Rio in London

To recapture a taste of Brazil in this country takes some effort, but it's worth it, says Sally Staples
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a Brazilian, newly arrived in London and desperately homesick. Is there anywhere in this awesomely large, bustling capital that might offer some of the comforts of home?

The answer is a resounding yes. First stop should be the tiny but comfortingly authentic Brazilian Touch cafe inside the Whistlestop supermarket in Oxford Street. Here you will get a warm welcome from Fernanda and Luis Carlos, whose inexpensive Brazilian food is popular with students and businessmen in the area.

The coffee is sensationally good. It is grown in Brazil, packed in Italy and drunk here with the popular Brazilian snack of cheese bread. If you are seriously hungry, feijao do Luiz (black beans, pork and rice) will set you back a mere pounds 3, as will xim de galinha (chicken, dry prawns, palm oil and rice).

There is a notice board where people can place small ads. And on the counter you can help yourself to a copy of Leros magazine, a monthly guide to the Brazilian scene in London offering information on nightclubs, language schools, computer courses and even where you can buy the latest fashions in Brazilian lingerie and swimwear from Exotica, whose two shops stock lingerie, underwear and the latest in very small bikinis. (check them out in the shopping arcades at Gloucester Road and Liverpool Street tube stations)

Leros also has the latest travel bargains to get back home in a hurry and its advertisements include lessons in the lambada and samba and cooking for Brazilian dinner parties, and even offers some solace for lonely hearts.

And if you feel short of entertainment there are leaflets previewing a concert in June at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane for Maria Bethania - described as the first lady of Brazilian pop music.

If you have made some friends at the cafe you may decide to throw a party, and it is just a short walk down Old Compton Street to Gerry's off-licence to buy a couple of bottles of that special Brazilian spirit to make the infamous knockout cocktail called caipirinha. At Gerry's they sell cachaca and pitu, both made from sugar cane and drunk mixed with lime and sugar. Occasionally they stock Brahma beer. Some branches of Tesco now offer a small selection of Brazilian wine.

But what most expats miss most is home cooking. If the party is to go with a swing the guests will want to enjoy a traditional dish made from salted pork and black beans. To recreate Grandma's best-loved recipes you must journey westwards to a shop in Golborne Road, just off the Portobello Road. In the Lisboa Delicatessen, the manager, Carlos Gomes, displays a table groaning with a range of meats, including salted pork and smoked pork belly.

"About 20 per cent of the customers are Brazilians who come here to buy native products," he says. "We stock special manioc flour, a sweet jam called mocoto, and the Gallo olive oil that comes from Portugal but is used everywhere in Brazil."

One of the customers in the shop, a Brazilian graphic designer who has been working in London for five years, regularly makes the journey from south London to stock up on the tasty comforts of home.

Just across the road is the Lisboa Patisserie, where Portuguese cakes are served with good, strong Brazilian coffee, and more copies of Leros are available.

The party would not be complete without the right kind of music. To find that, make a trip to Chalk Farm in north London to visit Tumi, a shop that provides a comprehensive guide to most aspects of Latin America culture and displays products from 12 countries. The owners have even developed their own recording company and sell a range of music including CDs and tapes of Brazilian rhythms that will guarantee a party to keep the dancers happy.

The word "Tumi" originates from the ancient Moche culture; it was the name given to a sacrificial knife used in Peru between 200BC and AD600. As time passed its use was transformed from a ceremonial to a surgical instrument, used particularly by the Incas; later it became no more than a symbol of the God of healing.

Some 2,000 years later Tumi was reborn in England, when Jane and Mo Fini spent a year in Latin America. They returned to the UK with sweaters they had bought in villages around Lake Titicaca, and from this modest beginning they set up a series of shops in Bath, Oxford and Bristol.

Currently on special offer in the London shop is a gloriously colourful selection of Batik pictures by the prize-winning Brazilian artist Luiz Mendes, who has used the countryside to inspire his brilliantly bold scenes and pictures of flamingoes, toucans and parrots. These sell for around pounds 30. If you have more money to spare, Tumi also has a range of Brazilian jewellery made from amethysts and malachite. Prices of necklaces average pounds 135.

If your budget stretches to eating out rather than cooking in, there are a growing number of Brazilian restaurants in London. The one favoured by the Embassy staff is Paulo's in Greyhound Road, west London, where the huge buffet and sugar cane schnapps are hard to rival.

So London may not be Rio, but the ingredients are there for an energetic group of like-minded expats to create their own little carnival.

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