Brazilian beaches have the stereotype of being all about beautiful people, sun, and skin. We tend to think that big stereotype gets out just so people won’t discover the real reason Brazilians go to the beach: to have a great time with lots of food. So much so that Rio’s mayor recently declared beach vendors as part of the city’s cultural heritage. What follows is what we learned from multiple trips to beaches in Bahia over two months: our no-nonsense guide to enjoying one Brazil’s best full-service and sinfully gastrononmic experiences. Really!
1. Relax! You’re on a beach.
Brazilian beaches vary widely in quality, but we are here to tell you that while beach quality as judged by swimming or picturesqueness is important, going to a beach with good-quality food options and service more than makes up for that. In either case…
2. Don’t bring anything except a little money.
Why? Because everything you need will be provided to you. Free yourself of all of your worldly possessions, and come to the beach prepared to be pampered, Brazil-style. If you bring a lot of stuff to the beach, not only are you asking to get it stolen, you are going to immediately divorce yourself from the great fun of the beach market!
3. Pick a chair, and sit in it all day.
Any beach worth going to for the service will have a large set-up of chairs. Umbrellas too. Typically you can rent a chair for a few reais all day, or at some less-frequented beaches it is free. Pay the attendant whatever the going rate seems to be, and be this person’s friend: he or she is your one-stop shop to all the goods for the rest of the day.
See all these people? They know how to live life.
4. Survey the culinary landscape.
Remember when we said you got the chair all day? That means you have a ton of time to check out all the beach food. No, no, don’t get up from your chair! Yoou don’t need to, since the food comes to you. Tens of hundreds of beach food sellers, roaming amongst the beachgoers, selling whatever is on the market for the day. Investigate the offerings for a while: sit there and see what is being solid by the many roaming foodsellers, and if you can, check out the prices being paid by Brazilians. Also take a moment to sit in awe at the selection. Here, for example, is a shortlist of the food we encountered on a recent 2-hour beach excursion: soda, beer, fresh fruit juices, coffee, bottled water (with and without gas), picoles (popsicles), chips, queijo coalho, grilled shrimp, sandwiches, moquecas, oysters, sugarcane, cocadas (coconut cookies), roasted cashews, meat skewers, salgados (various savory fried snacks), fried fiesh, hard boiled eggs, acarajé, and cotton candy.
And this is only the food. There are a number of other items being sold by roaming sellers, like gum, suntan lotion, aloe, sunglasses, jewelry, kangas (Brazilian sarongs), dresses, hats, sandals, and towels. The world is at your disposal!
Picoleishion blasts cheesy Brazilian tunes from his colorful cart while selling the best picoles in Itaparica. He’s famous!
5. Sample everything.
After three months, we found this to be the best thing about Brazil’s street/beach market economy: nobody cares if you do not buy. Sample, sample, sample – but if you don’t want it, say no, thank you, give a thumb’s up to the seller, and go along with your day. They’ll give you a thumb’s up back, and move right along selling. No guilt tripping, no bargaining – especially on beaches where there are more than enough customers. It’s incredibly refreshing.
6. Get whatever you want!
You know those Brazilian steakhouses becoming so popular in the USA, where the meat comes to your plate as long as you ask for it? That’s how the beach is – wave people over, pay a little money to get as much or as little as you want, and keep buying and buying until you are full. Get full? Go swimming, relax, take in some sun, nap, wake up, and then eat more. Repeat ALL DAY, eating cheaper, better, and more comfortably than you could have in any restaurant.
So nice we posted this photo twice: beijus filled with chocolate and coconut on Ipanema beach.
You know you’re jealous.
7. Don’t necessarily avoid the crowds.
One of our best days on the beach was in two chairs absolutely packed in between other groups and families. We couldn’t even see the water. But you know what? People share! You make friends! And suddenly you realize the best part of the beach is not the water – it’s the community, the service, and the great food.
You’re welcome, travelers.