With World Cup fever soon to hit, chef Andy Bates heads to Brazil for his new series, Brazilian Street Feasts. We join him in Rio for beach burgers, caipirinhas and even some samba dancing.
Camels are not an unusual sight in north African deserts, but when the distinctive humps are spotted on the sands of Rio’s Praia do Pepe beach it’s an altogether different phenomenon.
Yet Marco Antonio Maciel and his 6ft 6ins camel on wheels, built with the help of the local Mangueira Samba school, are just as much a part of the landscape as wide-brimmed parasols, garish beach towels and girls in eye-watering ‘cheese wire’ bikinis.
Every day, Marco walks up and down the beach dressed in a keffiyeh (headdress) and a long tunic, selling 1,000 esfihas (Middle Eastern parcels filled with ground meat, chicken, or vegetables) from a hot plate in his camel’s rear.
He’s one of the many local characters that bring Brazil’s colourful street food scene to life in a new TV series with British chef Andy Bates. As the country gears up to host the World Cup this summer, it’s the latest in a wave of new programmes dedicated to all things Brazilian.
Following the success of programmes in the UK and America, 36-year-old Bates, who started out running a pie stall in London’s Whitecross Market, has spent four weeks travelling through Brazil looking for street snacks - and the masterminds behind them - that get the country’s taste buds tingling.
I’ve joined him in Rio for the final leg of filming to get a real flavour for the ‘carioca’ (Rio native’s) lifestyle.
Already, Andy has salivated over Gloria Gonzalez’s Uruguayan barbecued meat and chimichurri sandwiches - a favourite of Anthony Bourdain - at Ipanema’s famous Posto 9, learned how to make a caipirinha at a music stall in the back streets of Santa Teresa, and even danced samba on stage at the Sunday Feira das Yabas - a festival of music, dance and food lovingly masterminded by Afro-Brazilian women.
He’s a good sport, ready to embrace any mayhem, mishaps and marvels that come his way.
“There’s no one specific dish that really sums up this country,” says Andy, now sitting on the back of Marco’s camel, with reins in his hands. “But it’s the people and their passion that really stand out.”
One of Andy’s favourite characters is wonderfully off-the-wall Rafael, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who sells “cosmic” Hareburgers to hungry beach-goers, grabbing their attention by playing a wooden flute.
“I use mushrooms from space and special cosmic cheese,” says Rafael, throwing his hands upwards to the heavens. Although he admits the cashew nuts which provide a crunchy topping are “just from the Amazon”.
But Andy has found ample inspiration to create a collection of recipes, which he hopes viewers will try their hands at this summer.
“I want people to have a go at some of these dishes in the kitchen, then sit back and enjoy the World Cup matches with mates,” he says.