Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Jan. 2014)

Brazil may be known for its churrascarias and other meat feasts, but I never went hungry in Rio de Janeiro.  From its juice bars to first-class restaurants, Rio is an excellent destination for vegetarian travelers.

For authentic Brazilian cuisine, check out one of the city's many por quilo restaurants, where you can serve yourself and pay for only what you put on your plate.  Cost is based on weight, so this is a really affordable option for vegetarians (none of my meals cost more than $15.00).  Most of these places are very casual, and some are nicer (and cleaner) than others.  But they all offer countless vegetarian options, with a wide variety of salads, fruits and vegetables, meat-free beans (be sure to confirm that they are "sem carne" if you're unsure), rice, farofa (toasted maniac flour, but make sure you get the kind without bacon bits), and plantains, among other items.  Check out this article from The Rio Times for more information about por quilo dining. 

The nicest por quilo restaurant I found was Broth, which is housed in a charming 1939 Ipanema chalet and is open only for lunch.  The food was fresh and the vegetarian selections were hearty.  See below for a picture of my self-assembled meal.

My por quilo meal at Broth included meat-free black and brown beans, farofa, white rice, tomato salad, garbanzo salad, and green salad.

For cuisine from Brazil's northeast region, check out the cheery, vegetarian-friendly Cafe do Alto in Santa Teresa, Rio's historic downtown neighborhood.  The restaurant has an extensive menu (available in English) with vegetarian markers identifying which dishes are meat-free (vegans may have trouble here, however, as most of the vegetarian dishes seem to contain cheese).  I was excited to try a tapioca crepe (popular Brazilian snack and street food) with queijo coalho (typical Brazilian cheese).  

Cafe de Alto offers an English-language menu that clearly identifies vegetarian dishes.
Tapioca crepe with coahlo cheese and roasted tomato at Cafe do Alto
Like most large cities, Rio de Janeiro also has a number of restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian or vegan.  Biocarioca in Copacabana was so close to my hotel that I couldn't resist eating there several times during my one-week stay.  The restaurant offers an extensive regular menu as well as a lengthy daily menu of specials, making the choices overwhelming.  The cuisine is casual and healthy (soups, salads, sandwiches, omelets, etc.), so it is a perfect place to stop after a day at the beach.  Both menus also clearly identify which items are vegan and gluten-free (a limited number of menus in English also are available upon request).  I became addicted to their tofu quiches (all vegan) and freshly squeezed juices.

Green and black olive tofu quiche, green salad, and carrot ginger soup at Biocarioca
Homemade veggie burger patty (made with brown rice, grains, and nuts) served with a spicy mango chutney at Biocarioca

Finally, Rio has no shortage of international cuisine.  It seems like there is a Japanese sushi restaurant on every block, where you can get typical Asian dishes like edamame, vegetable spring rolls, and noodle dishes.  Manekineko, which has several locations around the city, uses vegetarian markers on its menu to help diners identify meat-free items.  I enjoyed the shitake mushrooms and vegetable yakisoba at the Leblon location.  

But one of my favorite meals was at Arab, an upscale Middle Eastern restaurant right on Avenida Atlantica in Copacabana, where you can dine outdoors while staring at the ocean.  The hummus and falafel were some of the best I've ever had, and the freshly baked pita was heavenly.

Freshly baked pita, hummus, and tabboule at Arab
Perfectly prepared falafel at Arab
Another first-class restaurant in Copacabana is the Barcelona-style Spanish tapas restaurant El Born (the link will take you to the restaurant's Yelp page, since it does not seem to have a website), named after the Barcelona neighborhood of the same name (click here to read my post about the real Barcelona).  There are a number of meat-free tapas on the menu.  My favorite was this bocadillo (sandwich) of Spanish tortilla and fresh tomato.

Spanish tortilla sandwich with tomato at El Born

TIP:  Following my own advice on the Travel Tips page of this website, I booked a hotel based on rave reviews it received for the included breakfast buffet (and excellent service, among other things).  Each day I began my meal with scrambled eggs or a made-to-order omelet, accompanied by an endless selection of fresh fruit, cheese, pastries, and juices.  If you're looking for a nice place to stay with a wonderful breakfast, Hotel Miramar by Windsor will not disappoint.