Everybody loves to eat right? But not everybody likes to cook. But one thing is for sure, here in São Paulo I would say that every person goes to the food street markets. I can easily say that it’s a habit people LOVE to do. To wake up (especially on weekends) and plan your visit to one of the more than 800 street markets in São Paulo feels like a walk in the park. In January of this year, São Paulo completed (officially) one hundred years of food street markets and here you will find the best food street markets in Brazil and ALL KIND OF FOOD. Faced with growing supermarkets and similar retail, the future of free trade across the country is undoubtedly flexible.
The streets through these years had to modify, adapt, transform and thus survive the time and competition. But the key aspect of this commerce is the sociability provided by the marketers who brings the integration of rural and urban with a unique experience for the people of this big metropolis. Within the biggest city of Latin America, São Paulo food street markets survived and became an important cultural legacy, loved and protected by the people and the government.
Who goes to the Food Street Markets?
Everyone goes to these food street markets. Whereas to buy vegetables, flowers, meat, fruits or kitchen items, the public is huge. But what differ the food street markets of São Paulo from food street markets of other Brazilian cities?
To begin with, we had this huge European immigration in São Paulo back then, having big influence in the products these food street markets sells. Therefore, they have incorporated strong traditions of Japanese and Italian food, which are typical of São Paulo culture. In addition, we have the pastel and sugarcane juice, that has become a benchmark of culture within the city. Many vegetables – components of the traditional dishes of Japanese and Italian food- are only found in São Paulo street markets. But what kind of public these street markets achieve? The owner of an Italian restaurant in Bela Vista (ancient Italian neighborhood in SP) says he only goes to these food street markets whenever he has to buy some specific product. In his opinion, it’s all very expensive. As a matter of fact, depending the region and time you go, the products can be very expensive. But during the day, the prices fall, and of course within it the best products have already gone.
But not always the reason that attracts about 3 million customers in São Paulo is the price or its products. For Nara Aparecida, 57, she likes to go to the food street markets to see people. For 13 YEARS, every Friday, she goes to Higienopolis street market, the famous Jewish neighborhood in SP. She says she feels very lonely at home and when she arrives there, she make friends and relax. She waited for that moment the whole week. For some people may be nothing, but for others, it’s the event of the month, the therapy, the way out. Call it as you want. The truth is some marketers have the loyalty of some customers and the importance to keep them is as important as the quality of what they sell. So, whenever you go there to buy tomatoes, or to talk to the marketer, does not matter, the public is huge and attends everyone.
For me, to go to food street markets means relaxing. I don’t pick one specific. I like from time to time to change the region. My favorite time is when I found flowers tents. Love to be there and chose the red roses I’ll bring home with me, and after that, to eat pastel along with sugarcane juice, naturally
Pride in being part of the Food Street Markets
The ability to interact with the public, customers and even other marketers, consolidated ties through the years. Therefore, the marketer became an urban worker. In the course of its activities is the need to run the business, exchange ideas, and build reciprocal links with customers and competitors, producing a unique success. Here in SP 60% of the marketers are men between 36 and 65 years old; elderly people represent 13% of them.
The first food street market in SP was realized at Largo General Osório, in downtown, and employed 26 marketers. Today, the city has 16.300 marketers and more than 800 food street markets. The biggest one is the one located at Paulistano Park with 224 stalls. But how the daily routine of a marketer works? Not easy, that’s for sure. For Antonio Salgado Jr, 61, to be a marketer is part of his history. He has been working for 50 years now in this business. He began teenager, but since he was a little baby he was around. Nursed and fed within the vegetables boxes, he is a living proof that once you begin in the environment, it’s hard to leave. As a teenager, he started to help his family at work. But just like his others brothers, Antonio inherited the craft from his father, which opened its first tent in 1950.
Licenses for stallholders, granted by the city, can be transferred to an heir in the event of retirement, disability or death. To be a marketer is a family tradition and for most of them, runs in the blood. While working, between the fruits and the vegetables, Antonio lists a sequence of daily tasks. He wakes up at 2:00am, arrives at the food street market around 4:00am, where he remains until 3:00pm. Then go to CEAGESP (General Warehouses of São Paulo) to buy the products that he will sell the next day. But before the end of the day, Antonio has to clean and organize the greens and vegetables and makes them ready for sale. He only comes home at 10:00pm. It’s not easy, and he does not want his children to follow his path. And even if he wanted to, his sons are not interested following the family tradition; therefore, the tradition should not survive for another generation…
PASTEL AND SUGARCANE JUICE: WHY WE LOVE IT
I would say that 99% of the people that goes to food street markets hardly leave without savor a big pastel and a glass of sugarcane juice. From all the people I know, there is only one person I’ve met once that said: ‘I don’t like pastel’ :-O. Seriously, who does not like that fry pastry with many flavors, like pizza, palm cabbage, ham and cheese, dry meat, etc., melting on your mouth, and a glass of sugarcane juice, one of the best things people have ever invented?? The amount of tents of pastries and sugar cane juice depend on the size of the food street market, and it’s almost impossible you go to one of those markets and don’t find this delicious fried food, simply because pastel is an ‘icon’ here in São Paulo. And When we talk about food street market, the first thing that comes to our head are images of colorful fruits and vegetables, disorder, noisy and people. But for some people, going to the food street market is synonymous of eating pastel, and drink a very cold sugarcane juice.
Pastel was invented by the Chinese. But here in Brazil, it was the Japanese who popularized the famous pastel chicken. Its popularization began with Japanese immigration during World War II. And because of the conflict of the war, and their association with the Nazi, the Japanese back them used to disguise themselves as Chinese. What a bloody mess. And what about the sugarcane? It happened with the arrival of sugar in the northeast of Brazil in the 16th century, long before of our dear pastel. At that time, Brazil monopolized the world sugar production. The slaves were the first to take the drink that was left in the pots of brown sugar before it was fermented. Today you can taste it with multiple flavors. Lemon and pineapple are preferred.
Modern sugarcane juice also has other secrets: to keep the creaminess, the marketers twist two or three times the same bagasse, to give that special thickness to the juice (makes my stomach ache only to remember the taste of it…!) But how did happen the combination of both? There isn’t much that we can tell about it, when did happen the combination of both and why…but what we do know is that is a perfect match. The good smell of frying is a major competitor of fruits and vegetables, especially for children, who succumb easily to more calories than healthy foods. The mother of Patricia Almeida, age 6, says that her daughter is proof of that. Whenever they go to the food street markets, the girl cannot get away from pastel of ham and cheese and the sweet taste of sugar cane juice. “Clara asks to come with me on the weekend. When it is not possible, she insists to go to the little square in the neighborhood, because there is a man who sells pastel ” she said.
The food street market is complete: greengrocer, florists, the guy that sells broom, kitchen items, and the pastel tent. The success is such that there are not two or three, but always more than 5 pastel tents. In the midst of so many healthy vegetables … fried food. Sarcasm? No, just another kind of food we can’t just denial, it’s too good to walk away from it.
All the pictures were taken at one of the many Vila Madalena food street markets.