When it comes to us out-of-towners, visiting Recife probably wouldn’t come without a visit to Olinda – it’s gorgeous colonial neighbour. Same thing may apply the other way around, so considering we were already staying in Olinda, a day trip to Recife was already on the cards.
This town is the capital of the state of Pernambuco. It’s a very busy place – compared to where we’ve been travelling, anyway – it’s a hotspot of culture, nightlife and food. A bit of everything, really.
Hmmm, maybe we should have stayed longer to sample more of the food!
The obvious area to explore is Recife Antigo, or Old Recife, where you can easily wander the cobbled streets and gawk at stunning old buildings in varying stages of repair or dilapidation. Unlike Olinda, there are no hills in this part of Recife, so walking is a breeze.
Street art enthusiasts will revel in the art that’s sprayed and adhered onto many of the walls in Old Recife. Another open-air gallery, just like Olinda, but with much more of a gritty edge.
If you’re a museum buff, there’s more than a fair share of spaces to poke around. We weren’t in town for too long, so staying indoors out of the glorious sunshine wasn’t going to happen. Unless, of course, it was food or drink related.
Although, there is one place where you can be outdoors and admire some unique pieces in a sculpture park, built atop the breakwater off the old town.
Parque das Esculturas features some of the avant-garde works by local contemporary artist Francisco Brennand and can be reached by grabbing a small boat from Marco Zero Square. There’s also Oficina Cerâmica, an indoor-outdoor space by the same artist, about 10 km west of town.
Had it not been a Sunday when we decided to drop into town, we could have wandered about the street market that spans Rua do Bom Jesus. Arts, crafts, jewellery and a little bit of food is what you’d expect to see, not the piddly few stands we saw.
Instead, we took a drink break next to the empty market stalls, contemplating whether we should stay for lunch at this ‘shrimp arsenal’ or see what else we may come across.
There was always the drinks cart that also did grilled skewers of carne in the backstreets.
Or maybe we should have taken the thumbs-up signal from a local guy when we stopped to look at this small place, set up on another quiet back street. Plastic tables and chairs on the road, a hole-in-the-wall kitchen and a bunch of locals chowing on regional food; drinking cerveja and having a great old time.
In retrospect, I really wish we ate there. My kinda joint!
Here’s where we settled for a couple of hours – down on Rua da Moeda on what seems to be a popular part of the street for lounging about beneath the trees with your mates, a few drinks and something to nibble on.
I can only imagine how busy this area would get when there were more people around – especially at night. Unlike this particular Sunday with the meagre smattering of tables that decided to rock up for lunch.
The menu is pub style through and through. A mixture of typical Brazilian fare with a few extras tossed in for good measure. Filé de gorgonzola (26.9) comes drenched in a thick blanket of pale sauce; well-done steak beneath with the token boiled rice and salad garnish to the side.
Creme de bacalhau (23) is one of the more interesting things on the menu – a very generous bowl of salted cod topped with a cheese-lovers quantity of stretchy mozzarella.
Dessert was a simple bolo de rolo, a traditional cake that’s endemic to Pernambuco. Not simple in appearance, mind you, as this bolo features a delicate scroll of pastry and guava paste. And not too sweet, either.
Saving the best for last, it has to be Galeto Pekin.
Seeing we had a flight out of Recife after visiting Olinda, we chose to stay in the Pina district due to its close proximity to Recife airport.
One thing we didn’t know was how much of a culinary wasteland the area was around our pousada. We walked straight past Galeto Pekin searching for lunch, turning around 10 minutes later after finding absolutely nothing.
So glad we did as this ended up being some of the best grilled chicken we’ve ever had.
Taking a corner position in a semi-industrial, semi-residential area, the drawcard of this popular lunch joint is its char-grilled chicken and chunky pork sausages. Actually, it’s pretty much all they do.
There’s an air-conditioned dining room off to the side, but to get the best feel of this place, sitting at the wrap-around counter is the only way to enjoy your frango.
It’s all very simple. You choose whether you want the breast or thigh cut of the chicken, have it with fries if you like, and/or farofa and a ‘salad’. Chicken wings and pork sausages are also available – fresh from the char-grill and snipped into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Whatever it is they put on that chicken is clearly what makes people flock to it. Amazing stuff.
The only downside – they’re not open for dinner. We’d seriously just return to Recife to have that chicken one more time.
Getting to Recife from Olinda.
The easiest and most convenient way to get from Olinda to Recife’s Old Town is with a taxi. The fare is around R$30 and takes about 10 minutes.
If you only want to spend a few reais, it’s as simple as taking the local bus. We found the best place to grab a bus is down at Praça do Carmo. You just need to ask the driver if they’re heading to Recife Antigo, Rua do Sol or Teatro Santa Isabel. The last two are close enough to the Old Town (Antigo Recife) that you can walk across the bridge and be there within 10 minutes.