Monday, 13 August 2012 10:21 AM
Kate Walker samples the gastronomic delights of the Buzios Food Festival in Brazil
Thick, yellow steam envelops the front of Buda Beach Bar, enticing a growing crowd. A flash of flame shoots up into the darkening sky to a loud cheer and flashing cameras. A smell that made my taste buds salivate wraps around me.
Weaving through a throng of visiting locals, Cariocas, Argentineans and tourists, I emerge in front of the largest pan I think I've ever been acquainted with: 1.5x1.5m of rice, octopus, crisp colourful vegetables, chorizo, succulent prawns and tender calamari simmered and folded to the meaty hands of Buda's head chef and his giant ladle. Now this is how you 'do' paella.
A quick outburst of applause, a shout from the chef and Buzios Food Festival (now in its 11th year) is officially open.
Held every year over two consecutive weekends (always during the first half of July) the festival draws folk in their thousands to explore, taste, delight and generally get involved in the amazing gastronomic street scene this coastal city throws up. Over 40 restaurants, gastro bars and cafés pull together to create late night, affordable signature dishes. It's perfect for the region during what would otherwise be a quiet low season.
Having placated the belly, I took to the trendy cobbled streets again with a glass of Sangria in hand to schmooze the 40 other hubs for my main course (or two...) and desert.
Away from the hustle and bustle, tucked away on Rua das Pedras, I discovered Santan’s Lounge (or S Lounge). Although not part of the festival this year, I couldn't help but sample Alex’s (the owner’s) scrummy Swiss raclette and killer caipirinhas. What a combo. With just a few wicker couches, low lighting, a DJ and the sea breeze wafting through, S Lounge is an ideal pre-club/party venue to crank up the evening with friends at.
The estancia, too, sits on Rua das Pedras - the main drag through Centro/Downtown, and it's here where those with big bucks duck in and out of pricey boutiques, designer swimwear shops and generally amble all the while looking ultra fashionable. This is one good spot to people watch...
A local busker, doing his best, further down the road dragged me in for a few minutes and it was here, bopping in support with a different group of festival goers, that I spotted dessert.
The ladies of Colombina Café waved me over and proudly introduced me to their signature dish – Banana Buziana. Heavens, with only a few Portuguese words under my straining Churassco belt, how was I to ask exactly what a Banana Buziana was? Anything banana is a winner for me, so I figured accepting the warm plate presented to me silently, would be safe enough. "Salty, sweet. Salty, sweet...it's good", I'm told as I swallow the first mouthful. Salty and sweet is the simplest and most accurate description I would use too. A combination of banana, cinnamon, condensed milk, thick ice cream, shavings of lime peel and grated parmesan cheese. Who would have thought? And it was delicious.
Festival-ed out and having discreetly removed my belt, the only thing left for me was bed.
Overlooking the Bay of Buzios lies Casas Brancas Boutique Hotel & Spa – my home for four nights. Elevated above Praia da Armação (and Orla Bardot), with views out over Praia dos Ossos and nestled within a quiet cul-de-sac; the hotel is one of the town's best and has been for 38 years.
Having slept solidly (probably thanks to the ridiculous amount I consumed on the streets the previous night) I was up early and, oddly, hungry for breakfast. It's a good thing that breakfast is a three or so hour affair as the selection on offer is plentiful. Tuck into waffles, smoothies, a myriad of pastries, juices, cereals, yoghurts - you name it. And all of this takes place in Cafe Atlantico - the hotel's all day al fresco/Mediterranean fusion cuisine restaurant, and a top Buzios establishment for dinner.
Open-aired, with views out to the Atlantic and candlelit by night, it's an easy spot to while away the day watching Buziana life go by.
Day or night, the spot to base yourself is the hotel's beach lounge – an open plan deck, scattered sun lounges (with mattresses and bolsters to boot) and a slip of a cool pool. Sprawled here in a newly purchased Buzios-bikini it's oh-so-easy to spend the day sipping cold coconut water and shuffling back and forth to the pool and sun loungers.
In light of this, Casas Brancas is spot on for two types of holiday makers. For the folk who are after more of an 'all-inclusive' stay, then Casas Brancas feeds, waters, relaxes and accommodates well.
And then for the intrepid go-go-go lot, the hotel's gem of a location means easy access to the town and its 30 plus beaches. Explore, do it all and still have a luxury base to return to.
Four days doesn't do Buzios any justice. To revel in the luxury of Casas Brancas or to potter trendy shores, ogle fashion price tags and even explore further afield – at least grant this buzzy base a week.
Whether it's low season (March – May & August - October) or high season (November – March & June - July) Buzios is a chilled beach and foodie destination that I can imagine coming back to visit again and again.
By Kate Walker