By Andrew Willis, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Facing its more famous partner across the Guanabara Bay, the city of Niterói hosts a vibrant fish market with one key added allure: you can eat your ‘catch’ there. For foodies and hunters of Brazil’s more authentic side, a trip to the daily São Pedro fish market provides an excellent opportunity for a culinary adventure off the beaten tourist path.
To get there, simply make the short ferry journey to Niterói from Praça XV in Rio’s Centro area, then walk a few blocks north until you reach 55 Rua Visconde do Rio Branco, an unassuming industrial building bearing the market’s name.
Upon entering visitors are struck by a blast to the senses. Stalls displaying a huge array of fresh fish line both sides of the tile-covered hall, colored bunting hangs from the ceiling and the air is filled with the throaty calls of seasoned fishmongers.
“I have squid. Squid, squid, squid,” can be heard bellowing from a enthusiastic salesman named Sandro. “I get to the area at two in the morning and start buying fish from the boats. At six the market opens,” he explains.
“You should buy your tuna here,” he adds, unable to pass up the opportunity for a sale. “It’s R$8 a kilo. Over there it’s R$12,” he says, pointing to a competitor’s stand across the hall.
The prices are definitely attractive, especially when compared with Rio’s neighborhood markets, and the quality and varieties of fish on display are also outstanding. Perhaps that is why many of Rio’s restaurateurs make regular journeys across the bay for supplies.
On most days, shark, tuna, corvina, octopus, sardines, salmon, prawns and lobster are just some of the delights sitting on ice, waiting for a buyer. Ask nicely and any of the fishmongers will clean or fillet a fish, while a solitary stall does a roaring business in limes and fresh herbs.
At the end of the hall, beside a shrine to Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, is a staircase that leads up to the second floor. There, a series of cafés will cook the fish for a small fee, and keep the glasses topped up with cold beer.
The eclectic mix sitting down to lunch is a testament to the market’s appeal, with oil rig workers in dirty overalls sitting side-by-side on plastic chairs with young Rio day-trippers, all devouring platefuls of seafood cooked in oil and garlic or simply grilled.
As the afternoon wears on and the glasses are refilled, the noise level rises considerably. “I have prawns. Prawns, prawns, prawns, prawns,” can be heard downstairs as the last of the day’s clients filter through, looking to buy their fish for the week.
The market is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 6AM to 6PM. On Sundays it closes at 12PM.