Fortaleza is Brazil’s lobster capital. This crustacean is cheaper and more abundant here than in any other part of Brazil. But Ceará’s coastline yields all sorts of fish and seafood. Try the classic fisherman’s dish peixada cearense, which combines fresh fish such as robalo, cavala, and beijupirá with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions, and hard-boiled eggs. The ensemble is baked in an oven before receiving a last-minute drizzle of fresh coconut milk.
Beach barracas—particularly those at Praia do Futuro—are a great place for fresh seafood snacks such as crab, fresh oysters, and grilled snapper sprinkled with sea salt.
In Centro, two popular Fortalezense pit stops are ideal for a snack or light meal. Over the decades, it’s become a long-standing tradition to pull up a stool at Pastelaria Leão do Sul (Praça Ferreira, Centro, tel. 85/3231-0306, 9 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Sat., R$2–4). It’s a cramped but atmospheric little place decorated with old photos of Fortaleza, and locals swear by the crisp, deep-fried pasteis (turnovers) stuffed with chicken, beef, and cheese. The classic accompaniment is a glass of caldo de cana (sugarcane juice).
Equally popular, although much newer is the Santa Clara Café Orgânico (Rua Dragão do Mar 81, Iracema, tel. 85/3219-6900, www.santaclara.com.br, 3–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$3–7), located in the tower of the Centro Cultural Dragão do Mar. Apart from getting a java jolt from the organic coffees, espressos, and iced cappuccinos (you can buy the beans to go as well), you can tuck into a mouthwatering array of sweet and savory pastries, sandwiches, crêpes, and tapiocas. For a cheap local lunch with plenty of atmosphere, consider the various food stalls and per kilo restaurants at the Mercado Central.
Praia de Iracema
Sobre O Mar d’Iracema (Rua dos Tremembés 2, Iracema, tel. 85/3219-7999, 11 a.m.–1 a.m. daily, R$20–30) is a classic address for seafood specialties such as peixada cearense and lagosta sobre o mar, in which fresh lobster is grilled in its shell and served with vegetables. On Friday and Saturday, dining is accompanied by live music.
Praia de Meireles
Meireles and the adjacent neighborhoods of Aldeota and Varjota make up Fortaleza’s gastronomic zone. Coco Bambu (Rua Canuto de Aguiar 1317, Meireles, tel. 85/3242-7557, R$15–25) boasts sandy floors and a jungly decor that includes Technicolor toucans and parrots. The restaurant began life as a fun place to enjoy a mouthwatering selection of crêpes, tapiocas, and pizzas (made with wheat and corn flour). Recently, it added a more intimate dining room with exposed brick and chandeliers, where diners can enjoy sushi and Asian fusion cuisine. The per kilo buffet of regional dishes has won over the lunch crowd. And on Friday nights, DJs transform the place into funky town.
Removed from the buzz of Meireles’s beach scene,
Cantinho do Faustino (Rua Delmiro Gouveia 1520, Varjota, tel. 85/3267-5348, noon–3 p.m. and 7 p.m.–midnight Mon.–Fri., noon–1 a.m. Sat., noon–4 p.m. Sun., R$20–30) is located in the charming home of chef José Faustino Paiva. Paiva makes creative use of local produce (including herbs and vegetables culled from his rooftop garden) in contemporary dishes such as lobster in a sauce of morororó (a type of wild cashew), roasted kid with broccoli rice, and shrimp and lobster moqueca. For dessert, try the sorvetes made from unlikely ingredients such as olives and buriti (the rich orange fruit of a native palm).
Colher de Pau (Rua Frederico Borges 206, Varjota, 11 a.m.–midnight Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., Varjota, tel. 85/3219-3773, www.restaurantecolherdepau.com.br, 6 p.m.–12:30 a.m. daily, R$15–20) is a classic address for regional home-cooked dishes such as arroz-de-carneiro (a local version of a lamb risotto) and peixada. You’ll also find the tenderest carne-de-sol in town, served with baião-de-dois (the dois in question are beans and rice, bound together with melted coalho cheese). For dessert, sample the doces made with guava or caju. The restaurant’s cozy interior is reminiscent of a Cearense country house. Outdoor tables shaded by leafy trees are also very pleasant. Live MPB and samba are performed nightly.
You’ll need at least two companions to devour the overly generous and amazingly cheap portions of home-cooked fish and seafood served at Tia Rita (Rua Frederico Borges 336, Varjota, tel. 85/3267-5879, 10 a.m.–midnight, R$10–15). The pargo with shrimp sauce is made using 1.5 kilos (3.3 pounds) of fish, while the mariscada is a seafood stew overflowing with crab, octopus, mussels, shrimp, fish, and fish eggs. For simple home-cooking in a no-frills setting, you won’t do any better.
Beat Fortaleza’s heat with a scoop or two of sorvete from Juarez (Av. Barão de Studard 2023, Aldeota, tel. 85/3244-3848, 6 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily). Every day owner João José Juarez heads to the market at 4 a.m. to buy the fresh sapotis, graviolas, cajás and other fruity flavors that have tempted locals for over 40 years.
Praia do Futuro
Fortalezenses rarely go a week without treating themselves to a banquet of fresh carangueijo (crab), a feast lustily referred to as a carangueijada. Thursday is the traditional day for carangueijada, and you’ll find the city’s beach barracas full of locals expertly whacking away at crabs with wooden mallets. The sight (and sound) is something to behold. Carangueijada central is Praia do Futuro, where barracas, both mega and modest, stay open late into the night.
The most renowned crab temple of all is Chico do Carangueijo (Av. Zezé Diogo 4930, tel. 85/3262-0108, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri.–Wed., 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.), where the carangueijada tradition reputedly began. Live forró accompanies the proceedings.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition