Clothes, Food & Drinks
Clothes for carnival
How should you dress for carnival? The less, the better. Men, think shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. Women, you're going to need shorts and a bikini top. Carnival falls in the middle of the hot Bahian summer and at times, you will find yourself in smash crowds with literally no room to move. Even before you start dancing, be prepared to sweat!
Don't wear jeans, in fact, don't even bring them. You're not going to need them. Moreover, from time to time, you may find yourself drenched by passing rain clouds, or soaked by water poured on you by fellow revelers, or sprayed by water cannons set up along the circuit (to cool the crowds during the day). Nothing like a pair of wet jeans to ruin a great party!
For girls, instead of wearing a t-shirt under your abadá, it is a good idea to wear a bikini top. If/when you get wet, you will be much more comfortable. Moreover, your bikini will dry much quicker than a t-shirt.
Pockets, particularly hidden ones, are nice to have as you are going to need some place to put your "beer" money and your house key. Wallets, watches, necklaces, bracelets, and other valuables easily removed from your body are best left at home.
Tennis shoes, and a used pair at that, are your best choice for footgear. You're going to need something that will keep you comfortable while on your feet for hours at a time, standing, walking, dancing. Sandals aren't a good choice because the ground, despite the sanitation crews best efforts to wash and rinse it nightly after the party, remains in a constant state of grime. Moreoever, it's likely you'll have your foot stepped on at some point; if not by a dance partner, then certainly by a frenzied carnival multidao (carnival crowd).
What else do you need shoes for? When you head for the streets, one of the safest places for your house key is when it is "shoelaced" securely into your tennis shoe. Lastly, ladies don't even think of wearing high-heels!
During carnival, the streets near the carnival circuit are filled with street venders selling food from booths or makeshift stands. Here is a quick list of the foods you are likely to see.
Acarajé and Abará: This is the Bahian equivalent of the fast food hamburger. The acarajé is a dumpling made out of mashed black eyed peas, deep fried in dende (palm) oil. The dumpling is stuffed with vatapá, a brown paste made out of ground shrimp, peanuts, and coconut oil, and then garnished with salada, green peppers, tomatoes, and onions chopped into small cubes size pieces. The acarajé is sold with or without shrimp and these days will cost somewhere around BR$5. If you opt for the shrimp, it is spooned on top for an extra BR$1. The acarajé is a food that has its roots in the Afro-Bahian/Yoruban religious tradition and is traditionally sold by a Bahiana, a women dressed in flowing white garb and accompanying white head band. The acarajé is best eaten hot, so it's worth the wait to get one fresh out of the oil rather than buy one that has been sitting around and is lukewarm or stone cold. The abará is the acarajé's "sister." It's the same meal, but instead of being deep-fried, the black-eyed-pea paste is wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled.
Queijo Coalho: is cheese on a stick cooked on demand over hot coals. The cheese has a slightly salty taste to it. Often, oregano is sprinkled on top to add seasoning. If the person you are buying from is really organized, he may have a small bottle of molasses to drip on to your cheese. BR$2 to BR$3 (depending on the size).
Pastel: Flakey pastry dough deep fried in oil stuffed with a filling of your choice; cheese, sausage, chicken, etc. Price: BR$5. When in Ondina, word is that the best pastel is found at the Pastel do Carioca located at the entrance of Rua Escravo Miguel.
Pipoca: The classic bag of popcorn, a carnival favorite. Ask for it salgado: lightly salted --- or doce: caramel covered. If you go with the salgado, toppings include melted butter and/or shredded coconut. If you go with the doce, it is usual topped with condensed milk. Price: BR$2 small bag, BR$3 medium bag, BR$4 large bag
Tapioca: Sold by ambulatory venders pushing a cart that looks a bit like a wheelbarrow filled with a thick white rice custard. It's sweet and concentrated. One piece should be more than enough to fill you up. Price: BR$2
Milho: Corn on the cob. Corn is a big crop grown in the interior of Bahia and shows up at carnival in many variations. Ambulatory venders wheel around a big cauldron with corn boiled and preserved in hot water. If you like, mantega (butter) can be drizzled on top. You'll also find it sold on the streets cooked over hot coals. Price: BR$2
Cachorro Quente: The Brazilians have translated the phrase hot dog literally, cachorro meaning "dog" and quente meaning "hot." But no worries, the meat has nothing to do with it's namesake. The hot dog is sold from large stands with elaborate displays of grilled vegetables in front. Price: BR$2
Churrasco (de gato): Chunks of meat cooked on a stick cooked over hot coals. Affectionately known here as "churrasco de gato" or "barbecued cat" because of the unknown source of the meat. No worries though; one shouldn't take the nickname literally. However, the meat does vary in quality from vender to vender, from stringy, to tough, to tender. Price: BR$3
Mingau: If you find yourself still partying till dawn, right around sunrise is when the guys pushing the mingau carts show up. Mingau is a deliciously sweet breakfast porridge. Usually, you'll have a couple of flavors to choose from, like milho/corn, arroz/rice, and tapioca. Price: BR$3
In Brazil, it's legal to sell and drink alcohol in the streets, and during carnival the streets turn into a giant outdoor bar. You can't take more than a few steps before encountering your next opportunity. Everywhere, barracas --- improvised stands decorated with tropical fruit --- are equipped with blenders to mix cocktails on demand.
The barracas are usually stocked with several types of liquor. Cachaça (a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane) and vodka are staples with cognac, rum, and whiskey also offered. The cocktails sold have fun names ranging from the Xoxota, Brazilian slang for "pussy" to the Kapeta, or "little devil."
Here are a couple of the common drinks you are likely to encounter;
Caparinha/Caipiroska: This is the national drink. What's the difference? The Caparinha is made with cachaça, a Brazilan rum made from sugar cane, while the Caipiroska substitutes vodka in the place of the cachaça? Traditionally, the alcohol is served with crushed limes and several spoonfuls of sugar to sweeten it up, but any kind of fruit can be substituted in place of the lime and in tropical Brazil, your choice of fruits is almost limitless. To list a few, abacaxi, umbu, siriguela, acerola, tangerina, are fruits commonly found at these stands. They're all delicious so just point to whatever color catches your eye! Note, if you want to keep your sugar intake down, it's standard practice now, if requested, to make these drinks with artificial sweetener instead of sugar so ask for adocante.
Kapeta: This drink, the "little devil", features vodka, condensed milk, crushed peanuts, chocolate powder, and guarana powder. Guarana is a stimulant similar in effect (and molecular structure) to caffeine. As the night wears on and you wear down, ask the guy who is making your drink to add some extra guarana.
Coctail de frutas: Essentially fruit salad with a shot of vodka. A mixed blend of fruits are tossed into the blender along with ice, vodka, and often condensed milk to sweeten things up.
Coctail Prices: BR$5 to BR$10, depending on which alcohol is used
Notes from the field: Here's a tip born from years of experience. The barraceiras who own these cocktail stands (and make your drinks) spend their summer working one party to the next. To maximize their profit, their favorite trick is to take a bottle of a more expensive brand of vodka, Smirnoff or Orloff for example, and after it has been used, refill it with an inferior type of vodka. For them, this adds up to an extra BR$15 on each bottle they serve. For you, depending on how many you drink, it can be the difference between waking up with a mild or monster hangover.
The price of the caipiroska is supposed to reflect the 'quality' of the vodka used, the better stuff costing BR$1 more than with the cheaper. However, it can be difficult to tell if you're getting what your paying for. The strategy I employ is to choose a barraca that looks clean, well organized, and is well equipped with several different types of alcohol (and different brands of vodka in particular). Also, take a close look at the bottle; if the bottle and label, look used and worn, even if it is a Smirnoff bottle, you can be sure that it's seen its fair share of parties and has been refilled with cheap vodka. Conversely, if the bottle looks new and the label looks fresh, you may actually be getting genuine Smirnoff. Lastly, any vodka with long Russian sounding names (besides Smirnoff) or fierce looking black eagles on the label can be assumed to be "rotgut."
The same technique holds true for the street venders carrying platters with whiskey on ice and Redbull. You may never know the brand of whiskey you're buying (probably, Teachers or Bells), but you can be sure it's NOT the Johnny Walker Red who's bottle it is being poured from. Same goes with the Redbull. You can count on it; the vender has poured an imitation brand energy drink into those Redbull cans. Street Price for a cup of "Redbull and Whiskey". Price: BR$10
What about all those Styrofoam coolers everywhere? They're filled with beer, water, and soft drinks chilled on crushed ice. While beer in Brazil is usually sold in large, wine-size glass bottles, during carnival glass bottles are prohibited and beer is only sold by the can. Good idea! Have you ever been cracked upside the head with a wine bottle before?
Mineral Water/Agua Mineral: BR$2
Soft drink/Refrigante: BR$2
Beer/Cerveja: Small can: BR$2; Tall can: BR$3
Other non-alcoholic drinks worth mention:
Agua de Coco: Coconut water drunk right out of the coconut. Is there anything better than agua de coco? Deliciously sweet, refreshing, and replenishing. It's nature's own vitamin and mineral water. If you're drinking out of the coconut, careful not to rest the coconut on your clothes as the coconut shell stains. Price: BR$2 per coconut
Caldo de Cana: This is the juice extracted from sugarcane. Venders press stalks of sugarcane through a motorized grinder that crushes the juice from the cane. It comes out green, sweet, and delicious. Besides its rehydrating powers, it'll give you a boost and, like any grass or cereal, is full of nourishing vitamins and minerals. Price:BR$2, depending on the size of the cup
Both of agua de coco and the caldo de cana taste great when alcohol is added so go ahead and add yourself a shot! I'm particularly fond of drinking whiskey with agua de coco. The sweet agua de coco takes the "sour mash" right out of the whiskey. Best of all, you can drink alcohol and stay hydrated both at the same time. Try it and enjoy!
Lastly, you do NOT need to worry about the ice that is used to make the cocktails. It is "drinking" ice made with purified water and is sold in large plastic bags at grocery stores, not "home frozen" ice made from the kitchen sink.