Where to find the buzz in São Paulo
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
I grew up in Campinas but moved to São Paulo just after I finished school, when I was 17. It was like being thrown into this pool where all the cultural things were happening; it was a real education.
Although I now live in London, I still visit São Paulo two or three times a year. What’s special about it is that it hasn’t had a huge amount of urban planning, so it’s messy and spontaneous: there were some incredible mistakes made, but they have become its signature. For example, São Paulo is an ocean of high-rises, and they built highlines very close to residential buildings, so you have these random avenues in line with the third or fourth floor of the apartments. One street, called Elevada Presidente João Goulart, is now being reclaimed by the people as a park that you can walk along on weekends. I didn’t really see this lack of planning as a positive aspect until now, but it makes the city interesting and charming, creating a sense of shock and wonder.
I stay in Jardins, which is the equivalent of Mayfair in London, with luxury stores, nice hotels and restaurants. Brazil has an intense shopping-mall culture, but Jardins is one of the few neighbourhoods where there is street life. São Paulo is quite social; people don’t have too many escapes into nature here, so the way they live is by meeting each other at stores, bars, galleries or the cinema.
Gastronomy is one of the highlights of São Paulo, and it also reflects the various influences on the city. There is a big Lebanese population – my father is half-Lebanese – and so there are a lot of good Middle Eastern restaurants. Almanara is where I often go for the classics: dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat); fatayer, the triangular pastries; hummus and baba ganoush. The waiters dress like they are living in the ’50s, which fits with the restaurant’s interior.
I also love spending an evening in Liberdade, the Japanese neighbourhood, where they have markets, karaoke bars and seven or eight highly rated sushi restaurants. Sushi Lika is a whole experience – they have an excellent chef who prepares the sushi, and it’s served in a boat, so it’s a little old-fashioned.
Some of the most authentic Brazilian cuisine comes from the “in-between” meals like pão de queijo, which is a round cheese bread that we eat with coffee, or an açai bowl or coconut water. Stopping for these is the equivalent of café culture in Europe. We do have a lot of coffee, but I think we value the quality of the pão de queijo over a good roast.
When friends visit, I recommend they stay at Fasano, a hotel in Cerqueira César, founded by an Italian family. It has an interior rich in wood, modernist furniture and leather – and the restaurant has separate booths for dining. I also like Tivoli Mofarrej São Paulo Hotel, a high-rise building with an exterior shell, a style prominent in Brazilian architecture. It has a nice restaurant on the rooftop that I often go to for the breakfast buffet.
Tivoli Mofarrej is very near the São Paulo Museum of Art, which was designed by Lina Bo Bardi, the architect known for her minimalistic style who left a legacy of public buildings. Some of my favourite Brazilian artists, though, are represented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel and Mendes Wood DM, which have both moved to bigger warehouses in Barra Funda. There are so many good Brazilian galleries that are relevant on the international circuit.
One of my favourite shops is ETEL, which is a design gallery and furniture store in Jardim Paulistano, selling Niemeyer and Sergio Rodrigues, and doing an incredible job of promoting Brazilian designers such as Claudia Moreira Salles and Isay Weinfeld. They also recently opened an exhibition space dedicated to Jorge Zalszupin, in the building that was his home for 60 years, who was born in Poland but moved to Brazil after the second world war, and was an incredibly refined furniture designer.
Since I’ve known São Paulo, it hasn’t changed much in terms of development, but rather in how people make use of the city; there is a constant evolution in this way. Before, São Paulo was always looking outwards, whereas now there is so much in terms of the cultural scene – the galleries, the restaurants – that celebrates Brazil in a really creative way.