Make no mistake about it. Brazilians are not all the same. In fact, there’s a huge rivalry between the Cariocas of Rio and the Paulistas of Sao Paulo, with both factions believing that they have the best city in all of Brazil.
For a tourist, there’s just no comparison. While Rio is blessed with 2 of the world’s most famous beaches, natural beauty everywhere you look, fresh juice stands on every corner and a people with a sunny outlook on life, Sao Paulo has Paulista Avenue and…um…a nice Starbucks?
To be fair, we didn’t spend all that much time in Sao Paulo, and huge cities do tend to require a lot of time to explore, discover and appreciate. Ipanema Beach and Christo the Redeemer are obvious draws – it takes but a second to be wowed by these sights, but to find that amazing, trendy restaurant or nightlife spot in a city that spans 1500 square km is a little more difficult.
The overcast, rainy skies during our 2 day visit didn’t do much to decrease our impression of the city as a grey, concrete jungle, with equally grey-looking people to match. Our walk downtown on a Sunday afternoon didn’t do anything to correct our first impressions either. There are not many cities where we feel truly unsafe, but there were some streets that we ended up on in the core, that we immediately turned and ran away from. Very sketchy vibes indeed.
There was one part of Sao Paulo that we’d been looking forward to for weeks though – the Japanese Liberdade district. Sushi’s a bit of an obsession for us, and by the time we hit Sao Paulo, we were jonesing for it. The craving had to be satisfied.
As luck would have it, Sao Paulo has the 2nd largest population of Japanese, outside of Japan, and to us that meant only one thing. Good sushi!!! The fact that we were in Brazil, meant that the odds of getting all-you-can-eat sushi in the rodizio style were high.
We wandered around the neighbourhood, checking out different restaurants and finally settled on the one that seemed to offer the greatest variety of fish for our money. We ended up with a huge platter of salmon, various types of tuna and octopus, as well as gyoza, mushrooms and sushi rolls. The cost for both of us? R$116 or C$60. Pretty pricey!
The verdict: We were disappointed. The sushi seemed pretty fresh, with good texture, but it didn’t have much flavour. It’s not that it was inedible, it was fine, just not what we had hoped for. Of course, that didn’t stop us from eating up the whole plate. 😉
And yes, it really was all-you-can-eat. We were barely able to finish the first plate, but staff still came around and offered another! (we declined)
Granted, we have pretty high sushi expectations. With it’s close proximity to Japan, we’ve been pretty spoiled for sushi in Korea, and nothing could possibly beat having sushi next to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market at 7 in the morning, when the fish is the freshest.
Oh well. Sayonara Sao Paulo!
To get to the Liberdade District: Take the metro to either Liberdade or São Joaquim stop.
Where we stayed in Sao Paulo: Olah Hostel: a decent private room with clean, shared bathrooms and good breakfast for R$110.