The gastronomic arbiters of Brazil too often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Decades of sycophantic fawning over foreign concepts combined with a hypocritical and sweeping dismissal of swathes of their own autocthonous culture have left large parts of Brazil’s identity ignored … particularly the more humble immigrant ones.
Enter stage right – Rinconcito Peruano. An authentic Spanish-speaking kitchen, a favourite of the vibrant local Peruvian community that serves delectable and honest ceviche and more rustic Peruvian fare such as salt pork. Brazil’s architecturally rich but run-down city centres are gradually getting the clean-up they deserve. Top of the list for reclamation is the infamously nicknamed Cracolândia, where the cash-only Rinconcito Peruano is located at the top of an unsigned stairwell in Rua Aurora, making its humble contribution to the wave of Peruvian gastronomy sweeping the globe – without the eyewatering Gastón Acurio prices.
For most of the 20th century, the neighbourhood – ‘Luz’ or ‘Light’ – was one of the trendiest in town, with upscale shops selling the latest fashions from Paris to well-heeled Paulistas awash with coffee coin. Towards the end of the 1970s, the area began to decline and then entered a downward spiral over two economically and politically turbulent decades. The French linen purveyors and high ceiling apartments were first replaced by grubby porn cinemas and cackling transvestite prostitutes and appropriately renamed ‘Boca do Lixo’ (‘Dirty Mouth’).
Then, in the 1990s, the caximbos (crack pipes) and gaunt expressions of the crack addicts took up residence. Since the turn of this century, a slew of initiatives, from a right wing military occupation to a more recent left wing rehabilitation and employment operation, have secured momentum to gentrify the area. Indeed, hipsters and the gay community, the traditional pioneers in global urban city-centre reclaim, have, once again, led the shift back to the historic centre and away from the depressingly soulless condominium-ridden areas of the upper middle classes. The growing popularity of Rinconcito Peruano, it seems, is more than just gastronomically significant.
The gem of a restaurant is a short walk from the aggregation of Oscar Niemeyer-designed buildings around Praça Republica. Retro Peruvian salsa music videos play in the background of this spartan salon as Peruvian labourers and discerning gastronauts packing the close tables wash down their meals with the ubiquitous national Peruvian beverages — Inca Kola and Pisco sour.
The queues around the corner at Sunday lunchtimes – ceviche is a lunchtime only dish in its native Peru – and recent tripling of prices (don’t worry, it used to be irrationally dirt cheap…) allude to positive changes in São Paulo. Rumour has it they recently started taking cards, which should placate the local bearded Portland wannabes and the billowing La Marais try-hards … and with the impending change in street food laws in the city, there is even hope the envious following of Williamsburg and Shoreditch dirty burger food truck openings on the blogosphere will become a Paulista obsession of the past.