Food in Brazil
Eating Out On Your Brazil Holiday
Eating Out in Brazil
Sometimes Brazilians seem to have more of a zest for life than the rest of us, and that is certainly true when it comes to their food. Brazilians just love eating and drinking, whether it's in a restaurant, in their homes or on the streets, and the food tends to be tasty, simple and eaten with great gusto. There's really very little pretentiousness about food, even in the best restaurants, but what you will always find is great food, served (and eaten!) with great enjoyment.
Brazilian food offers great variety too, as you might expect from such a huge country. You can grow more or less anything at least somewhere in Brazil, so don't be surprised to find just about every ingredient you've ever seen at some point during your trip, and usually at least a few that you've never even heard of.
Lunch and Dinner
Lunch (almoço) is usually the main meal in Brazil and traditionally will consist of rice (or pasta instead) with some kind of meat along with either vegetables or salad. Although it's usually a leisurely affair, it's unusual to have starters as such - if you have a second course it's more likely to be a dessert.
While lunch may be taken with friends and colleagues, dinner is usually a family meal, whether that's in a restaurant or (more usually) at home. Although many Brazilians will eat traditional dishes at this time, dinner is usually a lighter meal than lunch and so the substantial traditional stews are often replaced by pastas, pizzas or even burgers or hot dogs.
There is usually a big gap between lunch and dinner, and many Brazilians fill this time with snacks from the ubiquitous snack bars (lanchonetes) and juice stands which you'll find throughout Brazil. These will sell everything from slices of pizza and burgers to delicious cheese dumplings (pao de queijo) to Lebanese-style quibes croquettes.
As well as informal snack bars, there are a couple of types of restaurants which are peculiar to Brazil and are worth being aware of. Specialist meat restaurants known as Churrascarias cater to Brazil's largely carnivorous tastes, with many offering all you can eat specials where waiters circulate with freshly cooked cuts for you to enjoy until you're stuffed... Another option are the por quilo self-service restaurants, where diners can choose from a huge buffet and then just pay according to how much their plate weighs.
Food in Brazil can vary a lot from region to region, but the one dish you will find absolutely everywhere is feijoada. This hearty stew of meat and beans is often saved for a Sunday family meal, but in fact you'll see it on menus up and down the country every day. It's traditionally served with plain rice, and often dusted with manioc flour.
Partly due to the large-scale Italian immigration to Brazil in the early twentieth century, pizza and pasta are also highly popular and effectively traditional Brazilian food these days. Pasta salads are a huge favourite at lunch, while pizza slices are served at lanchonetes the length and breadth of the country and also are often part of family dinners at home.
However, in some ways it's street food which provides some of the most notable examples of Brazilian cuisine. Perhaps most iconic are the cheese dumplings known as pao de queijo - little doughy, cheesy balls which are served with drinks or as starters just about everywhere. Quibes and Coxinhas are both croquettes, the former stuffed with bulgur wheat, red onions and minced beef, while coxinhas are stuffed with chicken. Both are a delicious snack and found throughout Brazil.
The different regions of Brazil each offer a different take on Brazilian food, but throughout the country the focus is on great, fresh ingredients. Nutritious, hearty stews also feature throughout Brazil, but the ingredients vary hugely depending on what grows well locally.
Food in South-Eastern Brazil
The south-east is the home of feijoada and this rich combination of beans and meat is also seen in dishes like Sao Paulo's virado a paulista. This uses the kale which grows widely in the area, while the frango com quiabo of hilly Minas Gerais stews locally-grown okra with chicken.
Another notable dish owes its origins to Amerindian cuisine and is originally from the south-eastern state of Espirito Santo. Moqueca capixaba is a slow-cooked stew of fish or seafood, tomatoes, onions and coriander, and it's fruity and delicious.
Food in Northern Brazil
Once you head inland in Brazil, the cuisine is strongly influenced by indigenous traditions. This is seen best in the famous Pato no Tucupi, which is a duck stew widely eaten across the north. The duck is cooked in a yellow broth extracted from cassava, and served with boiled, salted guava. It might sound odd, but it's incredibly tasty.
Particularly in cities like Salvador, food is heavily influenced by African traditions. So a lot of food is traditionally cooked in palm oil, like the classic vatapa - made from shrimp, peanuts, coconut milk and bread, all mashed together. It typifies the rich, creamy flavours of the north-east, which at times are reminiscent of the richer South-East Asian dishes.
As another example of this, there is a particular north-eastern variant of Moqueca Capixaba called Moqueca Bahiana which adds shrimp and cocount milk to the south-eastern version, transforming the dish.
Vegetarian Food in Brazil
Although there are plenty of vegetarians in Brazil, it has to be said that the classic traditional dishes invariably involve meat. That said, Vegetarians actually have an easier time of it in Brazil than in many other South American countries. This is partly due to the wide availability of pasta and pizza, and partly due to the uniquely Brazilian phenomenon that is the "eat by the kilo" restaurant. You can find these places up and down Brazil, and they offer a mouth-watering variety of freshly-cooked dishes. Everything is self-service so you can - crucially - see exactly what you're getting and it's really easy to load your plate up with the wide range of veggies and fruit on offer, usually alongside salads, fresh pasta and lots of other tasty treats. As well as for vegetarians, this also comes in handy if you have other dietary requirements.
Many street snacks are also available as vegetarian options: so you'll find many pasteis and empadas which contain cheese rather than meat, while the colossal variety of fruit juices and shakes are refreshing and delicious.
Another big help for vegetarians in Brazil is the ubiquity of Japanese noodle bars. There are almost always vegetarian ramen options, and these can be great choice if you're trying to accommodate a mixture of vegetarians and carnivores.
Drinks in Brazil
The famous caipirinha has made its way around the world, but we still say that there's nothing like sipping one as you sit on Ipanema beach and watch the sun sink into the ocean... You can find our Caipirinha recipe here, but in any case it's made with the local cachaça cane-spirit, crushed ice, sugar and lime. A caipirinha in Brazil is a thing of beauty, and pleasingly cheap as well!
However, even more than caipirinhas, Beer is the real national drink of Brazil, and whether it's for a quick beer with a friend over some Pao de Quejio or a long lazy lunch, you'll see ice-cold bottles and cans sold everywhere. A wide variety of domestic beers are available, and they tend towards the light lagers such as Brahma and Polar, but imported European and American lagers are also available in the larger cities. The important thing as far as a Brazilian is concerned is that lager should be served as close to freezing point as possible - in fact you'll commonly see that beer fridges have temperature displays on them so that you know your beer is as cold as possible...
Surprisingly little wine is either produced or drunk in Brazil, so it tends to be imported and expensive. This is starting to change, particularly in the south, but in cheaper restaurants don't be surprised to find little or no choice of wine.
As you might expect, Brazil has some fantastic fruit juices, with many Amazon fruits that you've never heard of to tingle your tastebuds. Particularly popular are drinks based on Açai and Guarana which come with various dubious health benefits but are really just delicious.