A Guide to Eating on Rio’s Beaches

Rio's beach vendors offer everything from cold beer and water to snacks and sandwiches.

By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Along Rio’s beaches, sunbathers and wave riders needn’t worry about straying far from the water in search of food and drink, as the city is famous for its barracas (literally translated to “tents”) and for its seemingly endless flow of walking vendors eager to sell anything one might need to recharge right on the sandy shoreline.

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Ali Baba venders offer warm esfihas on Rio’s beaches, photo by Mateus Vicente.

All day walking vendors weave their way through beach chairs and sunbathers laid out on cangas (a type of thin Brazilian sarong also typically used as a beach towel), selling everything from sandwiches and snacks to açai and cold drinks.

“Cerveja, agua, refrigerante,” one group of vendors calls as they sell cold beer, water, soda and the cries of “Mate, Limonada” also echo along the shorelines as men dressed in orange famously make their with two silver tubs, one filled with chilled mate, a tea made from a bitter herb originating in southern Chile, and the other containing refreshingly cold lemonade.

“The mate vendor on the beach is the face of Rio, one of the most recognizable of the city’s personages,” Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes stated on Leme beach during a celebration for the vendors inclusion in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Rio de Janeiro City last year. “These vendors are in Rio’s memory.”

Many of the aromas on the beach also come from the numerous food vendors selling traditional hot Brazilian snacks like cheese on a stick (which can be toasted crisp for you on order) and esfihas. The men carrying large boxes with names like Ali Baba across them and dressed in white Arabic-style garments similar to a twab or a djellaba, are esfihas sellers.

Brought to Brazil by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, esfihas – at times spelled esfirra – are a popular Brazilian snack food consisting of flat bread and various spiced fillings including ground beef, chicken, cheese and/or spinach triangularly folded and cooked between the bread.

Elsewhere, the men carrying the large plastic bags are sellers of another traditional Brazilian beach snacks, Globo Biscoitos (cookies). The famous puffed crisps are sold in two varieties: salgado (salty) with green labeling on the package and doce (sweet) with red labeling.

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A tasty Uruguayan sandwich can be bought at a beach barraca, photo by Mateus Vicente.

Rio’s beach barracas offer an alternative experience than the walking vendors, as the barraca, typically a stand positioned on the sand, uses roaming workers that can take orders for cold drink including beer and capirinhas in the designated space in front of their stand. They will then deliver the order to the beach chair (which the barracas also rent as well as umbrellas).

While each barracas’ offering varies, notable ones include Barraca do Beto in Arpoador, Barraca Maezinha on Copacabana beach, Barraca do Renato in Leblon and the famous gathering places for surfers, Barraca do Pepe located in Barra da Tijuca in Rio’s Zona oeste (West Zone).

Perhaps the most famous barraca in Rio is Barraca do Uruguay. Positioned in front of Posto 9 (Lifeguard Post 9) in Ipanema, the stand is one of the oldest and most talked about on the beach. Achieving fame for its caipirinhas and ice cold beers, it is best known for its made-to-order sandwiches. At R$12, the sandwiches, offered with variety of meats and special sauce on thick bread, are a filling snack if not a full meal.

A framed picture of chef and television host Anthony Bourdain eating one of their sandwiches proudly sits on the counter as customers lineup daily to purchase a sandwich of their own.

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