What to eat in Brazil
Brazil‘s cuisine is as varied as its geography and culture. On the other hand, some may find it an unrefined mélange, and everyday fare can be bland and monotonous. While there are some quite unique dishes of regional origin, many dishes were brought by overseas immigrants and have been adapted to local tastes through the generations. Italian and Chinese food in Brazil can often be as baffling as Amazonian fare.
Brazil’s national dish is feijoada, a hearty stew made of black beans, pork (ears, knuckles, chops, sausage) and beef (usually dried). It’s served with rice, garnished with collard greens and sliced oranges. It’s not served in every restaurant; the ones that serve it typically offer it on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A typical mistake made by tourists is to eat too much feijoada upon first encounter. This is a heavy dish — even Brazilians usually eat it parsimoniously.
The standard Brazilian set lunch is called prato feito, with its siblings comercial and executivo. Rice and brown beans (in Rio de Janeiro there is only black beans, other types are rare) in sauce, with a small steak. Sometimes farofa, spaghetti, vegetables and French fries will come along. Beef may be substituted for chicken, fish or others.
Excellent seafood can be found in coastal towns, especially in the Northeast.
Brazilian snacks, lanches (sandwiches) and salgadinhos (most anything else), include a wide variety of pastries. Look for coxinha (deep-fried, batter-coated chicken), empada (a tiny pie, not to be confused with the empanada – empadas and empanadas are entirely different items), and pastel (fried turnovers). Another common snack is a misto quente, a pressed, toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich. Pão-de-queijo, a roll made of manioc flour and cheese, is very popular, especially in Minas Gerais state – pão-de-queijo and a cup of fresh Brazilian coffee is a classic combination.
Southern – Churrasco is Brazilian barbecue, and is usually served “rodizio” or “espeto corrido” (all-you-can-eat). Waiters carry huge cuts of meat on steel spits from table to table, and carve off slices onto your plate (use the tongs to grab the meat slice and don’t touch the knife edge with your silverware to avoid dulling the edge). Traditionally, you are given a small wooden block colored green on one side and red on the other. When you’re ready to eat, put the green side up. When you’re too stuffed to even tell the waiter you’ve had enough, put the red side up… Rodizio places have a buffet for non-meaty items; beware that in some places, the desserts are not considered part of the main buffet and are charged as a supplement. Most churrasco restaurants (churrascarias) also serve other types of food, so it is safe to go there with a friend that is not really fond of meat. While churrascarias are usually fairly expensive places (for Brazilian standards) in the North, Central and the countryside areas of the country they tend to be much cheaper than in the South and big cities, where they are frequented even by the less affluent. Black beans stew (feijao ou feijoada) is also very popular, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, where most restaurants traditionally serve the dish on Saturdays. It comprises black beans cooked with pork meat accompanied by rice and farofa (manioca flour with eggs) and greens fried with garlic.
Mineiro is the “miner’s” cuisine of Minas Gerais, based on pork and beans, with some vegetables. Dishes from Goiás are similar, but use some local ingredients such as pequi and guariroba. Minas Gerais cuisine if not seen as particularly tasty, has a “homely” feel that is much cherished.
The food of Bahia, on the northeast coast has its roots across the Atlantic in East Africa and Indian cuisine. Coconut, dende palm oil, hot peppers, and seafood are the prime ingredients. Tip: hot (“quente”) means lots of pepper, cold (“frio”) means less or no pepper at all. If you dare to eat it hot you should try acarajé (deep fried edible black bean soup) and vatapá (prawn-filled roasties).
Espírito Santo and Bahia have two different versions of moqueca, a delightful tomato-based seafood stew prepared in a special type of clay pot.
Amazonian cuisine draws from the food of the indigenous inhabitants, including various exotic fish and vegetables. There is also a stupendous variety of tropical fruits.
Ceará’s food has a great sort of seafood, and is known to have the country’s best crab. It’s so popular that literally every weekend thousands of people go to Praia do Futuro in Fortaleza to eat fried fish and crabs (usually followed by cold beer).
In the coastal cities of Paraná like Morretes and Antonina, the dish named barreado is served. It’s a meat stew thickened with manioc flour and served with slices of banana, slowly cooked for at least 12 hours on hermetically-sealed clay pots.
Brazilian cuisine also has a lot of imports:
Pizza is very popular in Brazil. In Sāo Paulo, travellers will find the highest rate of pizza parlors per inhabitant in the country. The variety of flavors is extremely vast, with some restaurants offering more than 100 types of pizza. It is worth noting the difference between the European “mozzarella” and the Brazilian “mussarela”. They differ in flavor, appearance and origin but buffalo mozzarella (“mussarela de búfala”) is also often available. The Brazilian “mussarela”, which tops most pizzas, is yellow in color and has a stronger taste. In some restaurants, particularly in the South, pizza has no tomato sauce. Other dishes of Italian origin, such as macarrão (macaroni), lasanha and others are also very popular.
Middle-eastern (actually Levantine; i.e., mostly Syrian and Lebanese) food is widely available. Most options offer high quality and a big variety. Some types of middle-eastern food, such as quibe and esfiha have been adapted and are available at snack stands and fast food joints nation-wide. You can also find shawarma (kebabs) stands, which Brazilians call “churrasco grego” (Greek Barbecue)
São Paulo‘s Japanese restaurants serve up lots of tempura, yakisoba, sushi and sashimi. The variety is good and mostly the prices are very attractive when compared to Europe, USA and Japan. Most Japanese restaurants also offer the rodizio or buffet option, with the same quality as if you ordered from the menu. Sometimes, however, it can be quite a departure from the real thing. The same can be said of Chinese food, again with some variations from the traditional. Cheese-filled spring rolls, anyone. Japanese restaurants (or those that offer Japanese food) are much commoner than Chinese and can be found in many Brazilian cities, especially in the state of São Paulo.
All restaurants will add a 10% service charge on the bill, and this is all the tip a Brazilian will ever pay. It is also what most waiters survive on, but it is not mandatory and you may choose to ignore it, although is considered extremely rude to do it. In some tourist areas you might be tried for extra tip, but you don’t need to tip more – Brazilian tourists almost never do it.
There are two types of self-service restaurants, sometimes with both options available in one place: all-you-can-eat buffets with barbecue served at the tables, called rodízio, or a price per weight (por quilo), very common during lunchtime throughout Brazil. Load up at the buffet and get your plate on the scales before eating any. In the South there’s also the traditional Italian “galeto”, where you’re served different types of pasta, salads, soups and meat (mostly chicken) at your table.
Customers are allowed by law to visit the kitchen and see how the food is being handled, although it’s uncommon.
Some Brazilian restaurants serve only meals for two. The size of the portions might not say in the menu, so it’s recommended asking the waiter. Most restaurants of this category allow for a “half-serving” of such plates (meia-porção), at 60-70% of the price. Also, couples at restaurants often sit side-by-side rather than across from each other; observe your waiter’s cues or express your preference when being seated.
Fast food is also very popular, and the local takes on hamburgers and hot-dogs (“cachorro-quente”, translated literally) are well worth trying. Brazilian sandwiches come in many varieties, with ingredients like mayonnaise, bacon, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, corn, peas, raisins, French fries, ketchup, eggs, pickles, etc. Brave eaters may want to try the traditional complete hot dog (just ask for a completo), which, aside from the bun and the sausage, will include everything on display. The ubiquitous X-Burger (and its varieties X-Salad, X-Tudo, etc.) is not as mysterious as it sounds: the pronunciation of the letter “X” in Portuguese sounds like “cheese”, hence the name.
Large chains: The fast-food burger chain Bob’s is found nationwide and has been around in the country for almost as long as McDonald’s. There is also a national fast-food chain called Habib’s which despite the name serves pizza in addition to Arabian food. Recent additions, though not as widespread, are Burger King and Subway.
Brazil’s national booze is cachaça (cah-shah-sah, also known as aguardente (“burning water”) and pinga), a sugar-cane liquor known to knock the unwary out quite quickly. Mass-produced, industrial cachaça is cheap and has 40% alcohol. Rural, tradicional cachaça made on small distilleries usually has about 20% alcohol, but is highly praised nationwide for its superior taste. This also means it’s far more costly, but it’s worth each Real. It can be tried in virtually every bar in the country. Famous producing regions include Minas Gerais, where there are tours of distilleries, and the city of Paraty. Pirassununga is home to Caninha 51, Brazil’s best-selling brand. Outside Fortaleza there is a cachaça museum (Museu da Cachaça) where you can learn about the history of the Ypioca brand.
Drinking cachaça straight, or stirring in only a dollop of honey or a bit of lime juice, is a common habit on the Northeast region of the country, but the strength of cachaça can be hidden in cocktails like the famous caipirinha, where it is mixed with sugar, lime juice and ice. Using vodka instead of cachaça is nicknamed caipiroska or caipivodka; with white rum, it’s a caipiríssima; and with sake it’s a caipisaque (not in every region). Another interesting concoction is called capeta (“devil”), made with cachaça, condensed milk, cinnamon, guarana powder (a mild stimulant), and other ingredients, varying by region. If you enjoy fine brandy or grappa, try an aged cachaça. Deep and complex, this golden-colored spirit is nothing like the ubiquitous clear liquor more commonly seen. A fun trip is to an “alambique” – a local distillery, of which there are thousands throughout the country – not only will you be able to see how the spirit is made from the raw cane sugar, you will probably also get a better price.
Well worth a try is Brazilian whisky! It’s actually 50% imported scotch – the malt component -and approximately 50% Brazilian grain spirit. Don’t be misled by American sounding names like “Wall Street”. It is not bourbon.
While imported alcohol is very expensive, many international brands are produced under license in Brazil, making them widely available, and fairly cheap. You can buy booze in the tax-free after landing at Brazilian airports, but it generally is more expensive than buying it outside the airports.
Beer in Brazil has a respectable history because of the German immigrants. Most Brazilian beer brands tend to be way less thick and bitter than German, Danish or English beer. More than 90% of all beer consumed in Brazil is Light Lager type, like Standard American Lager, here called Pilsner, and it is usually drunk very cold (direct from refrigerator). The most popular domestic brands are Brahma, Antarctica, and Skol. Traditional brands include Bohemia, Caracu – a stout -, Original and Serramalte. They are easily found in bars and are worth trying but are usually a little bit more expensive than the popular beers. There are also some national premium and craft beers that are found only in some specific bars and supermarkets; if you want to taste a good Brazilian beer, search for Baden Baden, Colorado, Eisenbahn, Petra, Theresopolis, Coruja and others. There are also some international beers produced by national breweries like Heineken and Stella Artois and have a slightly different taste if compared with the original beers.
There are two ways of drinking beer in bars: draft or bottled beer. Draft lager beer is called chope or chopp (‘SHOH-pee’), and is commonly served with one inch of foam, but you can make a complaint to the bartender if the foam is consistently thicker than that. In bars, the waiter will usually collect the empty glasses and bottles on a table and replace them with full ones, until you ask him to stop, in a “tap” charging system. In the case of bottled beer, bottles (350ml, 600ml or 1l) are shared among everyone at the table and poured in small glasses, rather than drunk straight from the bottle. Brazilians like their beer nearly ice-cold – hence, to keep the temperature down, bottles of beer are often kept in an insulated polystyrene container on the table.
Rio Grande do Sul is the leading wine production region. There are a number of wine-producing farms that are open to visitors and wine tasting, and wine cellars selling wine and fermented grape juice. The São Francisco Valley, along the border of the states of Pernambuco and Bahia, is the country’s newest wine-producing region, especially sparkling wine. Brazilian wines are usually fresher, fruitier and less alcoholic than, for instance, French wines. There are also the popular, rot-gut brands like Sangue de Boi, Canção and Santa Felicidade.
In Minas Gerais, look for licor de jabuticaba (jabuticaba liquor) or vinho de jabuticaba (jabuticaba wine), an exquisite purple-black beverage with a sweet taste. Jabuticaba is the name of a small grape-like black fruit native to Brazil.
Coffee and tea
Yellow Catuaí Coffee, a variety of coffea arabica, town of Manhuaçu, Minas Gerais State
Brazil is known world-wide for its high-quality strong coffee. Café is so popular that it can name meals (just like rice does in China, Japan and Korea): breakfast in Brazil is called café da manhã (morning coffee), while café com pão (coffee with bread) or café da tarde (afternoon coffee) means a light afternoon meal. Cafezinho (small coffee) is a small cup of strong, sweetened coffee usually served after meals in restaurants (sometimes for free, just ask politely). Bottled filtered coffee is being replaced by stronger espresso cups in more upscale restaurants.
Chá, or tea in Portuguese, is most commonly found in its Assam version (orange, light colored). Some more specialized tea shops and cafés will have Earl Gray and green tea available as well.
Mate is an infusion similar to tea that is very high in caffeine content. A toasted version, often served chilled, is consumed all around the country, while Chimarrão (incidentally called mate in neighboring Spanish-speaking countries) is the hot, bitter equivalent that can be found in the south and is highly appreciated by the gaúchos (Rio Grande do Sul dwellers). Tererê is a cold version of Chimarrão, common in Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso state.
Nothing beats coconut water (água de coco) on a hot day. (Stress the first o, otherwise it will come out as “poo”! (cocô) ). It is mostly sold as coco gelado in the coconut itself, drunk with a straw. Ask the machete-wielding vendors to cut the coconut in half so that you can eat the flesh after drinking the water.
If you want a Coke in Brazil, ask for coca or coca-cola, as “cola” means “glue”, in Portuguese.
Guaraná; is a carbonated soft drink made from the guaraná berry, native to the Amazon area. The major brands are Antarctica and Kuat, the latter owned by Coke. Pureza is a lesser known guaraná soft drink especially popular in Santa Catarina. There is also a “Guaraná Jesus” that is popular in Maranhão and a “Guaraná Fruki” that is very popular in Rio Grande do Sul. Almost all regions in Brazil feature their own local variants on guaraná, some which can be quite different from the standard “Antartica” in both good and bad ways. If traveling to Amazonas, be sure to try a cold “Baré,” which due to its huge popularity in Manaus was purchased by Antartica and is becoming more available throughout northern Brazil.
Tubaína is a carbonated soft drink once very popular among Brazilians (particularly the ones born in the 70s, 80s and early 90s) and becoming extremely hard to find. It was once mass produced by “Brahma” before it became focused on beers only. If you happen to find a place that sells it, try it.
Mineirinho is also a popular soft drink made of guaraná and a typical Brazilian leaf called Chapéu de Couro. Although most Brazilians say that it tastes like grass, older people (+70 years) claim that the drink has medicinal proprieties.
Fruit juices are very popular in Brazil. Some cities, notably Rio de Janeiro has fruit juice bars at nearly every corner.
Açai (a fruit from the Amazon) is delicious and nutritious (rich in antioxidants) and can be found widespread across the nations. In the amazon region it’s used as a complement to the everyday diet, often eaten together with rice and fish in the main meal of the day. Curiously outside of the amazon region, it’s typically used in blended in combination with guarana (a stimulant) powder,and a banana to re-energize from late-night partying It is served cold and has a consistency of soft ice. There is also Açai Ice Creams available.
Maracuja (passion fruit)(careful during an active day- this has a relaxant effect)
Caju (cashew fruit) and
Manga (mango) are also great juice experiences.
Brazilians have great taste when it comes to mixing juices.