By Maria Angelica Troncoso
Rio de Janeiro, Oct 8 (EFE).- Laid-back, welcoming and bohemian, “botecos” are the ultimate gathering places in Brazil, while in Rio de Janeiro they are ideal settings for people-watching and experiencing the city and its gastronomy.
After two years under Covid-19-triggered protocols and restrictions, these small nightspots with the look and feel of a traditional tavern are now starting to spring back to life in the Cidade Maravilhosa.
Defined in the dictionary as small establishments where beverages and small dishes of food are sold, “botecos” – known informally by Brazilians as “butecos” – are not just bars but rather meeting points where social hierarchies and dividing lines melt away.
“A boteco is like a mother’s lap: it’s there for you in times of celebration but also at difficult moments. A boteco is life. It’s something that’s always in motion,” Anderson Ribeiro, the owner of one of these eateries – A folia do Boi – on Rio’s north side, told Efe.
They are places where intellectuals and politicians, housewives and transvestites, architects and construction workers toast one another with their favorite beverage and engage in spirited conversation.
The majority of them family-run, botecos range from the classical to ultra-modern establishments like central Rio’s Cine Botequim, where everything from the decor to the menu is inspired by the world of film.
But in the more traditional botecos, the most common type in the city, ceramic tiles cover the walls and a few wooden tables are spread out in a room always wanting for space.
Although seemingly jam-packed by design, their limited capacity is never a problem for Cariocas (Rio’s inhabitants), who seem happier chatting on the sidewalk than sitting down for a drink.
Ice-cold beer is the main beverage of choice, but botecos also typically serve a variety of “caipirinhas,” a classic Brazilian cocktail made with cachaca (sugarcane hard liquor), sugar and lime and often livened up with tropical fruits, cinnamon, anise and pepper.
Small dishes of food similar to Spanish tapas, but known as “petiscos,” accompany the drinks and feature typical ingredients used in Brazilian and Rio dishes such as yucca and its derivatives, beans, beef, chicken (including giblets) and seafood.
A folia do Boi recently won first prize in a petisco competition promoted by municipal tourism agency Riotur for a dish prepared with shrimp, yucca, a shrimp-based cream sauce, palm oil and cilantro.
That annual contest known as “Comida di Buteco” is playing an important role in promoting the botecos and encouraging ever more original and mouthwatering menu options.
And for tourists, those delicacies are giving them the perfect excuse for exploring hidden corners of the metropolis and familiarizing themselves with the places where true-blooded Cariocas congregate and are genuinely in their element. EFE