Rio de Janeiro's markets (known in Portuguese as feiras or mercados) provide some of the best, and most delicious, ways to connect with the city's vibrant local culture.
Delve into these buzzing dens of produce and banter to discover exotic fruits, uniquely Brazilian street food snacks and more substantial dishes that reflect Rio's intriguing mix of Portuguese, African and indigenous influences.
A feira livre is an open-air street market made up of 50-100 stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, spices and street food. In addition to the culinary delights, these markets provide a fantastic way to interact with everyday cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro). Stall holders are friendly (feel free to take photos of their colorful set-ups) and often repay a nod and a smile with a slice of flavor-packed fruit for you to sample. The Sunday feira next to Glória metro station is one of the biggest and often attracts samba or capoeira performers for some bonus entertainment.
- Caldo de cana: freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. The intense sweetness is best tempered with a generous squeeze of lime juice for the perfect pick-me-up, which also functions as a very effective hangover cure.
- Beiju de tapioca: tapioca starch (extracted from the native cassava root) is sprinkled into a hot pan until it forms a delightfully chewy pancake which can be topped with your choice of a sweet or savory addition. The classic sweet topping is coco com leite condensado, grated coconut with generous lashings of condensed milk.
- Jabuticaba: these glossy black berries contain a sweet-sour pulp surrounding one or two small seeds. Pop them like candy or crush a handful with sugar, cachaça (a high-proof sugarcane alcohol) and ice to make one of the greatest caipirinhas known to humanity.
- Atemoya: these bumpy, yellow-green fruit belong to the same family as the custard apple and soursop. Select one that feels like a ripe avocado, then break it open and devour the creamy white flesh that tastes like lemon custard.
Find it: Locations vary each day, but all feiras livres run from 7am to 1:30pm. Use the Onde Tem Feira website (ondetemfeira.com.br/riodejaneiro) to find the market locations for every day of the week.
Quick tip: Photographers are always welcome at these feiras and crime within the market zone is unheard of (the market traders simply won't stand for it). The spectacular chili pepper stalls display half a dozen varieties arranged in perfect rows and columns for the ultimate street market snap.
Feira de São Cristóvão (aka Feira Nordestina)
Also known as Feira Nordestina, this massive oval structure looks a lot like a sports stadium from the outside, but step inside and you'll discover a labyrinth of stalls, shops and restaurants packed with the best of all things nordestino (related to Brazil's northeastern region). Although partially open for lunch on weekdays, this feira really comes alive on weekends with dancing to live forró music (a popular genre in the northeast), mountainous portions of nordestino food and plenty of cheap drinks to keep the party rolling.
- Queijo coalho com melado: this firm, salty cheese is grilled on skewers and served with a pot of melado, a thick sugarcane syrup. The crispy, salty cheese pairs perfectly with the sweet syrup.
- Cabrito ensopado: a rich, velvety stew of goat, braised on the bone and served with potatoes.
Find it: Campo de São Cristóvão, São Cristóvão
Quick tip: Brazil's northeast region is known for high-quality handicrafts – especially crochet and embroidery. Browse the stores piled high with beautifully made clothes, tablecloths and bedspreads to pick up a bargain.
Located in the otherwise unremarkable neighborhood of Benfica, CADEG (pronounced 'caDEGGY') is a massive covered market spread over three floors. The stalls, snack bars and delis stock an eclectic mix of goodies, including enormous stacks of bacalhau (salt cod), exotic fruit ice creams, Brazilian beers, wines and cheeses. On Saturdays, Rio's Portuguese community congregates here for a lively party involving live music, all the classic Portuguese dishes and vast quantities of that most gluggable of Portuguese wines, vinho verde.
- Sanduiche de pernil: head to Adega Cesari (facebook.com/adegacesari) for this satisfying sandwich of slow roast pork shoulder served in a crusty white bread roll with lime wedges on the side.
- Sardinhas na brasa: whole fresh sardines are sprinkled with salt and perfectly grilled over charcoal at Cantinho das Concertinas (cadeg.com.br/cantinho-das-concertinas). These are only available on Saturdays and disappear quickly, so get your order in early to avoid missing out.
Find it: Rua Capitão Félix, 110, Benfíca
Quick tip: Arrive early on weekdays to see the impressive flower market section in full swing.
Feira Hippie de Ipanema
Feira Hippie – named after the long-haired progressives who founded it back in 1968 – is Rio's main open-air art market. It takes over busy Praça General Osório every Sunday, running from 7am to 7pm. As well as original works of art, there are stalls selling clothes, jewelry, hammocks and other assorted trinkets. The best food stands are located on the corner of the praça closest to the metro station.
- Acarajé: this rich, complex dish has its roots in the northeastern state of Bahia and, before that, West Africa. A smooth paste of black-eyed peas is fried in dendê (unrefined palm oil) until crispy, split open and stuffed with dried shrimp, several zingy nut- and okra-based condiments and optional hot sauce. The combination of textures and punchy flavors is like nothing else.
Find it: Praça General Osório, Ipanema
Quick tip: Praça General Osório is just a block from the beach and a short walk from Pedra do Arpoador, one of the best spots in Rio to watch the sunset.
Praça São Salvador
This charming, sleepy little square (facebook.com/pracasaosalvadordoriodejaneiro) in Laranjeiras is transformed every Sunday into a lively market which gradually turns into a laid-back party. The market stalls are split about 50-50 between food and non-food items. The non-food stalls sell a mix of clothes, art, jewelry and crafted goods – most of which are made by local artists and artisans. The food stalls offer comida caseira (home-cooked comfort food), cheap beers and Portuguese sweets.
- Caipirinha de Luizinho: Luizinho sells some of the most delicious (and potent) caipirinhas in the city. First decide whether you'd like your cocktail made with cachaça, vodka or sake; then move along to the center section of the stall where you can select from 5 or 6 different fruit combinations such as tangerine with ginger, pineapple with mint or red berries.
Find it: Praça São Salvador, Laranjeiras
Quick tip: A small chorinho (an informal, instrumental genre of music that developed in Rio in the late 19th century) band plays under the bandstand from 11am. On sunny days their sweet, melodic music can turn into mass singalongs involving half the market.
Feira das Yabás
Feira das Yabás (facebook.com/feira.yabas) is a monthly celebration of Afro-Brazilian food and music, located in the Zona Norte neighborhood of Oswaldo Cruz. The dominant feature of the market, which runs on the second Sunday of every month, is a group of 16 stalls selling classic Afro-Brazilian dishes. Each stall is run by one of the matriarchs from the local black community and this gives the market its name (Yabá is a term used in Afro-Brazilian religions for a female deity). Although the market is a 45-60 minute drive from the majority of the city's hotels and hostels, its low prices and unique cultural experiences easily compensate for the taxi fare.
- Galinha com quiabo: an essential dish in what you could call 'Brazilian soul food', this is a deeply satisfying stew of chicken and okra, served over creamy polenta.
- Carne seca com aipim frito: thankfully, carne seca is far more delicious than its translation ('dry meat') suggests. Dried, salted beef is cooked until tender, served on a bed of double-fried aipim (cassava) and topped with crunchy pork rinds and a good sprinkling of spices and fresh parsley.
Find it: Praça Paulo da Portela, Oswaldo Cruz
Quick tip: The headquarters of the Portela samba school is a couple of minutes' walk from the market, so music plays a big part in the day's events. Samba bands and guest musicians perform on a stage in the center of the market from 2pm onward.