What do you think of when you think of Brazilian food? Strangely, despite Brazil being the biggest and most populous country in Latin America, many outsiders draw a blank when they try to think of the country's cuisine.
So here's your answer: a compendium of quintessentially Brazilian foods you must try at least once in your life. They draw on Brazil's own resources, and often draw on the Portuguese and West African flavors informed by Brazil's history. And they often pair quite well with ice-cold beer, the national alcohol, cachaça, and, of course, Coca-Cola.
The quintessential Brazilian meal. Feijoada is just as much a dish as an experience. On weekends across the country, restaurants are packed with Brazilians all eating the same meal: feijoada. So what is it? It's a stew of cuts of meat (usually pork) and black beans, served over white rice. Accompanying a classic feijoada plate is also farofa (see below), sautéed collard greens (called couve), pork rinds (torresmo), and, to refresh the palate, peeled orange slices. The salty, heavy meal is best balanced by cold drink and a long stroll (or nap) afterwards. It shouldn't be missed.
Picanha na Chapa
When visitors arrive in Brazil, they often assume that everyday Brazilians eat churrasco – the rotating BBQ serving style that has been interpreted with great success in the U.S. in chain restaurants. In fact, dining out for churrasco is saved for special occasions here. More frequently, Brazilians get their meat fix with a popular Brazilian cut of meat cooked lightly on the grill. The meat is actually a beef rump cut called picanha that is delicious but rarely found in America. Many restaurants in Brazil serve the meat close to raw and let you grill it to your liking on a hibachi grill (a chapa) at your table. Paired with french fries, farofa, rice and a salad, the dish is sure to satisfy even hardcore meat lovers, and won't hurt your wallet like a trip to a fancy churrascaria will.
Insider tip: Try picanha na chapa at the bars in the Vila Madalena neighborhood of São Paulo, or at Garota da Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro.
Perhaps no dish in Brazil is more exotic, iconic, and difficult to describe than acarajé. But let's give it a try. This street snack draws on African roots that run deepest in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where it is served on street corners by women wearing all white, who are called baianas. To make acarajé, these women form a patty of black-eyed peas, which they then fry in deep orange dendê palm oil, and then cut in half. Inside, they slather a paste called vatapá, which is made up of dried shrimp and coconut milk (and totally delicious on its own), and another made of okra and peanuts called caruru. They then cram dried shrimp, skins and all, into the patty, sprinkle on some vinaigrette and super spicy hot sauce, and voila, you've got a mighty, unique Brazilian street snack you'll never forget.
Insider tip: You can find this snack on many street corners of Salvador, Bahia, but many think the best is found at the tent called Acarajé da Dinha at a big plaza in the neighborhood of Rio Vermelho.
It is hard to overemphasize how important manioc, or yucca root, is in Brazilian cuisine. It appears everywhere: in soups, casseroles and even as flour in cakes. But one of the most straightforward and delicious ways of eating this staple is by ordering it simply fried, as one might order French fries. Paired with a squeeze of lime, homemade hot sauce, and a beer, aipim frito, as it is called in most regions, makes for a satisfying and authentic Brazilian snack.
You won't have to seek out farofa, because it will probably find you; it finds its way onto most plates in Brazil, confounding first time visitors. Essentially, it is fried manioc flour, and at first glance, looks a bit like sawdust on the plate. But when paired with meat or beans, it adds a texture and crunch that is all Brazilian.
Maybe you've noticed the açaí berry (pronounced assa-yee) slipping into expensive juices outside of Brazil. Within Brazil, this superberry is just as popular, though usually served differently. In Brazil, the Amazon berry is mashed up and frozen, and then blended with sugar to make for a richly purple ice cream-like treat. Surfers swear by the nutritional energy kick offered by a breakfast of açaí sprinkled with granola and bananas, but Brazilians enjoy the pick me up at any time of day.
Insider tip: If you're ever in the Amazon region, you'll likely be served the berry without the added sugar, which tastes much more natural – almost savory – and is not to be missed.
If you are dreaming of fantastic Brazilian fish stews, moqueca is what you're looking for. This dish, with origins in the states of Espírito Santo and Bahia, makes the most of Brazil's seafood. Moqueca's base is tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, green peppers, and coconut milk, and in Bahia they add dendê palm oil to the dish. Fish, shrimp, crab or tiny mussels are added to the pot and simmered until tender. If you're lucky, your moqueca might even come with banana, which adds a sweet flavor. Served in a traditional black terra cotta pot, the moment the lid is lifted from a boiling pot of moqueca is a magic one indeed.
Insider tip: Try it at Partido Alto in Vitória, Espírito Santo, or the banana version at Casa de Tereza in Salvador, Bahia.
The national dessert of Brazil is actually made up of just three ingredients: butter, condensed milk and cocoa. Heated and served in a ball covered in sprinkles, the sweet bite can be too sweet for some people the first time they try it. But just wait – it has a way of growing on you.