São Paulo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Rua 25 de Março (March 25 Street) in São Paulo was settled by Arab migrants, mostly Syrian and Lebanese, at the end of the 19th century. Since then, the street has grown to resemble an Arab souq—in the middle of a Brazilian city.
Today, the street’s Middle-Eastern flavor is somewhat obscured by green and yellow streamers and flags. The city hosted the opening game of the 2014 World Cup, and passions are running high after Brazil beat Croatia 3–1. “After the victory I got more excited,” said Ana Simão, a 59-year-old housewife. She was on Rua 25 de Março to buy T-shirts and backpacks with the Brazilian colors.
Carlos Gomes, a 19-year-old student, was looking for things he could use “to make noise during the games.” With their whistles and plastic bugles, the Brazilians are a loud bunch at matches.
“I had already bought some stuff, but now I’m buying for my family,” Carlos told Asharq Al-Awsat. When asked about his opinion of Brazil’s chances in the World Cup, he said: “I’m very enthusiastic and my heart beats faster.”
Antônio Leme opened his store only a few days before the tournament began. He’s celebrating the lift it has given his sales. “I was selling one hat a day and now I’m selling more than 250,” he said. He also claims to have created a unique model of velvet top hat, which he parades on the sidewalk to entice customers in to his shop.
According to Flávia Alves, another street vendor, the most popular products among her buyers are rear-view mirror covers in national colors. “I sold more than 400 pairs, just today,” she says. And it’s not only cars and people flying the flag— there are also special outfits available for pets.
The prices of goods in this neighborhood are some of the best you can find in the whole city and, as in every traditional Arab market, it is always possible to barter for a bargain.
The Middle Eastern heritage has also seeped into the local cuisine. Asharq Al-Awsat found a curious dish named “Abdallah” salad, made of roast beef, barbecue sauce, arugula—and crisps.
Another dish with Arab influence that is very popular all over the city is the “Beirut.” The name, a reference to Lebanon’s capital, is used for sandwiches with a variety of fillings served in Syrian flat bread.
The Brazilian fans—already at fever pitch—will need all that nourishment to get them through the excitement of the team’s next match.