When Ricardo opened his 500 square foot, Brazilian-themed bodega in Astoria in 1994, he was in good company. He'd moved to Queens a few years prior, and finding himself amongst a growing Brazilian community there, was eager to open up shop alongside his neighbors.
Today, Astoria's "Little Brazil"—the stretch of 36th Avenue around the N/Q subway stop—is a different place. "Most Brazilians have gone home [to Brazil]. I'm just one of the last places left selling Brazilian goods."
To fill in the gap left by other closing businesses, Ricardo expanded in 2010, moving his modest store to an 8,000 square foot spot on 36th Avenue. The modern mint green-and-glass construction feels tropical alongside its heavy brick neighbors. Inside, it's a full on community center, with an onsite travel agency that books flights and exchanges currency from dollars to the Brazilian real, aisles with flip flops, bathing suits and futebol jerseys for purchase in advance of a booked trip, and an extensive line of newspapers, magazines, DVDs and cosmetics to nurse your nostalgia upon your return.
The main draw, though, for Brazilians and cultural tourists alike, is the grocery. "Our most popular products are pão de queijo—cheese bread—coffee, and açaí" Ricardo explained. "Really, açaí is our number one product. It was named the number one product in the world by Oprah, so now everybody comes here looking for it!"
If you're a devotee of those goods, you're in luck: you'll find frozen açaí pulp and acai-flavored soft drinks, an entire freezer case stuffed with frozen cheese bread (with boxed dry mix on the shelves as well), and a shelf-full of red packets of Pilão, a popular Brazilian coffee brand (which sits alongside rapadurinha, a natural sweetener made from sugar cane.) Ricardo supplies another current fanatical trend, too: coconut water.
There's a lot more, of course, in his 8,000 square feet. In addition to cheese bread, there's a wide selection of Brazilian cheeses, including creamy catupiry, traditional minas cheese, juicy frescal and queijo prato, a soft cheese, and one of the most popular in Brazil. There are soft rolls of Portuguese sweet bread, yuca snacks (not to be confused with yucca), pickled chilies, and sazón —those ubiquitous Latin American spice packets—for every dish imaginable.
To drink you'll find fruit juices in flavors such as passion fruit and mango, guaraná flavored soft drinks, aloe, and Sagres, the Portuguese beer. And for a special Southern Cone experience, you'll find not only kilo-packets of Brazilian yerba mate, the popular green tea, and traditional gourds for drinking said mate, but Tang as well. Pick a flavor, mix with water, and pour that into your gourd in place of hot water, for a summer tereré. You have your pick of flavors at Rio Market: orange, tangerine, watermelon, strawberry, mango, peach, grape, lime, passion fruit, guava, berry, and pineapple coconut.
An on-site butcher slices up interesting cuts of meats for a Brazilian churrasco (barbecue), including spicy lingüiça sausage, coração de frango (chicken hearts), dobradinha (tripe), pernil (pork shoulder), torresmo (fried pig skins), and
Sweets are well represented on the shelves. There's an aisle's worth of butter cookies and cream-filled wafers, jars of figs, papaya, sugar cane, and jackfruit preserved in syrup, wine-colored guava paste (try it with a wedge of Brazilian cheese), colorful packages of Garoto brand bon bons, tubs of doce de leite—akin to caramel, but better!—and kilo bars of baking chocolate for homemade treats.
Though Ricardo doesn't stock fresh fruits and vegetables, the expanded Rio Market has a café, which serves up homemade salgadinhos, snacks - including the famous cheese puffs, piping hot, and cakey empadas - and feijoada (a bean stew with beef and pork) to a happy clientele. And on weekends, they whip up little tupperwares full of dessert, including pudim de tapioca.
One thing you won't find at Rio Market is much—or any, really—English spoken. Fortunately, the travel agent has some tour books on hand, if it comes to that. Take a tour of the aisles in the slideshow.
32-15 36th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106 (map) 718-706-7272