Tuesday, July 1, 2014

São Paulo 10/3 - 10/6

Our last South American stop was São Paulo, where we paid a long overdue visit to some of my family that lives there.

But before spending time with the family, Laure and I explored the city by ourselves. The first stop was the Ibirapuera park, which is sort of like São Paulo's version of Central Park in NYC.
Ibirapuera park is arguably Brazil's most popular park located in the middle of São Paulo.

Next, we walked through the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. São Paulo has a unique type of pizza, which is thin crust loaded with toppings. We asked around for the best pizza place nearby, and two out of two people recommended the same place: Padaria Santa Tereza.
A typical Brazilian pizza loaded with toppings -- in this case, chicken and catupiry.
The pizza is accompanied with a caipirinha strong enough to knock out a horse.

Padaria Santa Tereza is a humble "people's place" where local workers enjoy their daily meals. The Portuguese word "padaria" literally translates to "bakery". In São Paulo, bakeries started out with Italian and French immigrants and then evolved into its own thing in Brazil. Today many bakeries such as Santa Tereza not only offer baked bread and pastries but they also serve meals from the counter sort of like a diner. We later found out Santa Tereza is one of Brazil's oldest bakery, founded in 1872. If you want to experience real São Paulo, you must eat lunch at a bakery like this. Just don't expect an English menu.

We were fortunate that the caipirinhas at the bakery were super strong, because after lunch we did something borderline insane: we took the metro at downtown São Paulo during rush hour. To understand why this is kind of crazy, you must consider that São Paulo is the world's 25th densest city with 9 thousand people per square kilometer. For reference, New York City has 2 thousand people per square kilometer. So there was a ton of pushing and shoving to simply board the train. It didn't help that we had decided to take delicate pastries back with us.
Many people like to read during their daily commute.

A memorable moment at the metro station was when a Brazilian woman started talking to Laure in Portuguese, in a typical Brazilian style of talking to strangers as if they were good friends. This one-sided conversation went on for a minute or two until the lady had to leave without ever realizing Laure did not speak Portuguese.

In hindsight, one of the best unexpected rewards of our visit to São Paulo was that I was able to give Laure a small glimpse of my experience growing up in Brazil -- from taking the metro to dealing with big crowds on the streets. One of the best throwbacks was when I spotted a colorful row of olherões -- the Brazilian public telephones.
A public telephone in Brazil is called "olherão", which literally translates to "big ear".

For the first few days in São Paulo, we stayed with one of my brothers and his kids, who kindly took care of us much of the time we were there.
Shoes confusion.

Next day, my brother took us to perhaps Laure's favorite place in São Paulo -- the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market), locally nicknamed Mercadão (Big Market). There you can find some of the best local and sometimes exotic produce.
Fruits at the Mercadão.
Pitaya, which is more commonly known as Dragon Fruit in the United States.
At the Mercadão, we found mostly the yellow variety.

After our visit to the market, my brother took us to Liberdade, the Japantown of São Paulo. The main reason for our visit was to go where some locals and magazines consider the best place for pastel in town: Pastelaria Yoka. A Brazilian pastel is a fast food of deep fried dough with a filling of choice. Its historical roots will probably never be known with certainty, but one popular theory is that it was first developed by Chinese immigrants trying to replicate spring roll recipes with Brazilian ingredients, and then later refined and popularized by Japanese immigrants with their knowledge of cooking gyozas.
My brother taking a bite into the tasty pastel.

Our next stop was Batman Alley, which is a hip up-and-coming spot where artists and young crowds like to mingle. São Paulo is a city that has banned large billboards advertisements and has a tolerance (if not admiration) for street art. And of that, Batman Alley has some of the best.
One of many murals of Batman Alley.
Laure blends in quite well!
Graffiti with actual plants.
This mural incorporates the trees over the wall.

We spent that night at my other brother's house, where we stayed the next day for what is mandatory at every Brazilian visit -- a churrasco (barbecue).
This time, Laure put aside her vegetarian preference for Brazil.
Laure hearts chicken hearts.
The host chef makes one mean caipirinha.
The kids are more tech-savvy than the father.
Brothers bonding.
It's hard to say goodbye, but a photo always helps.

It's funny how visiting family makes you miss them more.