Some large cities have developed quite defined eating and drinking establishments, Rio de Janeiro is one of those. Perhaps the most interesting and special is a variety in the local vernacular referred to as pé-sujo which translates to “dirty feet” in English.
Rich and Poor
Rio de Janeiro has been part of my life for over 10 years and nowhere I feel that the myth of rich and poor living side by side becomes more true than in a pé-sujo. Countless evening I have spent with friends enjoying their good company and the unique atmosphere these places can offer, on a hot evening in the tropics what can be better than a cold beer and the drama of the street right in front of your feet.
The general term for drinking establishments in Rio is boteco, it is used quite loosely to describe anything from chique and modern bars to the simplest hole-in-the-walls. These type of places started to develop in the late 19th century and can these days be seen on most corners in the city. The pé-sujo is the colloquial term for the simplest form of these, the dirty feet you get from standing or sitting on the actual street.
Daytime in a Pé-sujo
Many of these open in the early morning and offer simple breakfast alternatives like filled pastries and coffee with milk. As the day goes on the place turns into a lunch place that cater for blue collar workers as well as retired doctors. The prato feito is the big seller which most often is rice, beans and french fries served with sausages, chicken or beef. At times a few fresh vegetables gets lost and end up on the plates as well.
In the afternoon a transformation takes place, people have a beer after work and talk about favourite topics like football players and corrupt politicians. At night food is still served but it is more common to order a plate of sausages with onions or a steak sandwich to go down with that beer. On the obligatory tv-set people gather around football games and soap operas, for many people it becomes the living room extended. As the night goes on it becomes a more pure waterhole as more beer is sold to a growing crowd. It is at this time the unique mix of people starts to happen, street vendors sell peanuts to journalists and house wives; petty scoundrels can rub shoulders with politicians.
On Saturday and Sundays the rhythm is different, at 9 AM in the morning it is not uncommon to see a team of construction workers having their first beer before work, in areas that are close to the ocean it becomes the finish to a day on the beach. On weekends it is common to have semi-improvised barbecues where friends chip in, a simple grill is loaded with meat and sausages bought in the closest super market. Perhaps a group of people will start to play some Samba music around a table; Plates, spoons and glasses would join with instruments brought from home. On that Sunday afternoon a group of old-timers would put on the green tablecloth and start shuffling the cards in preparation for the weekly session of sueca.
Each pé-sujo has its own atmosphere and schedule, the clients that come are most often living or working closeby. Each bar can have their special mix of people made up of criminals, police officers, doctors, actors and lawyers. The choice of the bar can be made from convenience, preference or just coincidence. They are perhaps like ice cream flavours, you pick out of preference. If you ever go to Rio de Janeiro why not try to find one that is to your fancy? It is a true experience of life in this city.
If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article!
Sources and for further reading:
– Luz, M “Botequim de bêbado tem dono“ (2008)