Whilst the food of Brazil is not as well known as close by Mexico, Brazilian cuisine is full of flavour and influence from it’s rich history of immigration.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Brazil 3 times in the last 4 years. Marrying a paulista (the local slang for someone originating from the state of São Paulo) has allowed me to discover some of the must try foods and drinks that the average traveller may miss when visiting Brazil.
São Paulo has a rich italian heritage and as such you will find that a lot of foods in some way have been influenced by this. Interesting fact – Paulistas are one of the biggest consumers of Pizza in the world with over 1.4 million consumed daily.
Pão de queijo
Translated, Pão de queijo means Cheese bread, but it is like no bread you have ever tasted before. Originating in Minas Gerais, the state north of São Paulo, it is a bread made with the flour from the root of the mandioca (english – cassava) plant.
You will find these everywhere in Brazil. They are like nothing else you have eaten before, and once you start, you won’t want to stop. Made with a salty local cheese with a taste similar to a cross between parmesan and mozzarella, they make a bread that is still a bit gooey inside, but crispy on the outside. The most common place to find these is at fast food chain – Casa de Pão de queijo.
Locals will normally eat pão de queijo with breakfast or in the afternoon as a snack, but there is always one thing accompanying – a short black coffee.
When non-Brazilians think of Guaraná they will generally think of some herbal concoction that gives you energy. In Brazil however, Guaraná flavouring is used to make one of the most popular and refreshing soft drinks. Locals will drink Guaraná Antartica (or the Coca-cola produced equivalent Kuat) with every meal – think of it as a replacement of Coke.
Pro-Tip: If you want to fit in with the locals, when ordering ask for it with ice and a slice of orange. “Uma gwar-rah-na com jell-o e la-ran-ja”
When describing Coxinha, the closest thing I can think of is an Arancini found in Italy.
These treats are one of the many salgadinhos (finger foods) eaten at birthdays and parties.
Coxinha are made from chopped spiced chicken surrounded in a puré of potato, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried, delicious!
Many of you will already know the next must-have on my list. Served in many bars outside of Brazil now, Caipirinha is a drink made from Cachaça (Sugar-Cane Rum), sugar, and limes.
If you aren’t a fan of Cachaça, you can ask for a Caipiroska which is made with Vodka instead. Generally Brazilians will interchange the fruit in this drink to make many different cocktails. My favourite batida (cocktail) is made with strawberry or passionfruit.
Pro-Tip: For an extra sweet version, ask for yours made with condensed milk “Ley-chi con-den-sa-do”
When I think about Picanha I start to drool. A special cut of meat that isn’t very easy to find outside of South America, picanha uses the uppermost part of the rump, the rump cap, which is covered with a layer of fat (and normally ALOT of salt) which is then roasted away and leaves the most succulent and flavoursome meat you will ever eat.
Whilst you are in Brazil, you should make sure you book some time in your trip just to visit a Churrascaria, an all you can eat brazilian barbeque restaurant which will generally serve over 20 different cuts of meat which have been cooked over open coals and are then served to the table on a skewer. Don’t feel shy asking for more picanha – it’s a normal thing for the locals!
Pro-Tip: If you like your meat rare – ensure you ask the passador (the waiter) for your meat “mal passada”, or “bem passada” for well done.
If you have the chance whilst you are in São Paulo, pay a visit to the Mercadão (the big market), where you will find stalls selling every fruit you can imagine. Upstairs away from the stalls, you will find several restaurants selling Mortadela rolls as thick as your fist as well as well as my next must-have, Pastel.
Pastel (pl. Pasteis) are a delicious finger food made from light pastry pockets which are then stuffed with fillings such as cheese, cheese, ham & tomato, heart of palm, bacalhau (salted cod fish), and minced beef. These pockets are then deep fried and come out piping hot.
Pro-Tip: Be careful of steam burns, and dodgy vendors who sell Pastels with small amounts of filling. Locals call these a “Pastel de ar”, a Pastel of Air.
Bolinho de Carne Seca
If you are a fan of croquettes (who isn’t?) then you will love the next on my list. Bolinho de Carne Seca (English – Ball of dried meat) is a finger food found at bars, made from meat which has been dry cured with salt, and then slow-cooked and pulled apart.
Bolinho de Carne Seca are delicious served with a spicy chilli sauce and a ice cold beer!
The next on my list is one of the super foods that has taken the world by storm over the last few years. Açaí, pronounced “ah-sigh-ee” is served in Brazil in a bowl, with chopped fruit and granola, It is super refreshing and is eaten in Brazil on hot days, similar to how we eat frozen yoghurt.
If you are visiting the state of Bahia during the world cup, you will no doubt encounter this food at some point during your trip. Similar to a pancake, Tapioca flour is toasted in a frying pan with butter, and is eaten as a savory or sweet treat. The savoury version will be filled with tomato and cheese, or the sweet, Chocolate, and Condensed milk. Think of Tapioca as a Brazilian version of a pancake – except slightly chewier.
Rounding off my list is everyone’s favourite drink – beer.
Beers in Brazil are generally similar to a classic Pilsner – pale, light, american style lagers, although darker style beers are also widely available named “cerveja preta”. These beers usually range from around 4.5 to 5.4 percent alcohol.
The largest producers of beers in Brazil made on an industrial scale are Brahma, Kaiser, Skol, and Antartica, although there now lots of micro-breweries and craft brewers popping up around the country which produce very enjoyable beers.
“Chopp” is a special type of beer which is unpasteurised, and is generally found on tap and is served ice cold around -4 degrees, with a creamy foamy head.
Due to the temperature that Chopp is served, it has little flavour, but is very refreshing on a hot day.
Food in Brazil however doesn’t stop with this list, there are several dishes that I could have included but didn’t have space. Escondidinho, Brazil’s answer to a shepherd pie is one of my personal favourites, as well as a party favourite brigadeiro.
My advice to anyone travelling to Brazil for the cup, dive in and try the local cuisine, I’m sure you’ll love it!