By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Famous for its rustic fare, the food of Minas Gerais can be found in many of Brazil’s big cities. To get a taste of the real deal however, visit the state’s capital Belo Horizonte. As well as having a thriving food scene, covering everything from food trucks to fine dining, the city has a laid back appeal and a selection of spots worth visiting.
At the moment the 17th annual Comida di Buteco is taking place in the Belo Horizonte, where it started in 2000. The festival aims to find the best boteco, or beer bar, in the city. This year locals and judges are rating 45 establishments on the food, service, cleanliness and the temperature of the beer. The event now happens in other cities and a final takes place in June to find the best boteco in Brazil.
Belo Horizonte became the capital of Minas Gerais (General Mines) in 1897 when Ouro Preto, a smaller colonial town, was unable to cope with a swelling population. Inland and with a large number of people who worked in the mines, it has a culinary history of hearty, rustic meat dishes.
Mocotó is soup made from cow’s feet, with beans and vegetables. Bar do Nonô serves up an excellent version. Sit at the bar, sip your soup and nurse a cerveja bem gelado. Bar do Salomão is a sports bar, dedicated to players and fans that specializes in canjiquinha, a kind of corn soup, and their version of a popular chicken dish made with okra (quiabo).
Feijão tropeiro, which is made of beans with bacon and carne sol (sun-dried meat) served with cabbage, farofa (ground manioc root) and eggs, was inherited from cattle-drivers and is a more substantial take on the staple Brazilan bean dish. Dona Lucinha makes one of the best in town along with many other traditional Mineiro dishes.
When in Belo Horizonte one of the first places to visit is the Mercado Central. Sitting in the heart of the city, the covered market sells just about everything.
It is also the best place to buy Mineiro staples such as pão de queijo (cheese bread balls) and the mild white Mineiro cheese that the state is famous. Queijo Minas is often eaten with goiaba jelly that is in abundance in the market. There are also a number of artisan beer and cachaça (Brazilian sugar-cane spirit) shops with good selections of Belo’s best booze.
For those looking for a more sophisticated take on the local food book in to Restaurante Glouton. The award-winning restaurant run by Chef Leo Paixão is well known for its contemporary food made with Minas soul. Trained in Paris, Paixão brings a French touch to Brazilian ingredients. The menu changes frequently as does the impressive wine list that sources bottles from all over.
Belo Horizonte sits in a bowl surrounded by the mountains which inspired its name – beautiful horizon. These days, however, since the city has spread up and out, it is defined more by urban sprawl than stunning vistas. However, there are still impressive view points that look out over the city and countryside beyond. From there you can see how the city was planned, with inspiration for its streets taken from Europe and America.
It is also possible to see the famous Mineirão, its football stadium which hosted a number of World Cup games in 2014. With a reasonable climate, there are plenty of places to enjoy the outdoors in BH, including the Praça da Liberdade and Praça da Estação, as well as the Lagoa da Pampulha.