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Where to eat in Fortaleza, Ceará

a guide to the capital´s best seafood

Júlia Gouveia

Angelo Dal Bó

In Northeastern Brazil, Fortaleza attracts tourists from all over the world thanks to its beaches, winds and dunes. But its cooking has helped the Ceará capital to truly win over locals and outsiders alike.

 

It's just after 10 a.m. on a Sunday and the São Sebastião Market in Fortaleza is packed. The tables at the restaurants are overflowing. There, customers devour plates upon plates of goat tripe and beef tongue. Those visiting from out of town get it right away: it doesn't take much to eat well in Fortaleza.

Perched at the top of Northeastern Brazil and drenched by the sun all year, the capital of Ceará is one of the most sought-after tourist cities in the country. Aside from being the entryway to such heavenly destinations as Jericoacoara and Canoa Quebrada, the city itself has an essential mix of attractions. But it's in the food that we find the purest essence of Ceará. As you can see here, in Fortaleza you'll have a lot on your plate.

 

Regional, with plenty of pride

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Chef Faustino Paiva worked as a farmhand in rural Ceará until he was 17, before leaving for Rio de Janeiro to escape the drought. Since he returned to Fortaleza in the 1990s, he's become a point of reference, opening restaurants that combine the best regional products with European techniques. “I always wanted to validate what is ours,” he says plainly. “The cuisine of the Northeast is very rich in flavors, but it's underrated,” he opines. Paiva created such dishes as Mocororó Lobster, made with sour cashew syrup and molasses ice cream, a huge hit at the restaurant on Avenida Beira Mar that carries his name.

The freshest seafood can be found at the Mucuripe Fish Market. Thanks to a recent renovation, 45 new boxes were added and they all sell seafood from the region. No one goes hungry: four restaurants fry up ingredients purchased there fresh. Tourists and residents compete for tables in the pleasant deck area where you can watch the sunset while enjoying fried snacks and cold beer. For those who are up for early morning activities, another option is the informal fishermen's market held every day up until around 7 a.m., next to the official market. They return from the sea on their rafts at sunup and sell whatever they managed to catch, like second-rate crabs, right there on the sand.

 

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Having baked crab on Thursday nights is a tradition. You'll need skill and the right equipment to consume the creature: use a little hammer to get through the shell to the tender meat beneath it. It all started over 30 years ago at a shack known as Chico do Caranguejo. These days the place has turned into a true tourist complex with a small water park and a stage for live shows. If you'd rather try the delicacy in a quieter atmosphere on the beach sand, the shack next door, Hawaii, serves a great recipe made with coconut milk and cilantro.

But the Northeast has more than just seafood. In beachside cities, the ice cream shops are institutions. This is the case with 50 Sabores, which sells 70 tons of ice cream every month. With nine locations in the capital, the franchise which was founded in 1975 started out with just six varieties – now they offer over 150. The lengthy menu's highlights are the local fruits and flavors, like ciriguela and sapoti. Customers are encouraged to sample a few varieties in order to make up their minds. “One guy tried over 80 flavors before deciding. It's not a problem,” jokes owner Simão Vasconcelos.

 

The gourmet version

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Currently, Fortaleza is also embracing a generation of cooks who studied culinary arts in Europe and came back home to combine the two worlds, like pastry chef Lia Quinderé. Educated in Paris, after opening her pastry shop Sucre, she asked herself “why am I using these berries in my desserts when we have açaí and acerola?” The result is that Quinderé developed a line of delicious products, like the cajá brigadeiro and the manioc coxinha. Another place with a cosmopolitan atmosphere is Moleskine, a gastrobar that hosts a lively happy hour. Its hip menu was designed by chef Louise Benevides, and the house has an unforgettable ciriguela caipirinha.

Far from the beach, by the edge of a lagoon, the Colosso Lake Lounge is the beach club most sought-after by the well-heeled. With decorations inspired by the Greek island of Mykonos, the house hosts forró nights, samba sessions and lively parties. Surrounded by water lilies, ZOI is the locale's elegant restaurant, which offers Mediterranean food. 

 

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For anyone looking for a beach club right on the sand, Guarderia at Praia do Futuro is the most highly recommended. With a spacious deck and white upholstered sofas, the space features DJs and live bands. Fortaleza is also the birthplace of a successful culinary enterprise: the Coco Bambu restaurant chain, founded in 2001 by businessman Afrânio Barreira. Today, the franchise has 26 locations throughout the country and is opening a new restaurant in Miami this month. In the Ceará capital, its four affiliates are huge hits. “There's no secret to our menu: we've got slightly more sophisticated versions of regional dishes,” explains Barreira. The recipe for success also has another ingredient: generous portions with a great cost/benefit ratio (try the Rede de Pescadores, a mix of seafood). 

 

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When it's time to leave, if the scales are registering a few extra pounds, it means your trip was worth every calorie.

 

A can`t miss: Museum of Photography

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Until quite recently, it would have been unlikely for a museum to be included on the itinerary of anyone visiting Fortaleza. But the scenario changed in March of this year. The recently opened Museum of Photography contains 400 photos on display, many of which are rare and iconic, like Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl (1984) and Robert Capa's The Falling Soldier (1936). The images are part of the private collection owned by Ceará businesspeople Paula and Silvio Frota, which totals around 2,500 photos.

 

LATAM has direct flights to Fortaleza departing from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Miami and 9 other destinations. 

 

Special thanks to Hotel Gran Marquise.