Eating Amazing Curry Atop a Rio Favela
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s a seven-hour orgy of butter chicken, caipirinhas and music.
By Danielle Renwick
The road to the Maze is steep and windy. After zigzagging our way up Tavares Bastos, a hilltop favela in Rio de Janeiro, we step into a narrow alleyway where neighbors chat and hang laundry out to dry, their doors open for relief from the summer heat. Inside the Maze, there’s a panoramic vista of Guanabara Bay and the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain. For years, locals and tourists alike have been coming to this bed-and-breakfast and occasional entertainment venue for art expositions and jazz nights — Snoop Dogg and Pharrell even filmed part of their “Beautiful” music video here. But more recently they’re coming for something else.
On Sundays, the Maze is host to a daylong orgy of butter chicken, palak paneer, caipirinhas and music, courtesy of pop-up restaurant Hoje Tem Curry (Today We Have Curry).
A Rio de Janeiro favela may seem an unlikely place to find top-notch Indian food (São Paulo, with its small Indian community, is a better bet), but head chef Bruno Nadkarni’s story is also rather unlikely. His English-born father moved to Brazil and built the Maze — a mosaic-tiled and art-filled edifice reminiscent of Gaudí — in 1981, and his father was from the southern Indian state of Karnataka (Bruno’s mother is a Rio native).
We fill our plates with tender chicken tikka masala, crispy samosas and a spicy Goan pork vindaloo …
Bruno grew up in the Maze, eating his father’s homemade curries, but he says that he found his calling in the kitchen in 2015, the year he met his wife and business partner, Mariana Mendes. “Cooking had always been a hobby, but gradually it took up a bigger space in my life,” he says. Nadkarni and Mendes, who is from São Paulo state, launched Hoje Tem Curry in part so they could live and work in the same city. They started out serving monthly meals at the Maze and at Junta Local, a hip, local food fair.
Earlier this year, the couple traveled to India for three months, where they met several of Nadkarni’s cousins and studied local cuisines. They returned to Rio with nearly 100 kilos of spices — and a vision. “We’re trying to get rid of the idea that Indian food has to be a luxury,” Nadkarni says, adding that most Indian restaurants in Brazil are formal and expensive; a meal at Hoje Tem Curry runs R$60 (about $20). “It can be something accessible that you consume on a regular basis.” Nadkarni says he and Mendes serve about 40 to 50 people a week.
When we arrive, the place is filled with locals and expats, and samba is playing over the speakers. Nadkarni and Mendes serve up an array of curries with rice pilaf and naan. We fill our plates with tender chicken tikka masala, crispy samosas and a spicy Goan pork vindaloo, and score a seat next to the giant window. Dessert is gulab jamun — Indian doughnuts. We wash down our meal with caipirinhas and cold beer.
At some point, one of the hostel guests grabs a guitar and starts crooning. Bob, Bruno’s 74-year-old gravelly voiced father, appears and leads a sing-along to American greats ranging from B.B. King to John Prine. We join in.
By the time we make our way downhill — seven hours later — the sun has begun to set over Tavares Bastos.
GO THERE: The Maze
- Directions: An Uber to the Maze from the Catete metro stop will cost less than $1; moto-taxis and community vans are also available. (Address: R. Tavares Bastos, 414; Casa 66; Catete). Map.
- Cost: R$59 ($18) with reservations, R$69 ($21) without. Drinks aren’t included.
- Timing: Lunch is served Sundays, 1 p.m.–4 p.m. Check the Facebook page in advance.
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or +55 21 9818505979 /+55 11 94893-5258
- Danielle Renwick, OZY AuthorContact Danielle Renwick