Every student in São Paulo, at some point in their school life, comes across “Brás, Bexiga e Barra Funda” – a collection of chronicles about the lives of Italian immigrants, launched in 1927 by Antônio de Alcântara Machado.
It is a book that the author insists on saying is not a book, but a newspaper. Iconoclasm and idiosyncrasy typical of São Paulo modernists, a bit silly for our days, but it’s worth it.
Anyway, Alcântara Machado was a Voltaire de Souza from a hundred years ago. With short sentences and cinematographic dialogues, he describes the daily lives of those foreigners who profoundly transformed the city of São Paulo, especially in the three working-class neighborhoods that give the work its title.
The São Paulo of the 20s of the 20th century still lives ingrained in the maçaroca that is the city of the 20s of the 21st century. . It’s another 22, and there will be many more.
At the beginning of the last century, São Paulo was only in its infancy in terms of cultural – and, by extension, gastronomic diversity. We had many Italians, some other Europeans and a large contingent of Japanese, who still caused strangeness and reactions of the most scandalous xenophobia.
What we have now is an immensely more varied panel of cultures and foods – from foreigners and the domestic migrants who have come over the years.
What’s cool is that the core of this cultural and gastronomic diversity continues in the areas around the city center. The coolest neighborhoods to dive into this São Paulo kaleidoscope are Brás (again), Bom Retiro and Liberdade.
Yes, I wrote “diving in this São Paulo kaleidoscope”. accept.
Brás, an old stronghold of Italians, expands to Pari and Canindé with Syrians, Palestinians, Chinese and, mainly, Bolivians. The market in Kantuta square, with beef heart skewers and flaming salteñas, is the best little obvious program for those who don’t mind air conditioning.
Bom Retiro, which was once Italian and Jewish, is now predominantly Korean. The community, before very closed, is the most modern and pop. At Bonra, you eat Korean barbecue made with a brazier in the middle of the table. He walks down the street with the corn dog, a sausage popsicle. He goes to a bar where young people are starched and listen to K-Pop – and there, he can order, without being surprised, a soup made with silkworm larvae.
Bom Retiro is also very Chinese and Paraguayan. It remains Jewish and Greek – there is still the legendary Acropolis, where customers choose their food in the kitchen.
Liberdade, the most central neighborhood of all, located behind the Sé cathedral, is a tourist trap that never ceases to surprise.
Every visit to Liberdade has a new place, a suspicious little door asking to be explored. There are Chinese from all over (including Canton) and Japanese who don’t sell sushi: they sell ramen, udon, tempura, Okinawan food, Hokkaido food.
It has Filipino restaurant, Afghan restaurant, Indian restaurant, Thai. If you go down the Rua dos Estudantes to the Glicério, you come across little doors that sell Haitian food.
São Paulo is not the gastronomy capital of the world, as it dreams of being. But it’s a place where the mix – I’m not going to write “cauldron of cultures”… I think I did – kind of makes up for the ugliness. I think.
I hate to love this city. And vice versa. Anyone who lives in this delight of hell knows what I’m talking about.
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