It's me taken about a month to settle into a new rhythm and new surroundings in Rio de Janeiro. Figuring out what and how to eat is turning out to be something of a challenge now that I've become much more conscious about what's in my food and how it's produced. Back when I lived here in 2003 through 2004, I ate almost anything, meat on a stick barbecued on a street grill, snacks involving various combinations of meat + cheese enveloped in breaded, fried dough, or feijoada, the signature Brazilian black bean stew with assorted pig parts (tail to ear to feet). Now that I've transitioned from Anthony Bourdain to Alice Waters-style eating, I've become more attuned to the currents of "comida natural," or "natural foods" in Rio but am adapting and making up my guidelines as I go along, knowing I can't exactly reproduce my San Francisco alimentary habits and wanting to stay open to trying different kinds of foods here.
This market's a bit crazier than the one I used to go to in chic Ipanema (more shouting, more elbowing up in these parts), but I like its controlled chaos. And vendors in Glória still insist on a similar level of OCD rigor in their fruit and vegetable displays. Look at these charming kale doilies, used to decorate the bagged manioc (it was the end of the market, so most of the manioc was gone already).
Constant vigilance is necessary on the part of the consumer in selecting and purchasing produce. One must know the fair price (vendors can smell uncertainty in your approach, though some have their set prices written in chalk), be able to bargain quickly ("R$2 each? Okay, I'll take 3 mangoes for R$5, okay? Okay! Ta bom!"), and watch out for vendors pushing extra produce on you with practiced swiftness, i.e. you ask for a bunch of kale for R$2, and the vendor sneaks in two bunches and charges you R$4, or you merely glance in the direction of a box of custard apples and, vroosh!, it's bagged up and being handed to you and you couldn't possibly have the bad manners to turn it down.
Vendors here are generally more gregarious, more playful, than their American counterparts:
"Fala princesa! Diga-me freguesa!" "Speak, princess! Tell me, customer!"
"Look at these guavas, so rosy, they're blushing with shame!"
"Hey, bananas, papayas, on super sale, buy one bunch, get three! I'm getting out of here! I'm going home already!"
"Okay, miss, here's your dozen oranges, plus one extra for your parakeet! Or your cat, whichever."
When I picked up some hot peppers to try my hand at homemade hot sauce, I asked the man how to do it. He helped me choose a combination of long red, small green, and round orange peppers, told me the steps, and said gleefully, "The recipe is frrrree! Ha! FREE!" and slapped me on the back, grinning with pleasure at his own joke. He repeated it a few more times, then told me to "volte sempre," return always. I'll let him know how it turns out.
I got some interesting vegetables, pretty purple cabbage, a moon-pale green one, and a Portuguese nut called pinhão that I'm to boil in its shell. My online translator is telling me they are pinenuts (!) but they seem so huge compared to what I'm used to. I haven't boiled them yet, but will in the next couple days and report back.
The man who sold me my most interesting vegetables was a man of few words, more self-contained than the usual farmers' market vendor, and wished me "Paz e saúde" ("Peace and health") with my veggies. Here he is, rewriting the chalk sign for "pinhão," after the "o" got smudged:
Another thing I like at this market are the tapioca snack tents. They make tapioca "crepes" with fillings like banana and cinammon, a kind of beef jerky (carne seca), cheese and banana, cheese and coconut, or ham and cheese.
The tapioca flour gets dumped loose into a pan, where the heat and a little butter makes it stick together into a kind of grainy, kind of tasteless, but somehow pleasing, shell for your filling of choice.
Here, I'll peel it open so you can see the banana and cinnamon filling, yum!
After the market, I trudge with my heavy loads swinging off my arms back up the hill, taking the shortcut stairway to our Santa Teresa hideaway, where I think more about Glória and listen to Patti Smith.