The rise of Amazonian food in São Paulo

A growing interest in regional cuisine is helping put Amazonian food on menus in Brazil's biggest city. Tomé Morrissy-Swan speaks to the chefs who want to take diners beyond the usual Western influences to the flavours of the Amazon

Words by Tomé Morrissy-Swan

Amazonian food lead
The grilled filhote served at Sororoca Bar, a large fish native to the Amazon River

Sororoca Bar, on the edge of São Paulo’s hipster capital of Vila Madalena, is an effortlessly cool new restaurant that burst onto the city’s thriving culinary scene late last year. In the front room are deck chairs, providing a beach bar atmosphere. At the back, it feels very much like a modern wine bar.

Though it exemplifies trendy São Paulo, the dishes are wholly unusual, at least in South America’s largest city. Pastél, a deep-fried pastry, is found all over the city, but here they are filled with palm hearts and tucupí, a sour fermented cassava broth. A bao is deep purple from açaí and filled with fried fish and pickled chayote. Next comes a cricket bat slab of charred sororoca (Spanish mackerel), served with pirão, a condiment made with fish stock and cassava flour. These are dishes inspired by Amazonian food.

Amazonian cuisine in São Paulo
Thiago Castanho (centre) opened Sororoca Bar with two chefs from São Paulo with a focus on ingredients and dishes inspired by regions across the country

Brazilians once looked almost exclusively to Europe or Asia for culinary influence but Sororoca Bar reflects the country’s growing taste for Amazonian cuisine. Amazonian food has trended since chefs like Alex Atala put ants on the menu at São Paulo’s Michelin-starred restaurants. A new generation, however, is spearheaded by chefs born in Amazonian states like Pará and Amazonas, where the food is wildly different to the more Europeanised southeast. In São Paulo, recent openings include Banzeiro, Casa Tucupí and Quintal Paraense, while Saulo Jennings, of Casa do Saulo in Belém, the capital of Pará, arrived in April.

Spanning eight countries and 6.7million km², the Amazon does not have a singular cuisine. The food of modern-day Manaus and Belém, the Amazon’s biggest cities, is a blend of indigenous, European and African influences, with ample use of native ingredients. Cassava is eaten in several forms (as it is in the rest of Brazil) but tucupí, a broth or sauce derived from the roots of wild cassava, is unique. It is found in tacacá, an Amazonian dish that puts tucupí with jambú (a mouth-numbing plant), tapioca starch and dried shrimp or duck. There’s a heavy emphasis on fish, including giant river fish like filhote (a species of catfish) and pirarucu (a freshwater fish native to the Amazon). Belém, with two million inhabitants, is emerging as one of Brazil’s hottest culinary cities, and food-loving paulistas are cottoning on.

Ten years ago, cooks that used Amazonian ingredients put them in there as an exotic twist on an expensive menu

Thiago Castanho, who runs the renowned Remanso do Peixe in Belém, opened Sororoca Bar with two chefs from São Paulo. Though it uses produce from across the country, there’s a pronounced deference to Amazonian food, especially its emphasis on fish. ‘São Paulo isn’t like Belém in relation to consuming fish,’ says Castanho. In the Amazonian city, fish is part of the daily routine, whether grilled over coal or in stews. Castanho is bringing unconventional fish, often from the Amazon River or nearby coastline, to a city where farmed tilapia and salmon dominate.

‘Ten years ago, cooks that used Amazonian ingredients put them in there as an exotic twist on an expensive menu,’ says Castanho. Now Brazilians are increasingly respecting the region’s culture, music and art, and Belém is hosting COP30 next year. Growing appetite for its cuisine is part of a general rise in interest, Castanho adds.

Designer Patricia Sobral worked with Duhigó, an indigenous Amazonian visual artist, to develop artwork for the ceiling of Notiê in 2022

Born in Santa Catarina in the south, Felipe Schaedler’s family moved to the Amazonian town of Itacoatiara when he was a teenager and quickly fell in love with the food. Açaí, in its traditional form as a savoury condiment with fried fish, and tucumã, the fruit from a native palm, soon became part of his diet. With two successful restaurants in Manaus, including the original Banzeiro, Schaedler brought his fare to the upmarket São Paulo neighbourhood of Itaim Bibi in 2019.

Banzeiro’s cooking is traditional but ‘we dress it up a bit better,’ says Schaedler. You’ll find ants alongside a fish-forward menu, where one of Manaus’ most famous dishes, banda de tambaqui (grilled tambaqui) accounts for a quarter of sales. The number is remarkable, considering many told Schaedler that paulistas would never take to river fish, even if a fried river sardine hasn’t gone down so well.

Sourcing ants, chillies, mushrooms and more from indigenous communities helps provide them with a steady income. Schaedler is partly motivated by educating paulistas. A few years back, tucupí went viral around the country. ‘Lots of people used it, inventing dishes but in the wrong ways. That harmed it. People would say: “I don’t like this.” Our mission is to teach people to eat.’


Over on Rua Augusta, rather like São Paulo’s version of Camden, a street food market full of shipping containers hosts many of the usual suspects: shawarma, burgers and sushi. One, however, is a little different. Quintal Paraense specialises in the street food of Belém. Iris Leite opened in 2017 with her mother, Karina Fonseca, having first sold from the family’s backyard the year before. A second bricks-and-mortar site opened two years later in Casa Verde, in north São Paulo.

‘When we opened there was one restaurant that served food from Pará in São Paulo but it was inaccessible,’ says Leite. ‘We wanted to reach as many people as possible and make our traditional food accessible.’ Dishes like maniçoba, where cassava leaves are stewed until almost black and mixed with jambú and pork, or tacacá, now fly out of the kitchen.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Quintal Paraense (@quintalparaense)


Brazilians used to ‘ignore’ Amazonian food, Leite recalls, but things are changing. ‘Brazil was always very focused on the southeast, São Paulo and Rio. But these days, there’s a much bigger interest in the northern states, primarily for the cuisine because it’s so unique.’

It’s part of a rising interest in regionality, found the world over, from Sichuan spots in New York to Keralan joints in London. Now Brazilians are realising each of their country’s regions has something unique.

One chef delving deep into Brazil’s extensive regionality (the country is the largest in the southern hemisphere) is Onildo Rocha. When he studied gastronomy in his home state of Paraíba, in the northeast of Brazil, he was outraged at Brazilians not valuing their own food. His mission is to change that, culminating in his latest restaurant, Notiê, in the historic city centre. The menu changes every year or so, with each focusing on a different Brazilian region or biome. In 2022, that was the Amazon.

Onildo Rocha created Notiê with an aim to focus on a different region of Brazil every year and change the perception of Amazonian cuisine
Onildo Rocha created Notiê with an aim to focus on a different region of Brazil every year and change the perception of Amazonian cuisine

After extensive research, the tasting menu was impressive in its dedication to authenticity. It didn’t include gluten, as it isn’t present in the indigenous diet, or beef, both because it isn’t native and because of the deforestation involved in its production. At one point, diners would be given a jambú extract, their mouths numbed, a discombobulating sensation. Guests could opt to eat the menu in an unconventional format, starting with the main course, for example, to reflect the fact that many indigenous communities don’t have what the West may deem a traditional approach to dining, such as a distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rocha wanted to ‘confuse people’s palates’.

Why did he open in São Paulo rather than Paraíba? ‘It’s Brazil’s metropolis. I hope this contributes in some way to education, to enriching people’s lives, and to understanding their country’s culture better.’

Schaedler agrees. ‘Brazilians need to understand Brazil. My mission was to at least pique the interest of one person. If that one person was interested in going to Manaus because of the food, that would be enough.’ Belatedly, Brazilians are learning to explore their remarkable natural, culinary and cultural bounty.

Five of Sao Paulo’s best restaurants for Amazonian food

  • Sororoca Bar
    Rua Simão Álvares, 785 – Pinheiros, São Paulo – SP, 05417-030
  • Banzeiro
    Rua Tabapuã, 830 – Itaim Bibi, São Paulo – SP, 04533-003
  • Quintal Paraense
    Rua Horacio Vergueiro Rudge, 535 – São Paulo – SP, 02512060
  • Nôtie
    Rua Formosa, 157 – Centro Histórico de São Paulo, São Paulo – SP, 01049-000
  • Casa Tucupí
    Rua Major Maragliano 74 – Vila Mariana, São Paulo