ushered me over, lifted it over my head and slapped on a traditional horseman's hat.
Wet sat down at our big wooden table and ordered a round of ice cold large Antartica Originals (Brazilian beer) to start. As appetizers we got some kind of delicious grilled logs of cheese that you cut into pieces and dip into a honey sauce. We also tried carne seca, the typical Northeastern sun-dried beef (and one of my favorites). Our main dish was a giant platter of grilled meats, of course accompanied by another giant side of fried cassava (my favorite), rice and beans and farofa (toasted manioc flour).
After lounging around for a while, letting our food digest and listening to the music from the nearby stage, we decided that instead of dessert we would try an interesting flavor of caipirinha (a trypical Brazilian drink made with muddled fruit, cachaca and sugar).
We ordered our caipis from a stall right outside of the restaurant, where a friendly guy was making them to order. I got the castana de caju (the fruit of the cashew tree) and Tony ordered a traditional lime. They were both absolutely delicious, and we took them to go in plastic cups so we could continue to wander around.
Along the way we bumped into a case of Jesus Guarana, a special edition version of Brazil's famous soft drink. You've probably heard of Guarana (as a stimulant-- and you probably mispronounced it), but in Brazil it is an absolute staple. The Jesus version, besides coming in a really pretty can, has a bubble-gum pink color, cinnamon aroma and is very, very sweet.
Fittingly, our caipirinhas eventually led us to a craft cachaca store (cachaca is the famous Brazilian liquor made from fermented sugar cane juice).
Tony and his cousin Carlos admired and tasted all the old-school real cachacas, while I was drawn towards the delicious cream-based ones with flavors like chocolate-cherry and sweet corn. We all ended up buying a few bottles, for "gifts" to take home of course.
Eventually it was time to go home, but for a moment there I really felt like I had been transported out of Rio and into the Northeast........