SAO PAULO (Reuters Life!) - Forget feijoada, the hearty pork and bean stew that is often hailed as Brazil’s national dish. If you want tradition in Sao Paulo, pizza is where it’s at.
Paulistanos, as residents of South America’s largest city are called, revere pizza much like the French cherish fine wine and Argentines love a good steak. Sao Paulo is so serious about its pizza that for the last 22 years the city celebrates “Pizza Day” every July 10.
For many Sao Paulo residents, dinner with the family at the neighborhood pizza joint is a Sunday ritual. People of all ages line up for hours outside pizzerias every Sunday night all over this sprawling metropolis to get their weekly fix.
By some estimates, only New Yorkers devour more pizzas annually than Paulistanos. Sao Paulo is home to more than 6,000 pizza parlors that, in all, churn out close to a million pies a day, according to the local association of pizzerias.
“We’re talking about mountains of pizza,” said Vinicius Casella Abramides, who manages Pizzarias Braz, one of the most popular upscale pizza parlor chains in the city.
“Sao Paulo and pizza go hand in hand.”
Braz normally seats 400 to 600 people every Sunday night at each of its four outlets, serving up as many as 800 pizzas out of old-fashioned wood burning stoves. It also typically fires up over 1,000 more for home delivery, making Sunday the busiest day of the week.
Going out to pizza has become such a ritual in Sao Paulo that it has even worked its way into the Brazilian lexicon. When politicians charged with corruption escape prosecution, Brazilians say the investigation “ended in pizza,” which conjures up images of the accused celebrating over a pizza.
Sao Paulo’s love affair with pizza dates back to the early 20th century, when Italian immigrants began flocking to Brazil in droves in search of work on coffee plantations. By 1920, more than 1.2 million Italians had settled in Brazil, the majority in or around Sao Paulo.
Today, Sao Paulo is home to the largest Italian community in Latin America. Italians have had such an impact on local customs that even the brand of Portuguese spoken in this city has a distinct Italian twang to it.
The first pizzerias in Sao Paulo popped up in a gritty industrial district called Bras, which eventually became Brazil’s version of Little Italy. The neighborhood is no longer the city’s epicenter for Italian cuisine, but one legendary pizza parlor still stands among its run-down streets and abandoned factories — Casteloes.
Founded in 1929, Casteloes has long been the gold standard for pizza in Sao Paulo, so much so that its best selling pie — mozzarella with a spicy Italian sausage called calabresa — is dubbed Casteloes on menus all over the city.
Other local favorites are Italian classics like the Margherita — mozzarella with basil leaves — and the Napolitana, which is topped with grated Parmesan cheese, fresh garlic and basil leaves.
But not all Paulistanos are purists when it comes to pizza. Homegrown concoctions include the so-called Portuguese pizza, which is topped with ham, hard-boiled eggs, onions and black olives. Another big seller has shredded chicken and a creamy local cheese called catupiry.
Elsewhere in the country, Brazilians have been known eat pizza with gobs of ketchup, a practice that is scoffed at in Sao Paulo as provincial and even banned by some pizzerias.