Oh boy, what a first impression of Brazil: I arrived hungry in Corumba after a 17-hour train ride from Bolivia. But there was not a single vegetarian (let alone vegan) restaurant to be found, although the city was reasonably big. Hmmm….The same applied in the next town, Bonito. And the more I asked around the more it dawned on me: Brazilians simply LOVE meat! On a festival I visited there was not a single food stall without meat and when I say meat I’m talking obscenely huge Flintstones portions!
Oh boy, this is going to be a challenge but there was light at the end of the tunnel: slightly panicky I asked Happy Cow for help and here was the instant relief: 381 results for São Paulo!! So I didn’t waste any more time, kissed the otherwise beautiful Pantanal good bye and headed to the biggest city of the Southern Hemisphere.
In search of vegan bliss, São Paulo, here I come!
The first place I visited was Alcaparra! (Av Pompeii 2544). Ricardo opened this place in 1981, so he’s been around a while. What an institution! His restaurant is vegetarian with lots of vegan options. It’s buffet style and he’s more than happy to guide you through all his food and tell you exactly what’s in it. You can even refill your plate as often as you want so relax and don’t go wild with your first one and pile it up too much, for decency’s sake!
Banana Verde (Rua Harmonia 278) is a highly recommendable and super cosy restaurant with exzellent service that opened in 2006 in the bohemian neighborhood of Vila Madalena. It’s vegetarian with an extra vegan menu with heaps of options for the happy herbivore. The friendly chef Priscilla Herrera studied gastronomy and later received her training in NY at the famous „Dirty Candy Restaurant“. She said her intention is to create healthy Brazilian food which is tasty plus something to look at. You eat with your eyes first, right?! Of course only organic vegetables are being used because Priscilla admitted she „fell in love with vegetables“. So you only get the best of them! And I can confirm: I had the black risotto with an incredibly yummy red wine sauce and the stuffed squash with mushrooms and hummus and loved it! And don’t you dare missing out on those vegan cakes! If you’re in for people watching, I recommend coming to Banana Verde at the weekend as this is when the hipsters come here to dine.
Veganeria Stuzzi (Rua Harmonia 506) is relatively new, they opened a year and 3 month ago. If you’re after a decent coffee and vegan cake- this is the place to go!
Apart from good coffee in all thinkable variations (cappuccino, espresso, mocha and cafe Piemonte with vegan Nutella) there’s dairy-free ice cream, cake and savory muffins, quiches with dry tomato and vegan cheese and more.
Maha Mantra (Rua Fradique Coutinho 766) is at least 90% vegan, only occasionally you’ll find (homemade) Joghurt or cheese on the side. What a pity that it’s only open for lunch, from 12-3pm. Fernando, the owner explained that the menu differs pretty much depending on what veggies are available at their organic farm of choice. So whatever they buy will be sitting beautifully on your plate some hours later. You’ll get some high quality drinks as well, such as Kombucha, fresh mixed fruit juices, home made ginger ale and more. Treat yourself with some vegan desserts!
There is a 100% vegan fast food place that specializes in Falafel which is pretty darn good called Maoz Vegetarian (Rua Augusta 1532). You get 5 delish falafel balls and stuff your pita-bread yourself with all sorts of salads and sauces. The only downside: They use way too much plastic. If every customer complains about that, they actually might rethink their sales philosophy…
I really liked Casa Jaya (Rua Capote Valente 305). It is is completely vegan and their philosophy is to use organic ingredients from small producers from the area. Piter, one of the three owners who started the project 10 years ago told me from back then, when there weren’t too many vegan places around in São Paulo. According to him, the number of plant-based restaurants in the city gradually increased, especially in the last three years. Piter showed me around on the lovely property and explained the ecological structure of the place: among other things they collect rainwater which is used for the toilets and use a so-called aquaponic hydro culture watering system in their little garden in which they grow their own salads and veggies. Also, they have a compost for the organic waste of course. But Casa Jaya is not only a restaurant but it turns to „Cafe Veredas“ in the afternoon and at night (till 10pm), a cultural center with lots of workshops and lessons like yoga or drum therapy. In the adjacent small store you can buy books, shirts, tofu and drinks, beauty products and prints from different artists. But hey, I came here for the restaurant, right!? Well, it offers a buffet style menu (all natural ingredients) plus the choice of two mains. When I was there, it was a Greek Moussaka and an Asian Chopsuey, both of which were fantastic.
Luckily some friends recommended Sushi Mar Vegano (Al. Campinas 1287), so I didn’t miss out on what was for me one of the gastronomic highlights of São Paulo. What. A. Feast. I ordered the lunch special because I was overwhelmed by the many choices, so the package deals seemed like an easy way out. Take a look at some of the pics I took and you’ll understand the love and passion these guys put into it. With so much eye for details they created little pieces of art that, when devoured, unleashed their full range of tastes to seduce your palate to the fullest. It only opened in December 2017 after more and more people had asked for vegan options in the original Sushi Mar, only one house further down the street. So they opened the vegan branch and despite the occasional customer looking for raw fish and leaving again after finding out that no dead animals are being offered here, it’s very successful, especially at the weekends. I see no reason why it shouldn’t!
When your planning on visiting both cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (lucky you!), you are well advised to break up the journey because arguably some of Brazil’s best beaches are scattered along this particular stretch of coastline. From São Paulo, the first beach stop was in Ubatuba. There is enough infrastructure that you are even blessed with two vegetarian places which is definitely more than I expected!
The first one is Padaria Integrale (Rua Doutor Esteves da Silva 360), a cafe/deli/bakery/restaurant. It was born in the end of 2004, when João Corbisier left Sao Paulo for Ubatuba. He sold bread from door on his bicycle before over the years it slowly grew to the quality lacto-ovo bakery it is today (they even claim to be Brazil’s very first wholegrain bakery!). They focus and foster on sustainable and regional trade, including many organic farmers in their suppliers network. All their dough is enriched with fiber and beer yeast and they neither use preservatives nor chemical additives. Sit outside on the sundeck and have a sandwich (all breads are vegan), a savory pasty or pie or some or their vegan cakes like the Thai blancmange with mango, coconut and spices or the apple/banana/cinnamon sweet role that I enjoyed.
The second option is Espaço Terra Viva (Av. Thomaz Galhardo 596) which has been making conscious customers happy for 3 years already. You are spoiled for choice as as far as the drink options are concerned: mixed juices, detox, lassies or the classic natural and fresh coconut. But you also get all sorts of nuts, dried fruits (that they dried themselves), spices some vegan and vegetarian snacks like pastries and tortes. The owner Rafael also offers reiki massage, Aroma Therapy and other treatments.
Fortunately, several vegan friends recommended their favorite restaurants prior to my visit to beautiful Rio de Janeiro, so I came here expecting a culinary treat. I wasn’t so wrong…
Near my hostel between the lovely neighborhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa I found Las Vegans (Rua Riachuelo 109). It’s is a vegan restaurant that opened one and a half years ago where you’ll get a excellent lunch buffet. In the evening though, this place transforms into a hip fast food restaurant/bar with good music and a certain party vibe which fits perfectly into the lively Lapa neighborhood. Sometimes, they even host different events such as Jazz nights, Claudia Steinert, one of the the staff members, told me. No wonder that Las Vegans attract very different people depending on when you come and eat here: business men/women on their lunch hour or or party people on their night out.
TreVo Vegetariano (Rua da Alfângeda 100) is a vegetarian Bistro with several vegan options, such as various pastries, samosas or different vegan cakes and cookies. It’s perfect for a quick bite when you are in the area.
Teva (Av. Henrique Dumont, 110) blew my mind today: the dishes are 100% plant-based, made with fresh ingredients, harvested locally and as organic as possible, as Daniel, the owner told me. All items are cholesterol, dairy, egg and honey free. The menu is a vegan dream come true: Tacos with barbecued jackfruit, Arabian mezze, crusted and fried hiratake mushrooms, seamed and seared Nepalese dumplings, a lentil ragout with smoked mini carrots and garlic sautéed collard greens or crispy potatoes on lupine bean creamy cheese sauce and fried tofu shreds. Heaven! And I haven’t even mentioned the mouth watering desserts with baklava, layer cake and passion fruit mousse and an extensive drink menu. Or simply drop by for lunch between 12 and 4pm for a reasonably prized set menu. What are you waiting for?!
Bio Carioca (Rua Xavier da Silveira 28) nearby Copacabana beach began 8 years ago as a vegetarian restaurant (which it still is). But in the course of time, it has been including more and more vegan options, such as risottos, tarts, organic salads and more. I had two excellent vegan pizzas for example with a crispy thin base and palm hearts, sun dried tomatoes and tofu. Each day there is a different lunch menu with many choices, all to top bargain prices. Bio Carioca is not open in the evening on Sunday and Monday. Arthur, one of the staff members, stressed the health benefit of meat free nutrition, which seems to be the key aspect of the restaurant.
Even after three failed attempts (I seemed to pick those branches which already closed for good), I still didn’t give up and finally made it to another Hare Burger (Rua de Piscobde de Pirajá 152) that was open, hooray!! This vegetarian fast food chain in the Copacabana neighborhood offers two vegan burgers (the others can be veganized), yummy starters like jackfruit croquettes or nachos with guacamole, salad, the „Hare-Dog„, shakes and the ever present Acai. Weekdays, there is a lunch offer of four different dishes for 26 RS. It’s a pity though that they seem down the same road with the concept of animal rights but produce about as much rubbish as an ordinary fast food joint: the sauce comes in a little plastic pot, the burgers are wrapped, the drinks are in plastic cups and so on. Veganism is environmentalism!
Some restaurants come and go (see above…) but the Vegetarian Social Club (Conde de Bernadotte Street 26) was not only the very first vegan restaurant in Rio (!) and has the greatest name but also has been the right place for 17 years when it comes to vegan food. The small and charming place has an organic menu with items such as pizzas, pancakes, a buffet lunch, the famous feijoada and much much more. So much more in fact that it took me a good 15 minutes to make up my mind and chose a dish: finally I went for Tempeh wrapped in nori seaweed with potatoes, onion olive and broccoli-rice. Also, I tried palm heart and shimeji stroganoff with rice and crispy yam straws and manioc cream with coconut milk and shiitake on broccoli, carrot and rice. Delish!!! In the bohemian atmosphere of Leblon you can also come here for vegan titbits on a Friday and Saturday with organic beer and wine. Very tempting also: the delivery service (call 212294-5200) in case you don’t wanna get up from that comfy couch…
Prana (Rua Lopes Quintas 37) near the lovely Botanical Garden opened in Rio four years ago, but only recently moved to this current address. These guys make it really easy for you to decide as they only have two super-fresh lunch options (open 12-4pm), one vegetarian and one vegan. So that’s sorted. If you are a sweet tooth however, it’s getting a bit more complicated since all the desserts are vegan, gluten-free and look (and taste) fantastic! The three partners Marcos, Ammi and Guillerme who are friends since they were little had the idea to create healthy high quality food with the best (and foremost organic) ingredients they can find so that people really notice the difference. And their customers seem to appreciate this approach: many regular customers are known by the staff and actually addressed by name! But probably more than 80% of the customers are not even vegetarian (not even the owners!) but keep returning to Prana because they enjoyed and simply appreciate excellent food. Other aspects are sustainability (trash separation and the reduction of plastic) and the price policy (Good food has its price but there have been little price changes since they opened). If you are looking for some relaxation: there are Yoga, meditation and other classes in the 2nd floor in the morning…
The last stop of my journey is sunny Recife in the north of Brazil.
Tiny Bigode Verde (Galeria Recife Trade Center, Av. Cons. Arguiar, 1472-lj. 40) is 100% vegan. The owner Marcîlio Batista explained his mission of conserving the health of the community by using 100% natural products, fresh and veggies and fruits from local farmers. Also, no sugar, extra water or artificial conservatives are being added and most of the dishes are gluten-free. Interesting to me was that through a certain freezing method he claims to maintain 5 times as many vitamins in the ingredients. Pretty impressive, huh!? On the menu you’ll find different flavored Kombuchas, Smoothies and other revitalizing juices. To eat you can chose between a Detox-Soup, 8 different salads (I had the chili bean with guacamole, peppers and tofu), sandwiches and wraps for bargain prices. They accept bitcoins (if that’s convenient for you) and offer a delivery service for all those lazy vegan couch potatoes out there (81-30333404, WhatsApp: 81-99642070)!
O Vegetariano (Rua Conde D’eu, 118) surely is an institution: it opened 18 years ago as a vegetarian restaurant which was a bit of a risky move in a country of meat lovers. But Rejane Silva, one of the two owners and head chef, was convinced of the benefits of a cruel-free nutrition and very determined to take on this challenge. And she succeeded to the point that three years ago she even decided with her partner to become one of the very first vegan restaurants in Recife. She got interested in the connection of nature and a certain spirituality connected with nutrition by the Hare Krishnas. The care and love for all creatures was what got her and as she loved to cook (and still does!) nutrition is her way of putting a loving philosophy into action. This explains the connection with friends of Greenpeace and the membership of Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (svb.org.br). At O Vegetariano you’ll be spoiled by choice on a diverse lunch buffet and pay by the kilo (bargain!). I was impressed by the huge variety of dishes, especially when I learned that they change their menu every day. Sustainability is important for Rejane so she buys at organic markets only.
Visit this blog regulary or simply FOLLOW to find out more about vegan & vegetarian restaurants in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other places in Brazil. There is definitely a lot more to come soon!!