Brazil's cuisine is as varied as its geography and culture. On the other hand, some may find it an unrefined melange, and everyday fare can be bland and monotonous. While there are some unique dishes of regional origin, many dishes were brought by overseas immigrants and had been adapted to local tastes through the generations. Italian and Chinese food in Brazil can often be as baffling as Amazonian fare.
The standard Brazilian set lunch is called prato feito, with its siblings commercial and executive. Rice and brown beans 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.
- 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 the first encounter. This is a heavy dish — even Brazilians usually eat it parsimoniously.
- Brazilian snacks lanches (sandwiches) and salgadinhos (most anything else), including 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.
- Farofa: cassava flour stir-fried with bacon and onion bits; the standard carbo side dish at restaurants, along with white rice
- Feijão verde: green beans with cheese gratin
- Paçoca: beef jerky mixed with cassava flour in a pilão (big mortar with a big pestle). Traditional cowboy fare
- Pastel: deep-fried pastry filled with cheese, minced meat or ham
- Tapioca (or more precisely, "beiju de tapioca"): made with the cassava starch, also known as tapioca starch. When heated in a pan, it coagulates and becomes a type of pancake or dry crepe, shaped like a disk. Some will serve it folded in half; others will roll it rocambole-style. The filling varies, but it can be done sweet or savory, with the most traditional flavors being: grated coconut/condensed milk (sweet), beef jerky/coalho cheese, plain cheese, and butter (savory). However, it has become a "gourmetized" food item, to be treated with creativity; nutella, chocolate, napolitano (pizza cheese/ham/tomato/oregano) and shredded chicken breast/catupiry cheese being almost standard options nowadays.
Brazilian "fusion" cuisines
- Pizza is very popular in Brazil. In Sāo Paulo, travelers will find the highest rate of pizza parlours 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 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 and Arab (actually Lebanese) food is widely available. Most options offer high quality and a wide variety. Some types of middle-eastern food, such as quite 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 calls "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. In particular, Brazilian-made sushis often employ copious amounts of cream cheese and mayonnaise, and breaded sushi with tare sauce ("hot rolls") are as popular as "raw fish" sushi. 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. Remember that you will look like a complete sucker if you exaggerate, and stingy and disrespectful if you don't tip. R$5-10 are considered good tips.
- There are two types of self-service restaurants, sometimes with both options available in one place: all-you-can-eat buffets with a 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 this is extremely uncommon and doing so will probably be considered odd and impolite.
- Some Brazilian restaurants serve only meals for two. The size of the portions might not say in the menu, -ask 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 (and the founder is Portuguese, by the way). Although not as widespread, are Burger King and Subway, also have a presence.
Brazil's national booze is cachaça (cah-shah-sah, also known as aguardente ("burning water") and pinga), a 40% sugar-cane liquor known to knock the unwary out quite quickly. 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 whiskey! It's 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. Good value for money and indistinguishable from common British blends.
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 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 Pilsner, and it is usually drunk very cold (at a temperature close to 0°C). The most popular domestic brands are Brahma, Antarctica, and Skol. Traditional brands include Bohemia, Caracu (a stout), Original and Serra Malte (another stout). They are easily found in bars and are worth trying but are usually more expensive than the popular beers. There are also some national premium 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, 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 withbartender 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 (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.
The 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. One of these farms open to visitors is Salton Winery, located in the city of Bento Gonçalves. The São Francisco Valley, along with the border of the states of Pernambuco and Bahia, is the country's newest wine-producing region. Brazilian wines are usually fresher, fruitier and less alcoholic than, for instance, French wines. Popular brands like Sangue de Boi, Canção and Santa Felicidade and others with prices below R$6.00 are usually seen as trash.
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
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 coloured). Some more specialised 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 a mate in neighbouring Spanish-speaking countries) is the hot, bitter equivalent that can be found in the south and is highly appreciated by the gaúchos (the Rio Grande do Sul dwellers). Tererê is a cold version of Chimarrão, common in Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso state.
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 specially popular in Santa Catarina. There is also a "Guaraná Jesus" that is popular in Maranhão. Almost all regions in Brazil feature their own local variants on guaraná, some which can be quite different from the standard "Antarctica" 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 Antarctica 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 (or Mate Couro) 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 properties.
Fruit juices are very popular in Brazil. Some cities, notably Rio de Janeiro, have fruit juice bars at nearly every corner.
- 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.
- 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 are also açai ice creams available.
- Maracuja (passion fruit) (careful during an active day as this has a relaxant effect)
- Caju (cashew fruit) and
- Garapa: freshly pressed sugarcane juice
- Manga (mango) are also great juice experiences.
- Vitamina: milk shake with fresh fruits
Brazilians have great taste when it comes to mixing juices.