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  • The San Juan Daily Star

36 hours in Sao Paulo, Brazil


Strolling outside the Museu do Ipiranga, a history museum that recently reopened after years of renovation, in São Paulo, Nov. 6, 2022.


By SETH KUGEL


São Paulo is a city for city people, where street art, street noise and street food cede, but only occasionally, to high design, high rollers and high-end restaurants. Thriving throughout are cultural institutions like the reopened Ipiranga Museum, a historical collection that questions history. Brazil’s biggest city has long attracted migrants and dreamers, making it a great place to explore the country’s kaleidoscopic variety of regional cuisines and musical genres. If crowded buses, clogged streets and 12 million people living in horizon-obliterating high-rises is too mega a megacity for your taste, at least stay a few days, breathe in the culture, spit out the exhaust fumes and be on your way with stories to tell.


ITINERARY

Friday

3 p.m. | Explore Brazil’s roots


Some 56% of Brazilians identified as Black or mixed race in 2021, and race relations here are as complex as they are in the United States, making the Afro-Brazil Museum in the city’s glorious Ibirapuera Park a must-see. The museum is at once an exuberant celebration of the contributions that the majority and their ancestors have made to the artistic, intellectual and economic life of the country, and a searing reminder — with the restored remains of a slave ship, instruments of torture and photographs of enslaved people — that Brazil was the last country in the Americas to fully abolish slavery, in 1888. Entry is 15 reais, or about $3.

5 p.m. | People-watch in the park


Stick around Ibirapuera, as there’s no better place to people-watch (or ride rental bikes, or drink coconut water) than the city’s gorgeous, democratic, monumental 400-acre central park, a magnet for Paulistanos of all backgrounds who come to walk their dogs, juggle their soccer balls, read their books and ride their skateboards all weekend long. Stroll the miles of paths, look for the Japanese Pavilion, as well as the Ibirapuera Auditorium and other works by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, and observe the city at play — you won’t see this much green again for the rest of the weekend.


8 p.m. | Have dinner in the park


Dining al fresco in São Paulo is not always so fresco, often accompanied by a bouquet of exhaust from motorbike engines. Escape the ruckus at Selvagem, just inside Gate 5 of Ibirapuera Park. Chef Filipe Leite has turned what was once a snack bar into one of the city’s most compelling dining venues, especially at night, when the park is largely empty. The cuisine at Selvagem (which means “savage”) celebrates contemporary takes on traditional Brazilian dishes like seafood stew with heart of palm or manioc fritters with cream-cheese-like requeijão. For dessert, Julieta and Romeu (Juliet and Romeo) is a boursin-style sheep’s milk cheese with a dollop of guava ice cream. Dinner for two, about 500 reais, with drinks.


11 p.m. | Listen to live music


Picking a place to sample live Brazilian music in São Paulo is like choosing a taco stand in Mexico City. Leave the more mainstream nightlife neighborhoods of Pinheiros and the city center behind and head east to the traditionally Italian Mooca neighborhood to check out Templo-Bar de Fé, exuberantly decorated with images and statues of figures from many religions, including Christianity, Hinduism and Afro-Brazilian Umbanda. Most nights feature samba groups, but Friday is devoted to sertanejo, the ultra-popular Brazilian version of country music. It’s a low-pressure, high-quality live music experience (entrance, 30 reais).


Saturday

10 a.m. | Shop for furniture


Pick up breakfast from Zestzing, a kinda-sorta French bakery with croissants (13 reais), and rich kouign-amann pastries originally from Brittany, but with toppings like peanut-brittle-like pé-de-moleque (17 reais). Then stroll through the Jardins district to Alameda Gabriel Monteiro da Silva. Nowhere can squat-but-curvy modernist Brazilian furniture be found in greater concentration than along this avenue. Your starting point is Dpot, where you’ll find furnishings from celebrated Brazilian designers like Sergio Rodrigues, Lina Bo Bardi and Carlos Motta. Then head south until you reach Dpot Objeto, which offers ceramics, pillows and other items that you can both afford and fit in your suitcase.


Noon | Test your taste buds

You can try just about any kind of Brazilian regional cuisine in São Paulo, from the fiery dishes of Salvador in the northeast to the hearty, porky soul food of Minas Gerais state. But until recently, there was nowhere to try the cuisine from the Amazonian state of Acre. Arrive early for lunch at homey Casa Tucupi, named after the delightfully sour broth made from manioc root that forms the base of the must-try tacacá soup, served with mouth-numbing jambu leaves and shrimp (or mushrooms for vegetarians). Many of the dishes feature Amazonian river fish you’ll rarely or never see back home. Lunch for two is around 250 reais.


2 p.m. | Rethink history


According to traditional accounts, the soon-to-be-emperor Dom Pedro declared Brazilian independence beside the Ipiranga River on Sept. 7, 1822. A palace-like monument, built to commemorate the moment, eventually became the Ipiranga Museum. The museum closed in 2013 for repairs and recently reopened on Brazil’s bicentennial (Sept. 7). The exhibits are often contrarian, taking a sharply critical view of the way history is traditionally taught, down to the explanation of 19th-century painter Pedro Américo’s room-size painting “Independence or Death,” which depicts the moment when Dom Pedro, on horseback, declared independence from Portugal. Exhibits include household items, historic photos and a sound-and-light show projected onto a full-scale model of São Paulo in 1841. Free entry until Dec. 6, then 30 reais.


7 p.m. | Try a favorite dish: sushi


São Paulo has the biggest ethnically Japanese population of any city outside Japan, so it is not a surprise that sushi competes with pizza and Lebanese esfihas for the most popular dish brought by 20th-century immigration. No one competes with Jun Sakamoto and his namesake restaurant for a high-end, low-key, Michelin-starred omakase experience for a reasonable 400 to 500 reais. Reserve at the bar well in advance and Jun himself may serve you luscious slices of tuna, salmon and mackerel and, perhaps, slightly sweet eel tempura with a touch of tongue-tingling sansho peppercorn.


10 p.m. | Have a fluid experience


Casa Fluida opened last year in an eclectic space that welcomes a LGBTQ and straight crowd, making “fluid” an appropriate moniker. Same with “casa” — this is, indeed, a house, with three stories to explore with caipirinha or beer in hand while you view art exhibits, lounge on balconies or socialize in the stairwell. At 10 p.m. (Thursday to Saturday) comes the main event, an hourlong drag show featuring not just sassy pros but a brave layperson who pays 120 reais for a drag “experience” — including a two-hour makeup session upstairs with resident drag queen Mahina Starlight. She’ll help you choose an outfit, but you choose the song for your upcoming lip-sync performance (entrance, 5 reais).


Sunday

9:30 a.m. | Take an elevated walk


Following the worst tradition of 20th-century urban planning, the elevated highway cutting through a stretch of downtown São Paulo split neighborhoods in half and contributed to urban decay. The silver lining: These days what is officially the João Goulart Elevated Highway but is more commonly called, with tongue-in-cheek affection, the Minhocão (Big Worm), closes each weekend to traffic and opens up to cyclists and pedestrians who amble along, craning their necks to see glorious, massive works of art painted on the sides of high-rises. Enter near the Santa Cecília metro station, first making a pit stop at the nearby farmers market for traditional pastéis (fried Brazilian empanadas) and sugar cane juice.


10:30 a.m. | Indulge in sweets


Stock up on candy that you’ve never heard of — and that your friends back home will love — at Doces Santa Teresinha (Rua das Palmeiras 135, in the Santa Cecília area), one of dozens of bombonieres, or bonbon shops, in town. Some may like Bis, the poor man’s Kit Kat, or pé de moleque, the Brazilian peanut brittle. But the treat that creates lifelong addicts is paçoca, crumbly blocks of sweetened ground peanuts. A bucket of 20 will run you 37.75 reais, but you’d better get two, since the first will be gone before you get off the plane.


1 p.m. | Have a pan-Latin meal


From 1993 to 2021, Cidade Matarazzo, a sprawling landmark hospital complex in the Bela Vista neighborhood, stood vacant — beautiful but crumbling — amid some of the most expensive real estate in São Paulo. Last year, it began its next chapter when the Rosewood São Paulo became the first of its new establishments to open. Among the hotel’s pricey restaurants and bars, irresistible Taraz stands out as a more informal pan-Latin treat, casually elegant and reasonably priced. Among its delicious offerings are smoked rib sliders on pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese buns). Should the weather cooperate, sit outdoors for live salsa amid a stylized orchard of olive trees. Lunch for two, about 400 reais.


KEY STOPS


Ipiranga Museum surveys Brazil’s history with a contrarian twist.

The Minhocão, an elevated highway, closes to weekend traffic, allowing pedestrians to admire provocative murals.


Selvagem, a restaurant in a park, specializes in updated traditional Brazilian dishes.


WHERE TO EAT


Zestzing puts a Brazilian spin on French pastries, perfect for breakfast on the run.

Casa Tucupi specializes in Amazonian food, including flavorful tacacá soup.


Jun Sakamoto excels in sushi — in a city with the biggest urban Japanese population outside Japan.


Taraz offers pan-Latin food in an elegant setting both inside and outside.


WHERE TO STAY


Rosewood São Paulo, which recently opened in the heart of the city, is filled with Indigenous art, historical photos and other Brazil-centric objects (rates start around 3,000 reais, or about $562).


At the sleek Renaissance São Paulo, just off Paulista Avenue in the trendy Jardins neighborhood, prices range widely by date, but recently started at around 1,300 reais.


Vila Galé Paulista, also off Paulista, is a moderately priced option, with comfortable, modern rooms from about 570 reais a night.


Vacation rentals are popular in São Paulo; look for spots in trendy Pinheiros or homey Vila Mariana for as little as $30 a night.


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