Just over 100km north of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic stadiums is the valley of Araras, an emerging foodie destination in the Serra dos Órgãos mountains. Hidden beneath overhanging trees and marked only by overgrown restaurant signs measuring the metres to your next meal, a single stretch of restaurants showcase Brazil’s huge cultural diversity.
Perhaps that is because Araras is in Petrópolis, Brazil’s “Imperial City”, with centuries of European influence. Attracted by the relatively cool climate, the country’s Portuguese emperor built his summer palace here in 1830, and German farmers were encouraged to settle its outlying lands. Known as the Gourmet Valley today, Araras is also a lush ecological reserve.
Its European heritage can be seen in the gorgonzola and grape pizza at Alvorada, a contemporary restaurant at the start of the road, and in the classic French ratatouille and duck confit, at Fazenda das Videiras, a colonial farmhouse and inn at its end.
In between is Oliveiras da Serra, a century-old red cottage which offers a dozen ways to feast on bacalhau, Portuguese salted codfish – from bolinhos de bacalhau (fried cod balls, served as a snack) to bacalhau à Portuguesa, which comes with olive oil, onions, potatoes, broccoli, hard-boiled eggs and olives.
After the meal, it’s common to be offered a glass of port by owner Vera Oliveiras and her daughter Giuliana, the chef. Although Brazilian, Oliveiras always dreamed of moving across the Atlantic, from Araras. “I was born in Rio de Janeiro, but my heart is in Portugal,” she said. “My husband said the restaurant was closer.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010