Brazil has been associated with many things over the years – land of the Holy Cross, parrots, brazilwood, and palm trees. While those things indeed make the country worth visiting, we have always wondered why it isn’t called the land of delicious food. For it is the Brazilian food that brings forth the true nature of Brazil, defines its intense yet rich history. Did you know that Brazilian cuisine is a fusion of several different cultures from around the world?
The Europeans introduced a wheat-based diet to their daily fare, heavily influenced by the Portuguese. The enslaved Africans in the 16th century enhanced the country’s cooking techniques, contributed to the use of palm oil and okra. And the Japanese immigrants brought a whole host of Asian varieties that gelled exceptionally well with the traditional Brazilian dishes. But the staple food of the indigenous peoples is plain rice.
To top it all, Brazilian cuisine differs from region to region. Thus, if you, say, have lunch at La Paz and dine at Oruro after a 4-hour drive, you will notice a distinct change in the taste of the food. But we are quite sure that your taste buds will revel in both kinds of dishes!
However, it is that very different taste that makes our task of choosing the finest Brazilian dish all the more difficult. Nonetheless, “what is the most popular food in Brazil?”, you may insist. Hence, after extensive research, both experimental and bookish, here are the 10 most popular and scrumptious food options from the land that you are sure to love!
Often called the national dish of Brazil, Feijoada originated in Recife, Pernambuco. It is also one of the most popular dishes in Rio de Janeiro. It is a stew that primarily contains black beans, fresh pork, and/or beef. There are vegetarian variants of the dish too. It goes best with rice and sausages. Pick any sausage from morcela, chourico, farinheira, and you are bound to have the most sumptuous meal of your life!
A special side dish called couve (collard greens) is usually served with Feijoada, and you will generally get oranges for dessert, just to help with digestion. Though Feijoada may be a national Brazilian food, it is not so common or as delicious beyond Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Sao Paulo, so be sure to have it in those regions only.
Moqueca is the most delectable part of a full meal that will please any kind of appetite. The full meal consists of moqueca, banana da terra stew, pirao (a type of porridge), and white rice. Moqueca is basically a seafood stew containing fish or shrimp laced with onions, tomatoes, garlic, coriander, and cilantro.
Two main versions of this delicacy are popular in Brazil – moqueca capixaba and moqueca baiana. The capixaba version should be ideally tried anywhere in the state of Espírito Santo, in which it is native. It is a milder rendition of the original, the difference usually being the change in the type of oil used and the added ingredients.
Moqueca baiana is a modified form of the traditional moqueca influenced by both African and Portuguese cuisines. In essence, palm oil and coconut milk are used for added flavor.
When it comes to beef, Brazilians prefer Picanha over every other part of the animal’s body. You probably know it as the round or the rump cover. It is located in the top back corner of the cow. In the US, it is typically a regular steak without the fat. But in Brazil, the fat is retained during the cooking process. And believe us, it tastes better that way, though it may not be particularly healthy.
That said, you should definitely give Picanha a whirl at least once in your life if you are a fan of beef. And nobody makes it better than the Brazilians! The Portuguese have their own version of this delicacy as well.
The brigadeiro is a lip-smacking dessert, this is a traditional food in Brazil, that will leave its sweet taste in your mouth for quite a few hours post-consumption. There is an interesting bit of history behind its creation. Brigadier Eduardo Gomes ran for the presidency of the Republic in 1946 as a UDN candidate.
Being a huge fan of Gomes – a rebellious military leader with great revolutionary achievements to his name post the 1920s – Heloísa Nabuco de Oliveira supported the brigadier’s candidacy by developing a unique confection with sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter. He named it after the brigadier as doce do brigadeiro (brigadier’s sweet).
It was later shortened to, simply, the brigadeiro. Unfortunately for Oliveira, Eduardo Gomes lost the presidential campaign, but thankfully for us, the brigadeiro dish endured. Since then, it has become the traditional dessert of Brazil, prominently offered in various events, big or small, throughout the country.
Bolinho de Bacalhau
These are typically cakes or pastries made of cod, the fish. Indeed, Bolinho de Bacalhau literally translates to codfish cakes. It is a popular appetizer in any part of Brazil. It is usually creamy on the inside, covered with a crispy layer. Ingredients include bacalhau (codfish), parsley, eggs, onions, and potatoes. As a hot appetizer, it goes best without any sauces or sides. Alternatively, it is also served cold with plain rice, salad, and olives.
Vatapa was popularized in Brazil through the Yoruba people, a West African group that arrived in the country during the 16th-century slave trade. It is an amalgamation of a traditional African dish with Brazilian additives. The ingredients usually include bread, shrimp/chicken/fish, peanuts, palm oil, and coconut milk. It is commonly cooked in Northern Brazil, including Bahia.
You may have it as it is, with white rice, or caruru. The latter is a combination of okra, toasted nuts, shrimp, and palm oil. Needless to say, Vatapa tastes like a dream either way!
So far, we have covered Brazilian lunch, dinner, and dessert. But what about breakfast? Acaraje (akara) is the answer! It is fairly common throughout the country, but since it was brought in by the African slaves, it has become a traditional breakfast dish of Salvador, Bahia.
Acaraje’s primary ingredient is black-eyed peas. They are frequently ground with pepper and other seasonings before they are deep-fried in dende (palm oil). Acaraje may be a portion of Brazilian street food, but it is a religious offering to the gods in the Candomblé religion, native to West Africa. Nevertheless, it remains the most popular breakfast option in Brazil.
Another Brazilian breakfast dish that you’re sure to fall for! Cuscuz nordestino is a highly nutritious food influenced by Portuguese cuisine. It looks like a delicious pastry, but it is made out of cornflour and manioc starch, perfect for health-conscious people. It is commonly served in the northeastern part of Brazil, but other variations of the recipe, like the Portuguese Couscous and the Tapioca Couscous, can be found in other regions as well.
Cuscuz nordestino is ideally a standalone breakfast item, but it can also be used as bread for stew or gravy during lunch or dinner. It is maybe the simplest Brazilian food to prepare, making it cheap and easily accessible all around the country.
Carne de onca
It is a regional dish founded in Curitiba, Parana. Carne de onca loosely translates to jaguar meat. However, actual jaguar meat isn’t used for its preparation because the animal is a very rare species. The dish consists of minced beef instead, along with onions, olive oil, chili powder, garlic, Cognac, sweet paprika powder, and chives.
The resultant mixture smells and tastes exactly like jaguar meat, hence the name. It is said that your breath will reek of the animal’s odor for quite a few hours after eating carne de onca. The recipe has been spread to several parts of Brazil, gaining various modifications during the process, but we recommend that you try it only in Curitiba for optimum, original taste.
Rice and Beans
We have finally arrived at the most basic, traditional food in Brazil. Rice and beans may have probably been brought to Brazil by the Portuguese, but it is widely believed that they existed as a staple much before the 16th century. The statistics say as much – Brazil is the third-largest producer of beans globally and THE largest consumer of rice in the Americas.
While many other recipes in Brazil may be region specific, rice and beans are commonly consumed throughout the country. Every region may have their own flavor of beans, but the recipe remains the same. And you will enjoy it in whatever part of Brazil you end up in!
With so many Brazilian dishes to choose from, there are many more equally exquisite regional recipes that have not made their way into the list, it may be quite a task to try them all on your first visit. We recommend at least going for the feijoada and rice and beans to experience the true essence of Brazil. And it goes without saying that a second visit to the country is a must, or probably an extended stay, just to try them all!