From Carnival To Culinary Excellence: Inside Sao Paulo

PSFK delves deep into the South American metropolis and explores the indomitable Brazilian spirit.

PSFK has partnered with the Lincoln Motor Company on Hello Again, a series that rediscovers global urban centers to showcase the innovative cultural, artistic and culinary happenings that are putting these destinations on the map. 

When you think of Brazil, you think of the sun, the beach, and Carnival. Landlocked and with unreliable weather, São Paulo, the largest metropolis in South America, is not the first on many tourists to-do lists — but increasingly, it should be. For what it lacks in sand and surf, it makes up for in cultural vibrancy, culinary delights and a relentless nightlife that all contribute to its effervescent Brazilian spirit.

Begin a day in São Paulo by heading to Vila Madalena, a hilly neighborhood that has been transformed from student hangout (where cheap beer and late night samba were de rigueur) to the place to find independent stores showcasing Brazilian designers. With an influx of quirky boutiques, it is now where the trendiest of Paulistanos (São Paulo locals) come to shop.

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Case in point is UMA, the flagship store for the fashion brand of the same name, by designer Raquel Davidowicz. Her clothing reflects a minimalist aesthetic — sleek women’s blouses, skirts, and dresses, as well as men’s jeans and shirts displayed against low-lit white walls. But the space also boasts a certain Brazilian vibrancy, with pops of color throughout. The store not only sells conceptual tailoring-meets-sportswear clothing, but also hosts art installations and has a restaurant, Di Cafe Lounge, which serves home-style cooking and finger food to Brazil’s fashionistas.

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While still in the Vila Madalena area, if you’re in the mood for some art, head to Beco de Batman (‘Batman’s Alley’), which is a free display of the finest street art that São Paulo has to offer. Originally just a narrow alleyway, it has morphed into an open-air gallery with a constantly evolving collection of colorful graffiti. It is guaranteed that no two visits will be the same. To find more traditional art, and some greenery in this city of concrete, head to the Ibirapuera Park, a 400-acre respite from the never-ending buzz. There are plenty of trails, lagoons, and monuments to gaze at, but it is also a park filled with interesting buildings designed by noted Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. These include the glass-walled Museum of Modern Art and the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, which holds the Museum of Contemporary Art and the exhibition space for the São Paulo Biennial Art Show, the second oldest biennial in the world after Venice. Wander around the park then pop into the museums to view 20th century pieces by international and local artists.

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Brazil produces a third of the world’s coffee, so while in São Paulo, you’d be remiss not to sample some of the local brew at Octavia Café. This café, located in the upscale Jardins district, is no ordinary java house, but rather, an immersion into the world of coffee. Everything references the bean, from the exterior design that is shaped like a giant wooden coffee cup, to the interior where the color scheme is based on the life cycle of the bean from green to roasted. The wooden floors harks back to the wood used in old coffee farms. Intoxicating aromas of freshly ground and brewed java wafts through the large lounge, where Paulistanos sit in Eames-style swivel chairs and are served coffee in every possible way that it can be brewed, with a special tasting menu for true lovers of the bean. Should you wish become a connoisseur, there is a coffee university on the first floor where you can learn the secret of making the perfect Octavia brew.

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If São Paulo is known for one thing, other than being the hardest working city in Brazil, it’s the culinary scene. As a buzzing urban center of 11 million people, representing a variety of ethnicities, there is no want for choice in this city. But to understand the Brazilian culture, one must try the food. Venture to Dalva e Dito, a casual dining establishment by internationally famed Brazilian chef Alex Atala, who is known for his globally ranked restaurant D.O.M., where Amazonian ingredients are transformed into unique dishes. Dalva e Dito is Atala’s homage to traditional Brazilian home-cooked food, such as cured meats and feijoada — rice and beans to us. Dalva e Dito is simultaneously modern and rustic. The design plops you straight into the Brazilian countryside with real adobe walls, half-sanded long wooden tables and food served in clay pots. The food originates from an open kitchen, family-style a la française, with waiters at tableside finishing off the final flourishes of deceptively complex dishes. This is ultra-refined Brazilian comfort food in the heart of São Paulo.

Paulistanos work hard, and party even harder, with many starting the night after the clock strikes midnight. If you want to experience underground São Paulo, head to Jazz Nos Fundos, which literally translates as ‘Jazz in the background.’ This jazz club may be hard to find, hidden behind a parking lot, but once inside, you’ll appreciate the effort to get there. Decorated randomly with refurbished junk from the streets — everything from sewing machines to airplane parts — the star is the music on offer. You can grab a small candlelit table near the front and sway all night long. Should you tire of the music, during the intermission, silent movies, animated film shorts and photos are projected on the walls, and the entrance hosts a small gallery exhibiting young Brazilian artists.

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If jazz isn’t your thing, then head to the ultimate house party in São Paulo at Casa 92. This is a 1950s-style Paulistano house reinvented into a club with each room decorated in a different style, with sofas, family portraits and a roaring fire when the nights turn cold. Wandering through the house is part of the experience, till you get to the party out back, where there are three courtyards, each with a dance floor, bar and DJs spinning into the wee hours.

While São Paulo may lack the beauty of Rio de Janeiro, and has weather that can be unpredictable, it is still the cultural capital of Brazil, with plenty of artistic endeavors and culinary delights to inspire a traveler. It is Brazil as you have never seen it, a concrete jungle amidst the rainforest, but pulsing with the Brazilian vibrancy, rhythm and energy that you would expect.

Hello Again

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