Thursday, 26 April 2012

AK Vila

Vila Madalena has so many new restaurants I want to check out - they all look so FUN everytime we pass by. I'm driving home with my 2 small children in the back of the car, and lamenting the lack of fun in my life.

So I first stopped by this restaurant AK Vila one weekday afternoon as we were looking for somewhere for a coffee. My cousin was in town from Singapore and all she wanted was an iced coffee. They had no idea what one was (you would think the name was a give away) but in their defence they went away with our instructions on how to make one and they did it perfectly. I like people who can think out of the box.

And I liked their chairs. So I decided to get some made (in Embu). 

So third, and probably the most important, thing I needed to check out was the food. Started off with a delicious bruschetta of dates and gorgonzola, and a tuna tartare with avocado. I'm one of those people who finds everything appealing on the menu (probably because I'm always hungry) and then I want to order last because I want to see what everyone is ordering, so I can change my mind at least once, or ten times. I finally settled on the Stinco de Cordeiro, I know, doesn't sound so appealing but it was a Lamb Shank on creamy polenta. It was really, really, really good. What you want on a relatively cold and rainy day in Sao Paulo.  I'm a lamb lover (ok no NZ / sheep jokes please) and it's a very difficult meat to find here unless you go to a specific butcher or are happy to just buy frozen in the supermarket. The others had a Peruvian soup with rice and prawns. It was spicy, properly spicy. The risotto was only OK. The rare tuna steak was the winner of the day. I'm going to have to go back specifically to have that whole plate to myself. Meal was R120 per person with a cocktail or two each.

NOT a kid friendly place. My first impression walking by the first day was that it was. I saw a group of ladies having lunch and one of their babies was with them, sitting in their bumbo chair on the table joining in in on all the girly chat. I thought, how civilised. But a Sunday afternoon is a different matter. The restaurant was packed and there were people waiting, our girls were fine but our friends' 1 year old was all over the place. Brazilians are the most accommodating when it comes to children but as the parents having to run after that said child, it's a different matter.

Leave the kids home, go to AK Vila.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

He was lost but now he is found!

That was one of the most stressful days of my life - even more stressful than going to the Policia Federal 5 times!!

Our doggy George and his friend Zoey escaped out of the gate on Sunday afternoon without us noticing until we came back from lunch 3 hours later... It's one thing losing your own dog, but to lose someone elses' dog is a complete nightmare! We all scoured the streets that evening but Tim had to fly out for a work trip, just to add to the stress. 

Neither of the dogs had a tag - we had one with an old phone number on it - so we decided to print some posters and plaster them around the neighbourhood the next morning. Our hope was that someone had taken them in to look after them. USP is known for where people dump their dogs, and the police pick them up but our doggies weren't there at the main police academy. We spent the morning walking 10x 10 blocks around where we live talking to everyone, and putting up pictures. Good places to put up signs are padarias, supermarkets, bus stops, despachantes, newspaper stands, loterias, pet shops.. I even handed them to the homeless and the "garotas". If anything, from this experience, I've gotten to know everyone much better (and now everyone knows George too!).

I also  had a massive portuguese fail when the guy at a local restaurant thought I was trying to order 2 hotdogs... perdeu dois cachorros / pedir dois cachorros (hotdogs). Starting my portuguese lessons again this week....

It wasn't until that afternoon that we got a call to say that the dogs were found... 2 blocks from our house at a garage. They had obviously tired of their little escapade / honeymoon but didn't know how to get home. After 24 hours of worrying about these dogs, I just burst into tears. I was never a dog person before but now I know how much I love this silly dog!!! So now I'm one of those dog people. 

The advice I've been given is to get a tag with more than one contact number without his name so he can't respond to strangers. Well to be honest, he doesn't really respond to his name with us and there is going to be no chance of him ever getting out of the gate again cos i'm going to chain him to a tree first!!

For all those doggy lovers in SP. this little guy is looking for a loving home.  His name is Pudim and he is 3 years old... house broken and all.  His current mommy recently had a baby and decided to put him up "for adoption".  If you are interested, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the lady who is helping him find a home.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Lost dog in Butanta

George is 10 months old

What a nightmare! We have lost our dog George and our friend's dog, Zoey, who've been looking after. We were unloading some stuff from a truck and the gates were opened, and we watched on the security cameras after, both dogs making a dash for freedom without us noticing : (. It's one thing losing your own dog but losing a dog owned by 6 years olds is particularly awful. I think for now they think Zoey is on an extended holiday with us.

George is a 10 month old black lab with a limp and is really scared of cars and big roads. Zoey is a 9 month old beige lab and is full of energy. By the time we got back from lunch they had been missing for 3 hours (and my husband was about to fly out for a business trip, worst timing ever).

We are putting up lots of lost posters around Butanta but think they could've made it over to Cidade Jardim or Morumbi if they haven't been picked up by a kind stranger. Neither of them have tags or contact details on them so just trying to get the message out.

If you lose a dog there are are a number of websites to register or check:
and a facebook group called caes e gatos desaparecidos

If you live in any of these areas please keep an eye out for them!!!!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Sushi & Truffles, Empanadas & Ceviches & more curry

I've had a treat with food over the past couple of weeks and haven't managed to catch up on blogging about each one..

Huto is a japanese restaurant located Av Jandira, 677 Moema. After lychee-sakerinhas to start, we ordered the chef's menu  plus a few options from the menu that sounded to good to miss out on. The food is in the same vein as Aizome but the experience in Aizome is much more traditional and serious. Beautifully plated dishes - alot of it with truffle oil, yum (so don't go if you don't like truffle oil). Even the chawanmushi came with truffle oil. I would recommend this restaurant as a treat; definitely one of the higher-end japanese restaurants in the area but in this city there are too many to choose from... It cost R180 per person and I think the degustacao was R120, but there were different variants of it.

El Guaton, a chilean restaurant. This was a last minute lunch the other weekend. It's a chilean hole-in-the-wall located on Rua Artur de Azevedo 966 in Pinheiros. The car park is a derelict building next door to it. It has so much character (some charm) I imagine you feel like you are in Chile  (though I've only ever been through the airport in Santiago). For you fish lovers, they have seafood empanadas - prawns and cheese, clams, fish. They are delicious and a sizeable starter. The portions of white fish ceviche were definitely enough to share between 2 people, depending on how much you like ceviche. If I was on my own I could've done one portion and I guess we almost did, having ordered 3 portions for 4 adults. The other adult and the kids (Brazilian) wanted picanha and chips, which again was a decent sized portion and could've been shared between 2-3 adults. It worked out to R70 per person but think it would've been even cheaper if we had all eaten ceviche, or all eaten picanha. There seems to be always a queue when I go by on the weekends so get there early (13h is a normal lunchtime for non-Brazilians, early for brazilians).

Govinda on Rua Princesa Isabel, 379 near Shopping Morumbi. I love curry. If you follow my blog you will see I've checked out a few of the other indian restaurants (Tandoor, Sabores da India, Delhi Palace, Madhu)*. Govinda is a big restaurant with a shop as well, and private rooms (maybe a bollywood themed birthday party for Sophie this year?). We were there for lunch we were one of 2 tables in there. The food is really god - no butter chicken swimming in campbell's tomato soup. They had all of the standard curry dishes (we had murgh makhani, keema naan, dal, samosas, pilau rice, aloo gobi), and some of them had a proper kick to them. But there were no poppadoms - two big thumbs down for that. I've actually been cooking alot of indian myself as I bought back all the spices on one of my last trips but it's pretty time consuming. Between the 4 of us it worked out to R60 each.

*As I wrote that list I thought, wow, there are way more Indian restaurants here than you think there are considering there only a handful of expats that like curry here.

Co-working space in Brooklin

A friend has just set up a co-working space in Brooklin. Why? Simple, people want to have a creative space and other people to orbit around. These spaces are usually hard to find and expensive in Sao Paulo (the other one I know of is on Rua August). If you are setting up a company, or here for the long-term and need a space to work out of check it out!

Plug n Work
Av. Nova Independência, 1061 - Brooklin |
Telefone: 55 11 9193-5306

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Learning to drive in Sao Paulo

I swear this is what some Brazilians dress up in before
they get in their cars and drive on the Marginal...

I've had a few of these self-realisations in my life, like "Oh my god, I'm a mother".... and the most recent one was sitting in a car and saying to myself "Oh my god, I'm a driver"! I've always been in awe of people who can drive (and ride bikes.. I'm a city girl ok!). I learnt to drive when we lived in London a few years ago but I was never very confident. We had a Gulf GTI Mark 1 which was previously owned by my husband's father so it had alot of sentimental value, and he did not want me to drive it once I passed my test (it only took 3 times). This was until I was pregnant and he realised he had a sober driver from the pub every night. He would always comment on the drive home that he would still be a better driver drunk than me sober - I would've had to agree with him.

So I've put off driving here for a long time. We've lived in areas (Moema, Vila Madalena, Jardins) that I could walk to restaurants, supermarkets, parks etc but now that I have 2 children (a buggy, let alone a double buggy, is impossible on the pavements here) and we live in Butanta, and my husband is about to start travelling every month, I have finally caved into driving. 

I was recommended a teacher Vavá*  - if I was going to drive in Brazil, I needed to learn to drive like a Brazilian. I booked in 10 sessions with him - each session being 50 minutes, and I did 2 at a time. 10 sessions cost me R500 (if you paid per lesson it would be R100) and did my 5 sessions in less than 2 weeks. He wasn't the most attentive instructor (he talked on the phone alot, read the newspaper, and we went via Faria Lima so he could deliver some easter eggs...) but for the price I'm not complaining. If you need someone to sit in the car with you just so you can work out how to drive on the otherside of the road and car, he did the job. I'm still beyond people that can smoke, do their makeup and sing loudly all at the same time as driving. I've managed so far not to have an accident by never changing lanes (how fast do those motoboys go!!), estacionamentos are my new best friends, and I never signal (no one cares or will ever let you in). 

With regards to a driver's license, I've been told (and I know there are various versions of this...) that we can drive on our International Driver's License, which we picked up at the post office in London, until we've been here for 6 months on our current visa. But because we are in the process of our permanent visa**, once that is approved we have another 6 months to change over to the Brazilian driving license. If you need to check your particular situation I would highly recommend checking in with the agent we use, Renata on  

If you are looking for more information check out Angloinfo.

Vavá's numbers are 2924-4950, 9721 4950
** The guy from the Ministry stopped by yesterday to see that we did live here and said that our visas would be published in the Diario Oficial da Uniao once it's been approved. It will take 2- 9 months - nothing like a little bit of accuracy!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Lollapalooza Brazil

I had one of those 'menos' moments yesterday at Lollapalooza. We walked to the Jockey Club and tried to go through Portão 6 which was the closest to us but they only told us at the turnstiles that we had to go through Portão 2 which was on the other end. When we finally got there, another 15 minutes walking in the blazing sun, they wouldn't let us in as we didn't have ID for the girls... I'm learning to deal with Brazilian bureaucracy at the best of times, but at my worst (hungry, hot and thirsty) I don't fare well. The guy would not let us through after arguing it hadn't stated it on our ticket, they are only 2 years and 5 months old, they're not drinking, we're not getting on a plane... so instead me and the girls waited on the roadside while Tim went home to pick up all our passports.

Nevertheless once we were in (typical Brazilian style, the entrance for kids had a set of steep concrete steps) I cheered up. It was the first festival for the girls and we  had a few bands we were really keen to see - Thievery Corp, Friendly Fires, MGMT. There was also a Kidzapalooza which was super cute - a tent with musical instruments hosted by the infamous music school Souza Lima who do music lessons for kids from 3 years old, as well as local bands. We saw Crianças Crionças by CID Campos who sang about bears and butterflies - super cool, seriously. It was a great hide away when the rain started too!

Sophie taking photos of some festival girls

Playing the xylophone - new favourite instrument - at Kidzapalooza

So then my slow brain finally worked out why the Brazilians are so strict about ID for children. We had matching number wristbands with the girls so it meant that no one could just take our kids and leave the festival. This obviously didn't work in practice - we just walked out of there with no one checking but it's a reminder that we live in a country where some people take other people's children*. And when I think about it logically, I would rather them be more strict about this than not. I would like to apologise to the guy at Portão 2 whose life I made difficult for 5 minutes.. .

Taking children to music festivals is not common here. There was one other 5 month old and a handful of older children, but people were either really excited for kids to be there (we got alot of 'Parabéns', and interviews and photos from random strangers) or absolutely horrified. I have to admit, Jane's Addiction is not really my cup of tea but both Sophie and Olivia fell asleep to them. When the rain started properly we decided to be responsible parents and take the girls home, and listen to Arctic Monkeys from our garden.

Check out Tim & Sophie being interviewed here!

* I know this obviously does not only happen here in Brazil but there is definitely more awareness (documents required) if you have children here. E.g. you need a form (notarised of course) to be able to leave the country if you are travelling on your own with your child. You (we..) should always carry ID for the girls because if you are stopped by the police for any reason you need to prove that the child is yours - this is happened to us once before and we didn't have any documents, small panic attack.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Hiring a maid in Sao Paulo

The other week I was able to attend a seminar on Household Help, organised by the International Newcomer's Club. It's run by Patricia de Luna, who is one of those people you are secretly jealous of and admire at the same time - she's a lawyer for fun, a dentist by day and takes upon herself the publishing of the Dicas (a very useful book of tips published by the INC every other year). She organises this seminar as hiring household help is full of legal minefields - everyone always has a story of a friend of a friend being sued. All sounds pretty stressful!! I've avoided any potential pitfalls by doing everything according to the law - the problem is working out what that law is! Some people employ agencies to do this for them which is certainly not stress-free either, and also very expensive.

The history of slaves in Brazil is extensive and sad. Brazil had the largest slave population in the world. In 1888 it was decreed illegal and the slaves were set free.. but most of them didn't have anywhere to go, so continued to live on the farms and were paid in board, food and money. When the laws for employment came into being it focused on the idea that the employee is always the disadvantaged party - and these are the same laws that are still in place today. It is important to take this into account when looking at some of the laws in today's eyes that might seem unfair (being the employer).

The one thing I really took to heart was Patricia talking about salaries. It is normal that expats pay above the going rate (an exceptional empregada is paid R2000 a month, and I heard of someone paying their driver R6000 a month! I would be their driver if I could drive : ) ..... some because they don't know any better, or others that really want to help someone out.

The problem is that expats are always going to leave, and leave behind someone who is a good worker but wants above the going rate. They will find it difficult to find a job that they are happy with. I paid my last baba (nanny) R900 per month for 4 (easy) days of work. She left us in December and still hasn't found a job even though she has been offered numerous jobs. I get a call or text from her every week.... that job was working too much, this salary was too low, she doesn't want to stay overnight, she doesn't want to work in this area, she doesn't want to iron... It's such a different mindset from mine - if I was out of a job, I would take any job just to make means until something better (even if it is ironing!!).

Here are some points from Patricia's seminar that I wrote down:

  1. The employee be registered from Day 1 of work and the trial period of up to 90 days can be written in the carteira da trabalha. 
  2. Salary must be paid by the 5th of the following month.
  3. The employer needs to pay INSS which is 20% (8% can be taken out of the employee's salary)
  4. Travel costs must be subsidised.
  5. A trial period can be up to 90 days where neither party needs to give notice. After this it is 30 days notice. 3 days per year worked is accumulated up to 90 days max notice that has to be given.
  6. The employer can only keep the carteria for up to 48 hours and after this time it must be returned to the employee.
  7. For up-to-date salaries use datafolha (which is updated every month).
  8. Annual raise is not mandatory.
  9. There are no set work hours, and no overtime pay but the average is 44 hours per week.
  10. If you go to Caixa (the bank) to pay the INSS (which needs to be paid by the 15th of the following month) they will work out any fines due. Best is to make sure you pay before the 15th. You can also pay online via your bank account, or at a Loteria.
  11. The employee receives 13th month  and 1 month salaried holiday (only available to the employee after one year, and at 1.33%, which is received before they go on holiday).
  12. Holidays can't be shorter than 10 days at one time, and the employee can sell back up to 10 days to the employer. The employer can dictate when the employee goes on holiday.
  13. When you pro-rate, always divide by 30 days, 52 weeks or 12 months - don't count the actual working days.
  14. If the employee is pregnant she is guaranteed job stability from confirmation of pregnancy (this is the date she finds out, she is not obligated to tell the employer but I'm sure the employer would work it out eventually...) until 5 months after the delivery date.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Dim Sum Yum Yum

Dim Sum means a little bit of heart (lit: point of the heart). They are a variety of little parcels of steamed (and sometimes fried) happiness. I know that sounds all cheesey but it really does make me so happy!

I haven't had much opportunity to seek out dim sum restaurants here. There is the obvious one  - Ping Pong in Itaim, a franchise westernised restaurant which I wouldn't have bothered even turning my head for in London ... but a girl has to eat (especially a Hong Kong girl). The food is OK, the drinks are good and it's all pretty expensive.

Today we went to check out Wan Wan, Rua Galvao Bueno 555 which are open for breakfast every morning. Yes, we eat dimsum for breakfast as I tried to explain to my empregada today who is making me bolo de milho verde for tomorrow's breakfast (I'm not complaining about cake for breakfast either).  This small restaurant is run by a family of chinese immigrants from Guangzhou. I was testing out how bad my cantonese is still but I couldn't even work out what language I was speaking: just a random mix of cantonese/english/portuguese. But I managed to order a few dishes (my cantonese food vocab is pretty good, of course) while waiting for my friends to arrive. I meant to take a photo for this blog but I was too excited to eat!

For 6 of us the bill was $24 each - pretty cheap by sao Paulo standards.. We had charsiew cheongfan, pork and century egg juk, sticky rice, siu mai, hargow - all standard dimsum fare. It was OK - better than Ping Pong but not as good as the greasy, straight-off-the-steamer like it is in Hong Kong style. I guess I just need to go back to Hong Kong to get a real dose (unless anyone knows of another place to try?!?!). Dimsum is definitely not something I'm going to be bothered learning to make. I've also ordered some Singapore noodles as take away but haven't been hungry enough to dig my chopsticks into it.

Our Italian friend said half way through the meal "You Chinese girls are the same as Italians - always talking about food while you are eating food." I can't help it - food makes me so happy!

*Just an update on dimsum in Sao Paulo. We went to Ping Pong for their "Lazy Sumdays" which is rodizio dimsum. Yes. Seriously. I wouldn't be caught dead in Ping Pong in London but here in Sao Paulo a chinese girl has got to do what a chinese girl has go to do. Opens at noon and it's R75 per person. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


OK the garotas down the road don't quite
look like Julia Roberts... 

When people come to visit us in Butanta they inevitably take the road past the Jockey Club where dinner conversation then centers around the 'garotas da programa' who line the roads around Cidade Jardim and Butanta (up to 2 blocks away from our front door). I tell everyone, that working girls (and boys*) are everywhere in Brazil - they might just not be so noticeable in Jardins or Itaim, but they are certainly there!

I haven't had much of a nightlife since we moved here so I haven't seen much of this myself. For high end call girls there is Cafe Photo, Alucci Alucci of Hotel Fasano and Skye Bar at Hotel Unique. There is also the Love Story where all the girls go AFTER they finish work and just want  to go for some fun.

From what I understand prostitution is not illegal here but pimping is (correct me if I'm wrong!). I am not pro-prostitution but at the same time I believe in controlled legalisation - the girls need to be safe and 'safe', and it would remove aspects of criminality from it (pimps, drugs, human trafficking**).  I use to travel to Bangkok alot for work and spent most evenings in a bar with colleagues, talking to the girls working there. We come from such different backgrounds but their view of what they do is so different from how we (western attitudes) see it. The girls I spoke to were proud to be working girls, that they are not looked down on and infact earn 4 times more than the average salary in Thailand. They can provide for their families and still have spending power after that.

I haven't done much research here in Butanta ... obviously they're not going to be wanting me hanging out on the corner with my baby stroller but I'm so curious. I would love to take some portrait photos and talk to them about their lifestyle choice, why they do it, their backgrounds etc.. but so far the closest I've come to chatting with them is mouthing 'não obrigada' with a shake of the head when they peer in the car window as we drive by. If anything, I guess I should thank the Brits for my polite upbringing.

* Note that the 'girls' around the Jockey Club are known to be very beautiful transvestites
**I am not saying all would be eradicated but for my argument's sake I've simplified it.