Mercado Municipal

Covent Garden, Lexington Market… every big, cosmopolitan, wealthy city has one: a place that used to be a run-down, filthy market for wholesale of vegetables, meat, flowers, and any other fresh produce imaginable. A place that is now edgy, alternative, posh and pricy, and where you can find very, very good food.

I seem to recall passing by Sāo Paulo’s Mercado Municipal as a young girl, but not really daring to go in. It was huge, dark and dank, and smelled of slightly rotting vegetables. There was no appeal to it whatsoever, except for its hugeness. And, of course, anything one might obtain there was cheap. And, the building was old, an echo of what once might have been.

Well, this week, I went to the Mercado Municipal Paulistano with a friend of mine, and at that point all my doubts on the matter were put to rest: Sāo Paulo has joined the rank of the big, cosmopolitan, wealthy cities. The building was gorgeous, freshly painted to show off its stained glass, arched windows. The stalls inside were no longer wooden carts that were dragged in each day, but were proper stores, one right next to the other. Italian was the most common theme, followed by sweets and snacks. There was a fish section, a meat section, and a chic Arab section.

We did also find the good old-fashioned “padaria” – a bakery where you can sit and drink coffee and munch on fresh pastries. I had a good old-fashioned coffee-with-milk there. But even that felt posh, and the price of the coffee-with-milk was bloated.

I came away with a tube of authentic vanilla pods. Not something the Mercado Municipal I remember would have sold.

Indeed, gentrification was a definite theme of my week in Sāo Paulo. Where I used to eat a big plate of rice and beans, I was now invited by friends to share a plate of Sushi (which I also like!). The filter coffee with milk heated on a stove is slowly being overtaken by cappuccino and espresso machines. I went to Starbucks four times in one week, and all my friends are now finding their way around town with GPS systems run on their iPhones. Sāo Paulo has arrived.

Unfortunately, prices have kept up, a little too well, with the little luxuries. I am ashamed to tell you how much I paid for those vanilla pods – I only hope they are as good as they look. Most restaurant food seems to be costing, on average, twice what it would cost me in London for the equivalent. Yes, double the prices of London! Of course, the cheap options do still exist, but they’re being marginalised, along with the masses of people who can’t afford to keep up with the gentrification of the Mercado Municipal. Those guys are facing three hour commutes, each way, and salaries that barely pay their transportation costs, much less living costs. They share crowded subways and horrid traffic right alongside the middle and upper-middle class who has recently fallen in love with Starbucks.

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