Liberdade, translated to english as Freedom, is considered to be São Paulo’s Japanese neighborhood. Although today there are more Chinese and Koreans than Japanese. But, this is still the Japanese area of this huge south american city. And, most people don’t even know that this is the biggest community of Japanese people outside of Japan.
If you are wondering about why are there so many Japanese people in Brazil, we have to go back in time until 1908 when Kasato Maru, the first Japanese boat arrived in Brazil. This was part of an agreement between the Brazilian and the Japanese governments to help bring more workers to the farms in the state of São Paulo, Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul. Until 1973, when the last boat arrived in Brazil, there were more than 200 thousand Japanese immigrants in Brazil.
But, why did the Japanese decided to live in the Liberdade Neighborhood?
It started back in 1912 when the first Japanese immigrants moved into Conde de Sarzedas street. Most of the houses on this street had basements and it was really cheap to live there. Since Liberdade is in the city center, it was the perfect place to live for cheap and to go to work anywhere in São Paulo. As the number of immigrants grew, so did commercial activity. Soon shops, restaurants and markets started popping up around the area and this is how the neighborhood started being shaped like it is today.
In the 60’s and the 70’s this part of the city went to a lot of changes and this is when Chinese and Korean started moving into the area, turning the neighborhood into the oriental place it is today. It was in the 70’s that the area got its characteristic oriental red gates that you can see everywhere you walk around the neighborhood.
Today, Liberdade is a really touristic area of São Paulo where people come to eat japanese food, shop around the many oriental stores and have fun in the karaoke bars that exist there. Most of my friends from Belo Horizonte loved when I used to take then there and show where you can have cheap asian food and the best grocery stores.
When I went to São Paulo back in november, I knew i had to spend some time there. Since the Liberdade Street Market happens over the weekend, I decided to invite Dani and André from Viagem Criativa to have some food around the area.
We started our oriental lunch with some Takoyaki, an amazing ball shaped snack filled with octopus. From that, we went to have some squid on stick that was even better than I could remember. If you are at the Liberdade Street Market and don’t know what to order, you should try those two things and a pastel as well. I am pretty sure you will not regret it at all.
From there, we went to a restaurant called Sweet Heart with the best taiwanese food I ever had in São Paulo. The place is really small and simple but the food is amazing. Nobody there seems to speak portuguese or english but you can always try to use sign language to order something. I had tiny bits of pork ears and a lot of tiny snacks. If you are looking for something different, you have to try this place.
The last place we went at Liberdade was the amazing bakery called Itiriki. Marcela is the one to be blamed for my obsession with this place. Back when we started dating, she used to bring me there all the time just to eat the weird kind of Chinese bread filled with vegetables or pork. That thing is amazing but this bakery is famous for it is amazing sweets and the bad mood from everybody that works there.
This is what I did when I went to have lunch at Liberdade with the amazing people from Viagem Criativa. But, this neighborhood has a lot more to offer as you can see on the list below.
São Paulo’s Japanese Neighborhood
If you are looking for oriental food in São Paulo, Liberdade is perfect for you. Liberdade is filled with great japanese, korean and chinese restaurants where you can taste oriental dishes without leaving São Paulo. Sometimes you will stumble upon some people that don’t even speak portuguese or english but this is the price you have to pay to try something really different. Karaoke bars are something quite unique to this part of São Paulo as well. In São Paulo’s Japanese Neighborhood, you are going to find some of the best sake bars in South America and you can’t miss the nightlife there as well. Below there is a list of our favorite places in Liberdade.
Our Favorite Restaurants at Liberdade
You should go to Porque Sim Karaokê Box e Lamen House to eat ramen with sashimi and guioza. The place is perfect for a cheap meal and you can even do some singing at the karaoke bar there.
If you are into japanese noodle, a place that you have visit is called Aska. It is one of the first São Paulo noodle houses and this is where the japanese community goes to eat ramen. The prices are alright and because of that, you should be ready to see huge queues.
Rong He is a traditional chinese restaurant that is famous for their huge yakissoba that feeds, at least, three people. It is always crowded and because of that, the service could be better. But, the food is amazing so people keep coming back for more.
Chi Fu is another traditional chinese place at Liberdade that is famous for amazing cheap food and shitty service. Nobody seems to speak portuguese or english there but the food is always fresh and great. If you want a challenge, you should try to make the waitresses smile. I doubt you can do that.
Yoka is the name of this traditional pastelaria where you can have of the best pastel you are going to have in your life. They have 23 different fillings for their pastel and I think you should try the one with chicken and catupiry. But don’t forget to spicy it up with some pepper sauce.
Sushi Isao is a great sushi place hidden at Liberdade. The place is an all you can eat restaurant with lot of fresh and stay rolls, amazing shrimp tempura and a lot of sushi. The place is so good that once I ate over a kilo of sushi there. I am not kidding.
If you are looking for Korean food, the best thing you can do is to go to Portal da Coreia and try their bibimbap with duck and tongue. This place is amazing and one of the best korean places I have ever been.
The Best Clubs, Sake and Karaoke Bars
Izakaya Issa is the name of this amazing sake bar and Japanese restaurant. Go there to try jellyfish and stay to enjoy the Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. Sit at the bar and ask for tips, I know you will love this place.
If you want to dance, Lions Nightclub is the place for you. The view from the terrace is fantastic and show you a different São Paulo. Grab a beer and enjoy the night with your friends. Just be careful with the huge queues to the bathrooms. You can spend the entire night there.
Restaurante e Karaokê Samurai is one of this places where most people come for the karaoke but they stay for the food. It’s one of the only traditional Japanese restaurants that stays open until late at night.
If you want to try some sparkling peaches sake champagne, the only place I can tell you to go is the Kazu Sake Emporium. During happy hour, all the drinks are double and you should enjoy it.
If you are looking for concerts, you should try Cine Joia. The place used to be one of the traditional Japanese cinemas but a few years ago it became one of the best concert halls in São Paulo. The place is beautiful, the projections on the walls are going to surprise you but the place is hot and not in a good way.
When I moved to São Paulo in 2006, I used to go to Chopperia Liberdade quite often. This place has seen better days but it looks so crazy that I needed to add it to this list. Go there for the karaoke and stay for the weirdness and the beers.
What else can you do at Liberdade?
Liberdade is not just for the japanese community. There is where you can find the Casa de Portugal, home to the portuguese immigrants to Brazil. The building is beautiful and they have a huge library focused on portuguese literature.
If you want to try some japanese groceries, you should try Azukiya Casa & Conveniência and grab some weird snacks. I used to go crazy with everything there.
Livraria Sol is the place to go if you are looking for japanese and korean books. The service there is great and really helpful. The best place to find mangas in São Paulo.