Featured in Lonely Planet. Words and photography by Teresa Madeline Geer.
In Rio de Janeiro there are the essential purchases: the classic mini statue of Christ the Redeemer, the cheapest Havaianas on the planet, and the beach sarongs known as kangas. But beyond these standard souvenirs is a wealth of unusual treasures which are as much a pleasure to possess as they are to search for amidst the bustling Carioca feiras (fairs) and mercados(markets).
Whether you want a day exploring the mazes of exotic artisan products, a taste of the authentic flavors of Brazil or to find that unique present for a lucky loved one, this is your guide to the best in Carioca shopping.
Feira de São Cristóvão
Feira de São Cristóvão is not just any shopping mall. This purpose built arena houses a host of shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment, all with the unique flavor of the northeastern state of Bahia. Free on weekdays, and R$5 on weekends, it's an amusement park for adults that is not only a refuge from the burning sun but also a secure place to shop with guards at the entrance.
There are plenty of home decorations to choose from: wind chimes, vibrantly hand-painted wooden parrots and traditional Bahian lady statues. Or if you’re in the market for a hammock, there’s a huge range here at almost 50% less than in other areas of Rio. Edibles like traditional cookies and Portuguese sweets such as cocadas (a sweet coconut cake) are well worth adding to the basket too.
Just as tempting as the shopping though are the more than twenty restaurants specializing in traditional northeastern dishes like muqueca(coconut fish stew) and baião de dois (mix of rice, beans and salted beef). The best of the bunch is Mandacaru(feiradesaocristovao.org/gastronomia) where waiters in cowboy hats charm customers through the doors with tacky green plastic cactuses, deliciously authentic Bahian cuisine and friendly service.
Ipanema Hippie Fair
The Hippie Fair is a buzzing retail experience that takes place every Sunday close to Ipanema beach at Praça General Osorio. Originally a market run by authentic dreadlocked sellers, the hippies moved on when rent prices for the stalls rose, but luckily their skills and style live on through the carefully crafted merchandise still available. There’s plenty a free soul could want here, from colorful dreamcatchers to original Carioca art and jewelry made from bone, wood, metal, silver and fabric.
Shopping done, it’s time to tuck into some of the dishes at the street-food stalls that surround the market. Try some of the best acarajé in town (deep fried bean dough cake filled with shrimp and spicy sauce). After, take the short stroll towards Ipanema’s Arpoador area where true beachside hippies handmake artisan jewelry which is not only as authentic as but also slightly cheaper than that at the ‘official’ fair.
Feira do Rio Antigo
For shopping addicts lucky enough to be in Rio de Janeiro on the first Saturday of the month, Feira do Rio Antigo on Rua Lavradio in the Lapa neighboorhood is the perfect fix. Dozens of pop-up stalls set up along this long street, selling quirky products including African print clothing, cool T-shirts, hand-knitted headwear, hipster Hawaiian shirts, junky jewelry and much more.
The street is also home to some of the best restaurants and bars this side of town. The antique-filled Rio Scenarium is a smart choice for a classy caipirinha, and if hunger strikes, recently opened Casa Momus (casamomus.com.br/en) is a stylishly decorated restaurant with a fresh Euro-Brazilian menu; try the salmon with cream sauce for a main, and don’t miss the to-die-for chocolate torte for dessert.
Fresh food at Feira da Glória
The best place to buy fresh produce in Rio de Janeiro is at one of itsfeiras. Reasonable prices and head-sized mangoes bring crowds down to Glória’s feira every Sunday from 7am until around 2pm. Located just outside the metro station, this fruit and vegetable market stocks standard staples such as chili-peppers, papaya, watermelon and avocados, along with a selection of Brazilian fruits that most of the world doesn’t even know exist such as jabuticaba or cupuaçu.
Locals arrive early for the best pick of seafood and fish, all freshly caught and chilling on ice, but bargain hunters arriving after 1pm can bag some great deals as the market winds down.
It’s a Sunday tradition for many Cariocas to have breakfast at the famed Feira da Glória pastel stall which serves deep-fried palmetto (heart of palm), carne (beef) or quiejo (cheese) varieties, all washed down with a swig of freshly juiced cano do caldo (sugar cane juice). Save room for a traditional tapioca crepe, sweet or savoury, or a moist slice of aipim(cassava) cake.
The charming chaos of Mercado Municipal is not the most glamorous, clean, or attractive shopping spot in Rio de Janeiro, but is a popular choice for locals. The market is a distribution hub with the cheapest prices in Rio for products like flowers, Portuguese sweets and a wide range of oils, beers, spirits and wines.
For those feeling peckish, there are restaurants specializing in Portuguese-inspired food, along with plenty of shops that sell fresh juice or açaí bowls for a lunch on the move.
The best day to go is Saturday when it’s open from 5am for early birds. It’s a bit further away than the usual tourist haunts, located in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro, and is not reachable by metro, so take a taxi from Ipanema (R$50).
Safety tips while shopping in Rio
Only take as much cash with you as needed and keep it well out of sight while shopping. Most sellers, even some market stalls, accept debit and credit cards, but ensure you keep your card in view at all times – there are many reported cases of card cloning.