F Is for Fine Food in Fortaleza, Brazil

Chico do Caranguejo restaurant, in Ceará, Brazil Fresh seafood is the thing to have when visiting Fortaleza, the capital of the state of Ceará, in the Brazilian Northeast, due to the fact that the town is still home for scores of fishermen who go out to sea every morning.

They bring their catch to the sands of Mucuripe (hence the Fagner/Belchior composition made famous by the late Brazilian singer Elis Regina), which ends up in the local markets and of course in the kitchens of the many local restaurants.

Eating fish that has not been refrigerated for weeks is something that makes a huge difference to the palate. During a recent visit to Brazil, I ventured out to a supermarket close to my mother's apartment and bought ingredients to make a moqueca, a famous dish that originates from Bahia.

There, I purchased locally produced coconut milk and fresh shrimp, and the resulting dish had that flavor of the sea that you can only encounter in a place like that. A few days later in New York, I cooked the dish again – this time with fish caught in Vietnam and canned milk from Thailand. You can imagine the difference that made.

Seafood can be found virtually anywhere in Fortaleza. If you want a really organic experience, visit one of the many beachfront restaurants at Praia do Futuro and order stewed crab (caranguejo, 3 reais (US$ 1.8) a unit), which is cooked in cilantro and coconut milk.

During our visit there, we made two stops at Chico do Caranguejo (Av Zezé Diogo, 4930 – www.chicodocaranguejo.com.br), which began the tradition of serving crabs on Thursday evenings. Eating them is a messy affair, for you have to break the crustacean with your own hands, but in the end you will be completely satisfied. Do order a large quantity (we usually had three for each member of our party), for just one is definitely not enough.

Another recommended stop is the restaurant row at the Dragão do Mar Cultural Center (Rua Dragão do Mar, 81 http://www.dragaodomar.org.br ), where you will find a rich variety of foods, ranging from Italian, French to local traditional foods, which is where we headed to after a long walk around the city's downtown area. There we sampled Dragão do Mar Fish, which is a mildly spicy fish cooked in a rich tomato sauce and served with a side of white rice.

Peixada Cearense, a fish stew cooked with vegetables and served with pirão (sort of a gravy made with yucca flour) and the proverbial white rice, is arguably the best known of all traditional dishes from Fortaleza.

The place to go for this dish is Alfredo O Rei da Peixada (Av. Beira-Mar, 4616 http://www.restaurantealfredo.com.br), which opened in 1958 and is one of the few that we encountered that had an English translation to the menu. We were very impressed with the classy service and of course the taste of the food.

An area that is not very well known among tourists is Varjota, a neighborhood that is home to a large restaurant row. There we visited Assis o Rei da Picanha (Rua Ana Bilhar, 1356 – no website), which specializes in meats roasted Brazilian barbecue-style. We promptly ignored that fact, and ordered their yummy shrimp in catupiry cheese sauce, a favorite that I used to constantly order back in the days when I lived there.

Those craving other kinds of culinary experiences should head out to Pasto & Pizzas (various locations, http://www.pastoepizzas.com.br), a local franchise which innovated by creating rodí­zio of Italian foods – you pay one price and the waiters bring a variety of dishes to your table until you pretty much burst.

In addition to more traditional fare, they also have their own creations which include chocolate pizza, which didn't do to well with us but that is reportedly one of the favorites there. We recommend fasting all day before you venture out there.

Another surprising discovery is the Cachaçaria Ypióca (Av. Washington Soares, 85 – Loja 523, http://www.ypioca.com.br ) which is located inside a renovated area in the city's Iguatemi Shopping Center. During our visit there, we sampled a variety of premium cachaças and also had the opportunity to check out their many appetizers, which are all prepared with the local spirit.

Most restaurants in Fortaleza do not serve individual dishes – servings are usually for two or more people, so those used to the New York style of ordering for one will probably have a hard time agreeing on what to eat.

Beer is also served in a large bottle (in a cooler to keep the temperature low). At the locations we visited, we didn't find any English speakers, so some survival Portuguese is recommended for a more enjoyable experience.

This article appeared originally in The Brasilians.


  • Show Comments (8)

  • Ernest Barteldes

    Well, I am writing a series of articles on Fortaleza, which have appeared here and on The Brasilians…There is plenty of material online as well…

  • Betty

    Tem gosto de ‘quero mais’!!
    I am from Fortaleza, and lived in US all my life.. I’ve recently been able to go back and try to make up for lost time, with the culture, food, and places that Ceara/ Northeastern Brasil/ especially Fortaleza, is known for… Where would I be able to find authentic sources on these subjects- in, and out, of the country??
    Great info. on fortalezence eateries! I’ve been to some, and would highly recommend them! (Although, I’m allergic to seafood, and try limit meat! 😥 ! )
    Thanks again!!

  • Ernest Barteldes

    Can’t really tell you, I have never really had a relationship with red meat. I recall going to “Churrascos” when I was a teen and would spend the rest of the
    day feeling like I had a brick in my stomach. Around 1996 I met a girl who did not eat red meat, and as that relationship developed i began to forgo the stuff
    myself (as I wrote above, there are few places for individual servings in Brazil), and then began to feel better. Today I do have a diet that is rich in protein (soy, chick peas, etc)
    but have stayed away from meat ever since… even though I am no longer with that girl!

  • João da Silva

    [quote]i love sea food more than red meat but one needs the protine from red meat to help

    brain cells and keep up the body health does not take much [/quote]

    If EB does not like red meat, it is fine. Probably he is consuming vast quantity of Soy products which do contain protein that enables to develop brain cells.According to what I read, “GrÀƒ£o de Bico” (Chic peas)contains more protein than the red meat per gram. I love GrÀƒ£o de Bico. May be EB also consumes that grain.

    However, I would like EB himself to explain to all of us why he does not like red meat!

  • forrest allen brown

    i love sea food more than red meat but one needs the protine from red meat to help

    brain cells and keep up the body health does not take much

    you may try a lean beef not cooked till it is a pice of burnt flesh

    rid eye is a good one

  • Ernest Barteldes

    There is a reason for the red-meatlessnes here
    Yes, i realize that I omitted the steakhouses – i should have mentioned that I do not eat red meat, it just doesn’t sit well in my stomach – I am a huge fan of seafood. I know the big steakhouse you mentioned, it is called Parque Recreio and it is located at Avenida Rui Barbosa. Obviously, I do not patronize them… maybe a meat-lover should contribute a full article here, yes?

  • forrest allen brown

    is the best open air stake restraunt in brazil
    it is located near the city center , enclosed by a larg brick wall covered in vines , and huge oaks trees
    with 26 or so palap type pole buildings that seat 12 to 24 persons at seprate tables .
    all the food is cooked over open fire where you can see it , you choose your staks off a cart pushed over to your table beded in ice and covered by glass , the smalest we saw was a 10 ribeye with a 24 portop house as the big boy .
    it come with your side orders woy choose
    and live band got to go there next time you are there .

    stay off the beach as the lobsters are less then the law allowes them to pick so they are very small and expensive 90 reals for 6 last time i was there and looked .

  • John Mueller

    Only a few of many
    The writer has only touched on the fine restaurants found in Fortaleza. I go twice a year and each time I go I discover more and more good restaurants. You could eat at a different restaurant every meal and still wouldn’t eat your way through them.
    While the seafood is wonderful, there are many, many rodezios, Asian and Italian restaurants. The beef is fantastic and several restaurants serve Argentinean beef.
    Do your tastebuds a favor and spend some time in Fortaleza.

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