As the booming Brazilian economy lures patrons to pricey inland restaurants, the cheapest way to try Rio’s most beloved foods is from a rented lounge chair right on the beach.

The beach is the centre of life in Rio de Janeiro. The city hugs the coast, and the waterfront includes the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, upon which bright red and yellow umbrellas dot every visible stretch of sand. Locals and visitors alike flock to the beach, especially on weekends when the dominant activity is wiling away the day by the ocean.

The rhythm and rituals of Rio’s everyday life conform to the beach lifestyle. Constant passing vendors — selling everything from bathing suit tops to icy beers — keep the hordes of bronzed Cariocas (locals) and sunning tourists sustained with a spread of foods that include many classic Brazilian favourites. In fact, as the booming Brazilian economy lures patrons to pricey inland restaurants , the cheapest and easiest way to try Rio’s most beloved foods is from a rented lounge chair (bring your towel), right on the beach.

The key ingredient of the Brazilian diet — or the food that keeps them characteristically confident to don skimpy bathing suits throughout the year — is the açai berry. The powerhouse Amazonian fruit is ripe with antioxidants and anti-aging properties, and many credit it with promoting weight-loss. The berry is most popularly consumed as part of a smoothie, found at stands lining the beachfront or from vendors plodding through the sand. 

The most impressive of the foods available to sunbathers has to be the skewers, which come from the white and orange-clad peddlers shouldering small grills on their backs. Beneath the grill is a small freezer containing fresh shrimp, which the server removes and carefully cooks in garlicky olive oil. Sanitation police patrol the beaches to prevent vendors from serving already-pink shrimp that have not been cooked in front of the purchaser.

Slabs of cheese receive similar treatment, though the handheld, coal grills are considerably less cumbersome than the shrimp-seller’s hardware. The cheese is drizzled with olive oil, flavoured with oregano, grilled and manageably served on a wooden skewer.

Salgado, or salgadinho, is the name given to any Brazilian pastry. Small, round morsels of hot cheesy bread, sweet pastries, croquettes and other salty pastries are available on the beach. Vendors rarely mix the sweet and savoury; they will carry a box of all one or the other.

Another starchy favourite is the tapioca, Brazil’s answer to the crêpe, made gluten-free with manioc starch from yucca. Like the salgados, they are made sweet or salty, folding in ingredients like bananas, cheese or coconut. Tapioca stands are common, as are those selling corn on the cob, coated in melted butter and sprinkled with salt. For an even smaller bite on the beach, buy a pack of Globos -- light, puffed O-shaped biscuits that come sweet or salty.

To quench your thirst , purchase a cold matte leão tea, a traditional beverage — though the brand is owned by Coca-Cola — made from yerba mate (a caffeinated plant native to South America) and most popularly served over ice when on the beach. Another popular beverage is coconut water, sucked from straws poking out of coconuts, tops hacked off expertly with machetes when ordered. The coconut is a perfect way to ward off dehydration, or to recover from the after-effects of a wild night out in the Lapa neighbourhood.