The street markets in the city of São Paulo offer special treats for those shopping. They unite very different types of produce stands. You can find not only very old Japanese immigrant families offering a huge variety of well known and less known vegetables, but also Portuguese merchants selling potatoes and dry goods, wonderful cheeses brought from inland Minas Gerais, and a lady that sells bundled herbs for traditional Afro-Brazilian dishes.
Close to the flower section, there are a couple of stands that offer freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. This is a traditional Brazilian drink, a fresh by-product of sugar production. The sugar level in the juice is around 50% of the content, and is not very nutritious (lacking in many vitamins and minerals). But nobody really seems to care. Brazil is a country that as a general rule believes “the sweeter the better”. So, the caldo de cana – the sugarcane juice – is a perfect drink. The stands are family owned, very original looking and non-franchised.
At the market stands the juice is served plain or with fruit syrups such as guava, passion fruit, ginger or lemon. They are quite tasty, and I am always reminded that this is why I must visit the city markets—to travel to and taste new flavors. At the same stands it is also possible to drink fresh, or as we Brazilians call it, green coconut water.
Originally the juice vendors operated out of street carts, where customers had to compete with the bees to get a glass. Now it is one of the most popular and attractive drinks of São Paulo.
Another original Brazilian drink, mate, is not available in the fresh produce markets in São Paulo, but can be found at the beach in Rio. Mate, is an indigenous leaf in Brazil, and can be prepared either hot as a black tea or cold, sometimes with a wedge of lemon and of course a huge amount of sugar. I recommend: two tablespoons of sugar for two pints of water will make a very strong mate tastier. More on mate next time…
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