I don´t know if I´ve mentioned or emphasized enough that Florianópolis is Brazil´s oyster capital. The best oysters are here, and yes, they are practically worshiped.
Ribeirão da Ilha, a cute neighborhood here in the island, is where most of the oyster cultivation occurs.
I must confess I was never too fond of oysters. Until I moved to Floripa. Every weekend my boyfriend and I indulge in ridiculous amounts of seafood, mostly fish and shrimp, until one day he said: “let´s try the oysters”. “Raw oysters?… Really?” I asked, a bit skeptic. I had always heard from my uncle, a hepatologist, that raw oysters are dangerous (food poisoning and stuff). But… we went for it and were truly happy after all.
Santa Catarina´s oysters are truly delicious. And addictive, apparently. I love seafood yet never really gave oysters much attention, but now, I have oyster cravings!
Here they are found with all kinds of seasoning and ways of cooking but my favorite remains raw with fresh squeezed lime juice on top. Some of the popular ones are: au gratin and topped with onions, tomatoes and oregano.
Here are 3 great places to eat oysters in Florianópolis:
Ostradamus – the most famous oyster bar in Floripa, with the greatest variety. Oysters are the restaurant´s specialty. What I loved about this restaurant is the glass covered deck where you eat great food with a great view. It´s like sitting on the water and watching sea-gulls fly by.
Rua Baldicero Filomeno, 7640 – Ribeirão da Ilha
Florianópolis – SC
Porto do Contrato – a cozy, romantic restaurant with a great view. The oysters were great, the beer was ice cold and the menu offers different seafood to keep you going.
Porto do Contrato
Rodovia Baldicero Filomeno, 5544 – Ribeirão da Ilha
Florianópolis – SC
Muqueca da Ilha – a simple restaurant that has seating right in front of the beach. Very laid back, plastic chairs kinda place with great food and the ocean, right there, right in front of you. The thing is – you gotta sit outside.
Muqueca da Ilha
Rodovia Baldicero Filomeno, 7487, Ribeirão da Ilha
Florianópolis – SC
Yup, they are all located in the same street. Make your way to Ribeirão da Ilha in Florianópolis and savor the best oysters Brazil can offer you.
As I´ve mentioned here before, Florianópolis is an island (with 42 beaches). That´s where I´m living right now. And yes, I feel lucky, but at the same time, it was a choice. So, smart and lucky? ;)
On a Sunday, we decided to drive around the southern part of the island, around Pantano do Sul beach when we saw a sign with “Praia da Solidão” or Solitude Beach. The name seemed suggestive, so we drove along. As we approached a hill, we saw a lot of cars parked on the side and people watching something in the ocean. We stopped by and found out what everyone was looking at, were right whales swimming. A woman next to me had a pair of binoculars, so I was able to get a closer look and felt ecstatic. We drove a bit further and saw them somewhat close to the shore. It was amazing.
But I wanted to see them a bit closer. So I looked for whale watching tours and a colleague at work recommended Brazil Trails (www.braziltrails.com), a tourism company here in Florianópolis that offers different tours for foreigners, mainly. So I booked a whale watching tour in Garopaba (a 30 minute drive from Florianópolis).
The tour starts early, at 8:15 am, starting with a quick speech about right whales´ characteristics and behavior, the specie that visits the coast of Santa Catarina.
From May to October, right whales flee the Antarctic cold waters and migrate to southern Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for their reproduction period. The beaches of Santa Catarina become a sort of nursery, with mothers teaching their babies how to swim, jump and develop the muscles needed to migrate back to Antarctica.
During winter in this hemisphere, adult whales don´t nourish themselves, because they can´t find the type of food they like in these oceans. Yes, they are selective. They feed on small shrimp only found in the Arctic region. They eat by “filtering” water while swimming with their mouth open. When they are in southern Brazil, during our winter, they feed their babies, which drink 200 liters of fat rich milk and gain around 5 kilos (around 12 pounds) a day.
Right whales have calluses on their head covered by small crustaceans and huge black bodies that can grow to be 15 meters long. As they swam by the boat, they looked like submarines.
Right whales have that name because they are tame and friendly and thus became known as “the right whale to kill”.
Since 1973 whale hunting has been banned here in Brazil, which was different than in Japan. In Japan, whale hunting was (or is) primarily for food consumption, amongst other reasons (and yes, I have to admit I ate whale sushi in Tokyo). Here in Brazil, whale fat was used for oil (for lighting houses) and for construction (it was used as a cement), mostly of churches.
About the whale watching tour:
I met the rest of the group at the Right Whale Institute in downtown Garopaba. After a short explanation, we put on waterproof coats, took off our shoes and hopped in the boat (my jeans were soaked by then). When the boat is about 10 meters from the whales, the engine is turned off and we must remain in silence. No feet thumping please. Whales have very good hearing and you don´t want to scare them away. This is when the boat starts to swing. A lot. And that´s why you should accept the anti-nausea pill they give you before you get in the boat.
You might get a bit nauseous (and that´s why you shouldn´t go on this tour with a hangover), but you will be amazed as they start to swim right next to the boat. Right whales are also very curious creatures. And then they start to swim, play and jump.
While I was throwing up, half hanged from the edge of the boat, I saw the most beautiful scene: mother and baby jumping up. But that moment will only be in my memory. I was physically unable to shoot that picture. When I was finally “put together” I was able to take a sequence of great pictures of a tail waving. It was bliss.
That day I was lucky again, and after Garopaba, I saw another whale jumping (at a distance this time) at beautiful Guarda do Embaú. What a special day.
This is Guarda do Embaú:
Things that still surprise me, 1 year after I came back to Brazil:
People eating noodles with rice and beans. Don´t get me wrong, I love rice and beans. But I would leave the spaghetti for another time. (Beans serve as the spaghetti sauce in this case).
How soccer is a religion and people discuss and fight about it ALL THE TIME, at work, during happy hour, or just walking by the street you can hear conversations about soccer games and teams.
How cold it can get in southern Brazil, and how people survive without central heating. I´m freezing here in Floripa!
How big Brazil is (after 2 years living in Europe, my standards kinda changed about getting a flight to go somewhere for the weekend). I now live in Florianopolis in the south, and it will take me 5 hours, 2 planes with a connection to get to Salvador, up north.
How cold the beer is served here (and I love it!); and how picky Brazilians are about the beer temperature. If it´s not ice cold, people complain to the waiter and in some places they even replace it for a new, colder beer.
How good farofa tastes. Farofa, as I have mentioned here before, is manioc flour cooked (fried, actually) with onions and lot´s of butter. It´s a trivial food served in the everyday lunch of almost any Brazilian family. However, since I didn´t have access to it living abroad (except when I mom visited), I still drool over a plate of rice, beans and farofa. I´ve heard friends from other countries say it tastes like sand, but I´ve also seen others hunch over a plate of churrasco (our version of barbecue, with lot´s of meat) with tasty farofa.
See people hitchhike here in Floripa. Coming from a year living in Rio, where no one would just flick their thumb and ask for a ride, I still think it´s funny to see that here.
How European life can be in southern Brazil. Brazil is a huge, diverse country. Salvador, where I was born, has great African influence. Many fruits from the north are not even heard of in other regions. The south was colonized by Germans mainly, so there´s great artisan beer, a version of glühwein (warm wine with cinnamon and ginger) and Oktoberfest. There are even figures of Fritz and Frida in some cities.
How people strike up a conversation anywhere. Complete strangers mention the weather, politics, soccer, or anything… in the elevator, in the doctor´s waiting room, or waiting in line at the bank (or any service). In other countries I´ve learned people really stick to that lesson when they were kids “don´t talk to strangers”.
People who push elevator buttons for a living. In certain commercial buildings and shopping malls there are people working there, who are supposed to push the button for you. I really don´t see the point. They do have a chair so they don´t stand all day.
Overall, people don´t smell bad. Have you walked in a bus or subway in Europe during summer? Yeah, people stink. I know it´s hot and people get sweaty and sticky, but here in Brazil, it can get very hot and humid, and still I´ve never walked in public transportation that smells that bad. I´ve read (from a trusted source) that Brazil is one of the highest consumers of soap in the world.
Buying newspapers and magazines from newspaper stands. And of course, a few minutes of conversation with the newspaper stand guy. In the US, I used to buy magazines in the grocery store. Here, I love browsing in the newspaper stand, and if you always buy your paper from the same stand, you become friends with the newspaper stand guy. Isn´t that great?
I might have to write another post about things I still think are funny or that still surprise now that I´m back in the motherland…
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro is Santa Teresa. This bohemian part of the city is known for the historical sites, good food (the traditional feijoada), live music (samba and chorinho), handcrafts and famous streetcars (trams) passing by.
This sort of carioca Montmatre is where many artists live or have their ateliers. It´s a great place for buying souvenirs and strolling around.
Two great places to eat authentic Brazilian food are:
Bar do Mineiro – for a great feijoada.
Aprazível – for a taste of the different Brazilian regions.
Bar do Mineiro is a small hole in a wall that is famous for its feijoada. It´s usually full, so put your name on the list and drink away extremely cold beers and while you´re at it, order some pasteis as an appetizer.
It might be a good half hour or so before you get to sit down. A pastel is a fried dough with cheese or grinded meat inside that goes perfectly well with that cold beer you can only find in Brazil.
Before going to Brazil or meeting a Brazilian, a lot of foreigners know about our love for rice and beans, but don´t know about one of our famous plates – feijoada. You see, there´s everyday beans (black or pinto) and there´s feijoada, which is a plate of beans on a whole different level.
Black beans are slowly cooked with pork meat and sausage for hours and then are served with white rice and manioc flour fried with butter (farofa). As you can imagine, this isn´t the lightest of meals, so it´s our weekend dish.
In another part of Santa Teresa, you can find Aprazível restaurant.
Now, this is a very different style from Bar do Mineiro, starting by prices, the ambience, decoration, type of food and location. Aprazível is a bit more upscale but still authentic. Situated at the top of a hill, there´s a great view to appreciate.
I also love that the kitchen is open and you can see fresh dishes pass by.
The menu is a like a journey around Brazil. There´s the famous escondidinho, which in Portuguese means “the little hidden” (shredded sundried meat topped with mashed yucca and cheese) – as in the meat is hidden under yucca puree… and the carioca version with shrimp instead of meat.
There´s casquinha de caranguejo (seasoned and baked crab meat served on its shell) with farofa on the side.
Also as appetizers, there´s warm pão de queijo (cheese bread) and pastel.
The main dishes are bit more refined. You can choose from galinha caipira (chicken cooked on its blood) served with sweet cooked bananas, goat on wine sauce with inhame (a root, similar to yucca) puree, fish from sweet water, as we say in Brazil, fresh water fish with orange sauce and coconut rice; moqueca (fish stew cooked with coconut mil and palm oil); and many more.
At the end of your meal, you can choose from a large selection, a cachaça (distilled hard liquor made from sugar cane).
Don´t have one too many or it will be hard to go up the stairs.
I missed you. Sorry for being away for so long. I won´t bore you with lame excuses for my absence, but part of it does have exciting news. Another move, more change… Which means beautiful new places will be subjects for future posts.
You see, things weren´t going so well on that last job. Rio? Oh no, Rio was fine. No, Rio is amazing. Still is. Nope, it didn´t get old. Although I have to say I was sold on Florianópolis.
Floripa, as it is kindly nicknamed is a city in the south of Brazil, in the state of Santa Catarina. The island is becoming a hot summer destination with good surf points, 42 amazing beaches, great nightlife, very good restaurants and nice people.
There are moments in life in which we feel a deep need for change. We crave something different, for something new. Like moving around furniture, getting rid of some of our belongings, get a new haircut, try that cooking class you´ve always wanted, go for a run in the morning, learn a new language, walk on the other side of the street or even bike to work, travel, breathe new air.
In the midst of change we also need a safe place inside us that no matter what, is peaceful and untouchable. It balances out the discomfort of change until we create a new and thicker comfort zone.
So… I got a haircut, got rid of old clothes, packed my bags and bought a one way ticket Rio-Florianópolis, with a few stops in between, one of them being Lençóis in northeastern Brazil. Next post is about the green Grand Canyon of my state: Bahia.
It was a two hour flight from Bangkok to Singapore. The best kept secret, which is no longer a secret, to fly for great prices around Southeast Asia is Air Asia.
Singapore is so small that it’s a country, a city, an island… its identity kind of blends in simultaneously into all of these definitions.
Touristic attractions in Singapore start as early as the airport. You might not notice that as you arrive, as you storm out to discover the city, but perhaps on your way out when you have more time to explore. As bizarre as it may sound, Changi airport is not just a place to catch your flight. Other than the expected duty free shops, there’s a movie theater, comfortable TV lounges and very well kept gardens to walk around while you wait for the plane. If you’re excited about duty free shops, Changi has numerous of them, including expos featuring what is new in the tech world.
Singapore is known for organization, cleanliness and impeccable infra structure. During my first minutes there I was already able to experience that.
As I tried to buy my metro ticket, a very nice lady, head and body covered (15% of the population is Muslim), who worked at the airport, approached me and asked if I needed help sort of simultaneously already helping with the ticket machine.
I had just exchanged some money but had no change, only a 10 Singaporean dollar bill. The machine only accepted fives. She kindly offered to get change (coming from Brazil, if I was in any other place, I would kindly say I would do it myself). A minute later she returned with change, bought my ticket, handed it all while saying “have a great stay” as she smiled. I was just wowed with such great service, that wasn’t even paid! I had recently been living in Spain, where even if you pay for a service you can deal with rude people in restaurants, taxis, etc. So that was my first, wow, great impression of Singapore.
My second nice surprise was the hostel – Tresor Tavern was clean, quiet, free internet and ok breakfast included – all the backpacker needs.
Before I go on with what there is to see, do and eat in Singapore, a brief introduction to the city/country.
When we think of Southeast Asia, we often think of developing countries battling social gaps – the traditional stereotype. Singapore just happens to be the exception.
Despite a physically small country, Singapore is one of the most important Asian Tigers, a commercial and financial hub with great economic growth. The country is made up of a main island and around sixty other miniscule islands, most of them uninhabited.
Due to its geographical location the country was occupied by Portuguese, Butch, Malay, British, Japanese and Chinese. Therefore it is a great ethnic blend, where Chinese, Malay and Indians cohabit with Arabs and British and expatriates from all over the world.
This blend is not like the tradition melting pot, it is rather like a salad, where the individual ingredients can be identified and separated. Ethnicities in Singapore have each a neighborhood or district where they live and celebrate their culture, religion, food and clothing, such as Little India and Chinatown. The great part of all of this is to go to each neighborhood, explore temples, try the food, and people watch different worlds in such a tiny country.