Liberdade, translated to English as Freedom, is considered to be São Paulo’s Japanese neighborhood. Today, there are more Chinese and Koreans than Japanese. But this is still the Japanese area of this vast South American city.
And most people don’t even know that this is the biggest community of Japanese people outside of Japan.
If you are wondering why there are so many Japanese people in Brazil, we have to go back to 1908 when Kasato Maru, the first Japanese boat, arrived in Brazil. This was part of an agreement between the Brazilian and the Japanese governments to help bring more workers to the farms in São Paulo, Paraná, and Mato Grosso do Sul.
Until 1973, when the last boat arrived in Brazil, there were more than 200 thousand Japanese immigrants in Brazil.
But why did the Japanese decide to live in the Liberdade Neighborhood?
It started in 1912 when Japanese immigrants moved into Conde de Sarzedas Street. Most of the houses on this street had basements, and living there was cheap. Since Liberdade is in the city center, it was the perfect place to live cheaply and work anywhere in São Paulo.
As the number of immigrants grew, so did commercial activity. Soon, shops, restaurants, and markets started popping up around the area, which is how the neighborhood started being shaped like today.
In the 60s and the 70s, this part of the city underwent a lot of changes, and this is when Chinese and Koreans started moving into the area, turning the neighborhood into the oriental place it is today. It was in the 70s that the area got its characteristic oriental red gates that you can see everywhere you walk around the neighborhood.
Today, Liberdade is a natural tourist area of São Paulo where people come to eat Japanese food, shop around the many oriental stores, and have fun in the karaoke bars. Most of my friends from Belo Horizonte loved it when I used to take them there and show them where you can have cheap Asian food and the best grocery stores.
When I went to São Paulo in November, I knew I had to spend some time there. Since the Liberdade Street Market happens over the weekend, I invited André from Viagem Criativa to have some food around the area.
We started our oriental lunch with some Takoyaki, a fantastic ball-shaped octopus-filled snack. From that, we went to have some squid on a stick, which was even better than I could remember.
If you are at the Liberdade Street Market and don’t know what to order, you should also try those two things and pastels. I am pretty sure you will not regret it at all.
From there, we went to a restaurant called Sweet Heart, with the best Taiwanese food I ever had in São Paulo. The place is tiny and straightforward, but the food is fantastic.
Nobody there seems to speak Portuguese or English, but you can always try to use sign language to order something. I had tiny bits of pork ears and a lot of little snacks. If you want something different, you must try this place.
The last place we went at Liberdade was the amazing bakery called Itiriki. This place is fantastic, but this bakery is famous for its unique sweets and the bad mood of everybody working there.
I did this when I went to have lunch at Liberdade with the fantastic people from Viagem Criativa. But, as you can see on the list below, this neighborhood has a lot more to offer.
São Paulo’s Japanese Neighborhood
If you are looking for oriental food in São Paulo, Liberdade is perfect for you. Liberdade is filled with superb Japanese, Korean, and Chinese restaurants where you can taste oriental dishes without leaving São Paulo.
Sometimes, you will stumble upon some people who don’t speak Portuguese or English, but this is the price you have to pay to try something different.
Karaoke bars are also quite unique to this part of São Paulo. In São Paulo’s Japanese Neighborhood, you will find some of the best sake bars in South America, and you can’t miss the nightlife there.
Below, there is a list of our favorite places in Liberdade.
Our Favorite Restaurants at Liberdade
You should go to Porque Sim Karaokê Box e Lamen House to eat ramen with sashimi and gyoza. The place is perfect for a cheap meal; you can even sing at the karaoke bar there.
If you are into Japanese noodles, a place you have visited is called Aska. It is one of the first São Paulo noodle houses, and this is where the Japanese community goes to eat ramen. The prices are alright, and because of that, you should be ready to see huge queues.
Rong, He is a traditional Chinese restaurant famous for its vast yakissoba that feeds at least three people. It is always crowded, and because of that, the service could be better. But the food is fantastic, so people keep coming back for more.
Chi Fu is another traditional Chinese place at Liberdade that is famous for excellent cheap food and shitty service. Nobody seems to speak Portuguese or English there, but the food is always fresh and fabulous. If you want a challenge, you should try to make the waitresses smile. I doubt you can do that.
Yoka is the name of this traditional pastelaria where you can have the best pastel you will have in your life. They have 23 different fillings for their pastel, and I think you should try the one with chicken and catupiry. But don’t forget to spice it up with some pepper sauce.
Sushi Isao is a great sushi place hidden at Liberdade. The place is an all-you-can-eat restaurant with many fresh and stay rolls, amazing shrimp tempura, and much sushi. The place is so good that once, I ate over a kilo of sushi there. I am not kidding.
If you are looking for Korean food, the best thing you can do is to go to Portal da Coreia and try their bibimbap with duck and tongue. This place is fantastic and one of the best Korean places I have ever visited.
The Best Clubs, Sake and Karaoke Bars
Izakaya Issa is the name of this fantastic sake bar and Japanese restaurant. Go there to try jellyfish and stay to enjoy the Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. Sit at the bar and ask for tips; you will love this place.
If you want to dance, Lions Nightclub is the place for you. The terrace view is fantastic and shows you a different São Paulo. Grab a beer and enjoy the night with your friends. Just be careful with the massive queues to the bathrooms. You can spend the entire night there.
Restaurante e Karaokê Samurai is one of these places where most people come for the karaoke but stay for the food. It’s one of the only traditional Japanese restaurants open until late at night.
If you want to try some sparkling peaches sake champagne, the only place I can tell you to go is the Kazu Sake Emporium. All the drinks are double during happy hour, and you should enjoy them.
If you are looking for concerts, you should try Cine Joia. The place used to be one of the traditional Japanese cinemas, but a few years ago, it became one of the best concert halls in São Paulo. The place is beautiful, and the projections on the walls will surprise you, but the place is hot and not in a good way.
When I moved to São Paulo in 2006, I often visited Chopperia Liberdade. This place has seen better days, but it looks so crazy that I needed to add it to this list. Go there for the karaoke and stay for the weirdness and the beers.
What else can you do at Liberdade?
Liberdade is not just for the Japanese community. There, you can find the Casa de Portugal, home to Portuguese immigrants to Brazil. The building is beautiful, and they have a vast library focused on Portuguese literature.
If you want to try Japanese groceries, try Azukiya Casa & Conveniência and grab some weird snacks. I used to go crazy with everything there.
Livraria Sol is the place to go if you are looking for Japanese and Korean books. The service there is excellent and really helpful. The best place to find mangas is in São Paulo.