Situated 760 meters (2500 feet) above sea level, the city of São Paulo, in the state of the same name, occupies an area of approximately 1500 square kilometers (580 square miles), where almost two-thirds of the land is urbanized and the rest rural. This urban megalopolis is better known as as Região Metropolitana de São Paulo (Greater São Paulo) and, with more than 15 million people, it has the largest population of any city in South America.
Pinheiros & Lapa
The old center, the suburbs, and a huge number of districts that make up this city all help to reveal the history of the city and its population. Initially inhabited by indigenous peoples such as Guarani and Tupi, the city received a considerable population of African slaves in the 17th Century when the Indians succumbed to Portuguese colonists. Slaves provided the main source of manual labor for the coffee and sugar cane plantations, which in turn helped create the modern city. However, São Paulo's population, grew very slowly until the middle of the 19th Century. At this time, the area we now know as Greater São Paulo was still made up of small scattered settlements, concentrated mainly in the present-day locations of the Pinheiros, Freguesia do Ó and Lapa districts.
As coffee became the biggest commodity in the 1870s, the city prospered. Railways linked São Paulo with neighboring Santos harbor, banks and export companies contributed additional wealth, enticing more and more people towards the development of new districts. From 1870 onwards, the urbanization of the city took place as swamps were transformed into gardens. Brás, one of the oldest districts and the former estate of the Portuguese trader Jose Brás—along with the Mooca and Lapa districts became new homes for Italian immigrants, who flocked to the city at the end of the 19th Century. The immigrants changed the culture of São Paulo and heavily influenced the paulista spoken accent, which is markedly different from any other in Brazil. At the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th, many farms were subdivided, and new districts such as Santa Efigênia, Bom Retiro, Consolação and Campos Elísios, (where the well-to-do lived at that time) came into being.
Thanks to the construction of the first power station in 1890, electrically-driven trams were introduced to the city. In the 20th Century, industrial development created new urban areas towards the east, west and south, following the railway lines and the Tietê, Tamanduateí and Pinheiros river valleys. Japanese immigrants, who arrived at the beginning of this century to work in agriculture, settled in what is today one of the most traditional areas of São Paulo: the Liberdade district. Today, this area exhibits many aspects of Japanese culture, including some of the best Japanese restaurants in the world.
Smaller, older settlements around the city were incorporated into the metropolitan region over the course of time. From 1915 onwards, very elegant districts started to spring up, such as Jardim Europa, Jardim America and Jardim Paulista, which have today become sophisticated commercial zones known collectively as the "Jardins." The Avenida Paulista is the Wall Street of São Paulo, boasting some of the most expensive office space available, as well as epitomizing the contrast of the different eras that so characterize São Paulo. Down one side of the street are historic neighborhoods and buildings, such as the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and the Vale do Anhangabaú; and down the other side, one will find residential and modern office constructions with well-planned architecture and engineering, notably the Jardins district itself.
Also on this side are the Jóquei Clube and the Morumbi district, where, besides the big mansions and luxurious residential buildings, you can find the Morumbi Stadium, one of the venues chosen by FIFA for the first World Club football tournament.
Vila Madelena e Bexiga
Another district notable for both its culture and its gastronomy is Vila Madalena, which possesses a high number of bars and restaurants, and an intense nightlife that attracts professionals, university students and artists. Most of São Paulo's districts have acquired a unique personality as, for example, the Bela Vista (also known as Bexiga) neighborhood, where you can find most of the city's theaters, and where you can frequent numerous bars featuring forró music (traditional music from north-eastern Brazil).
Like all the world's major cities, São Paulo is blessed with a huge variety of bars, restaurants and cafes, ranging from the most refined, elegant rendezvous points to humble and hearty neighborhood eateries. Dining in São Paulo, of course, does have some unique features. Booking tables in advance, for example, is never a prerequisite throughout most of this laid-back city. You might need to do so in some of the more upmarket establishments, but in general, a busy or adventurous tourist can get a decent meal any time of day or night, as most restaurants in São Paulo are open until 2 a.m.
Beer gardens are restaurants where the food menu is really just a support act to the excellent Brazilian draft beers on tap, served in tall glasses, china mugs or aluminum steins. However, do not confuse beer gardens with local bars that usually serve Chope which is just draft beer and generally attract a younger crowd. The Bar Leo , located in the bohemian city centre, is one the most traditional beer gardens in São Paulo, as is the Cervejaria Continental, whose beer-accompanying savory snacks have quite a reputation. Needless to say, there is no shortage of neon-lit international fast-food chains, but more interesting fare can be found in the three types of restaurant that define eating out in Brazil: the beer garden Brewpub , the steak and barbecue house, and the pizzeria such as Terraço Itália .
Pizzerias are one of São Paulo's gastronomic fortes. The city's Italian community is large and vibrant, and much of their culture has found its way into the daily lives of every paulista (i.e. someone from São Paulo). The Italian influence is particularly notable in the local cuisine, and some do say that you can get a better pizza in São Paulo than you can back in Italy: this claim can be put to the test at the Pizzaria Cristal. Neither is the Iberian peninsula absent, with the Spanish Don Curro in Pinheiros, and Portuguese cuisine served at Antiquarius in Jardins.
Brazilians in general, and paulistas in particular, are voracious meat eaters. It is therefore hardly surprising that a big favourite here for dining out are those temples of carnivorous self-indulgence known as the steak and barbecue house. These establishments may be one of two kinds: those that serve set meals from the menu, and the churrascarias, or "all-you-can-eat" restaurants, where waiters shuttle around the tables, serving different cuts of meat. Two famous such establishments are the Baby Beef Rubaiyat , with three branches (in the city centre, Jardim Paulistano and Paraíso), and Dinho's Place . For lovers of international cuisine, and those with the budget to pay for it, the options are plentiful. Among the Italian restaurants, places like Fasano are remarkable. For more refined oriental cuisine, try the Japanese Suntory restaurant (Jardins) or the Indian Ganesh.
Italian food at Ca'D'Oro and La Vecchia Cucina (Itaim) are famed both at home and abroad, as is the Middle-Eastern restaurant Arábia also in Jardins.
Outside the City
There is also Cafe Antiqüe, a fabulous French restaurant located in Jardim Paulista. There are also various establishments specialising in typical Brazilian cuisine, notably O Profeta, where common dishes from the State of Minas Gerais are served such as tutu de feijão (a bean-based concoction), crispy bacon, pork sausages and home-made tropical fruit desserts.
There are also numerous venues with live music, where food may not be the main attraction, but the impassioned atmosphere, with beautiful young people and excellent house drinks, makes them well worth a visit. In São Paulo, when the new day begins you hardly notice it.