Italian Cuisine with a Brazilian Twist – Interview with chef Guga Rocha

PI: How popular is Italian food in Sao Paulo and in Brazil in general?

GR: Italian cuisine is very popular in all of Brazil, but especially in the South and Southeast because of the influence of the Italian immigrants who settled in these regions.

PI: Has Italian food become an integral part of Brazilians’ daily eating habits?

GR: Of course! I would say that Italian cuisine is the definition of comfort food for many Brazilians, and actually, for about just anyone on earth!

PI: What are the typical Italian dishes people eat most?

GR: Brazilians commonly eat pasta, so spaghetti, lasagna, pizza and risotto are now part of the Brazilian culture and of the eating habits of our people.

PI: Besides the fact that there are many Italian immigrants, why does Italian cuisine appeal to Brazilians?

GR: I think it is for the healthy, colourful and nutritive qualities, and also for the emotional appeal that the “cucina della mamma” brings to the popular imagination.

PI: What typical local ingredients have been infused into traditional Italian cuisine? Have the recipes been adapted or transformed over time ?

GR: Brazilians are very creative by nature and this also holds true in the kitchen. For example, the quantity of different pizza toppings that were created in Brazil is impressive. Some purists may think it’s absurd to top a pizza with anything other than mozzarella or maybe tomatoes and basil leaves, but I personally enjoy a shrimp and catupiry pizza (catupiry is a creamy white cheese typical of Brazil), spaghetti with shellfish, gnocchi of arracacha (a type of root vegetable – also known as white carrot – that hails from Brazil) with a sauce of dried meat and cilantro pesto… It’s like a new world in the new world all over again.

PI: Is it true that Sao Paolo is the pizza capital of Brazil?

GR: No, Sao Paulo is the capital of pizza of the whole world! There is more pizza sold in Sao Paulo in one night than in three full days in Rome, with some 720 pizzas per minute and more than one million a day. But it is not just about quantity: the quality of the pizza is superb, and even the mayor of Naples apparently commented so on his last visit to the Brazilian metropolis.

Rocha’s Top Italian Restaurants in Sao Paulo

1. Fasano

Rua Vittorio Fasano, 88

São Paulo, SP, 01414-020

“The most sophisticated Italian restaurant in the city with an extensive wine list and a menu inspired by the cuisine of Italian regions and executed brilliantly.”


2. Famiglia Mancini

Rua Avanhandava, 81

Bela Vista, São Paulo, SP, 01306-000

“A classic, with top cuisine in a fun atmosphere, antique furniture and a wonderful seafood spaghetti.”


3. Zena café

Rua Peixoto Gomide, 1901

Jardim Paulista, SP, 01409-003

“A lively restaurant where beautiful people meet over a perfect Spritz, to eat one of the best gnocchi in the city. Actually, in my opinion, the best one there is.”


4. Terraço Itália

Avenida Ipiranga, 344

República, São Paulo, SP, 01046-010

“Italian cuisine on top of the world since the restaurant sits of top of the Italia Building, one of the tallest skyscrapers of the old downtown, with possibly the most beautiful and scenic view the city has to offer.”


5. Cantina C… Que Sabe!

Rua Rui Barbosa, 192

Bela Vista, SP, 01326-010

“A cantina in operation since 1931, in the heart of the Bixiga district, the most traditional Italian neighbourhood of Sao Paulo. Simple, yet friendly family atmosphere with very generous portions

written by Gabriel Riel-Salvatore