In almost every city of the world, from the largest ones (like New York, London or Tokyo), to the tiny villages hidden within the Amazon jungle, local populations always set up something like a “trading fair”, a location (or occasion) where locals come to sell, buy and trade the products of their labor. In the smaller and most remote places these posts are usually not permanent ones. People get together by the end of harvesting season, before the beginning of the winter, or even on more regular basis, lets say once a month or once a week. These are opportunities to meet friends, dance, sing, and specially to eat and prepare yourself for the harsh times that may be arriving soon. As the small towns become large cities, as the population (and its needs) increases, such places become permanent, originating central markets, which up to this day play key roles in the supply of food for people who no longer knows how to plant a tomato or to kill a chicken.
In São Paulo, by the beginning of the last century, when the city that today is the largest one of the southern hemisphere (population over 20 million) had around 1 million inhabitants, the municipal administration decided to build a Central Market. The chosen location was on the banks of the Tamanduateí River, were most of the food-producing properties were located. The building, today in the heart of the city, with 12,600 m2, holding around 300 commercial spots with 1,600 employees, still plays a key role in the supply of food and as a meeting point for the local population, not to mention that it’s an unmissable tourist attraction.
Today the market has 4 main areas:
1. A delicatessen area, where you can find first quality products from all over the world, like Parma hams, Portuguese and Spanish olives, Norwegian cod, etc.
2. A fruit and vegetable area, where you can find tropical as well as temperate climate products;
3. A butcher area, where you can find beef, pork, chicken, and almost any product of animal origin;
And 4, a food court, were two dishes simply can not be missed, the Bologna sandwich and the cod “pastel”.
The Bologna sandwich is prepared by placing, in a French style bread, thinly sliced hot or cold Bologna. It’s considered the most typical dish of the market. Don’t leave withouth trying the hot version (along with a cold draft beer).
“Pastel” is fried fine pastry which may have several fillings, like cheese, ground beef, prawns and, the most famous one at the market, cod. For this preparation salted cod is left in cold water for a couple of days, boiled and then mixed with hot olive oil and spices.
Next time you go to São Paulo don’t leave without visiting the market in downtown and trying these 2 amazing dishes, the cod “pastel” and the Bologona (mortadela) sandwich. I had both at the “Hocca Bar”, which is supposed to have the best cod “pastel” around (in fact they are the creators of this dish), and let me tell you, it’s really, really, really good.