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Feb 21

What is Brazilian food like?

I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. Someone had posted something about the food not being great in a certain part of Brazil and then someone else had responded “Well, no one goes to Brazil for the food”. My initial reaction was “Harumph! That’s rather dismissive of Brazilian food!”. But then I thought back to my first few months in Brazil.

Back then I was not impressed with the food at all. There was my first taste of farofa which reminded me of a mouth full of dry sawdust. Then there was some weird gooey slop with prawns called Bobó. The rice and beans were OK, but if you had asked me about the best food in Latin America, I would have told you about the Ceviche in Peru, almost everything in Mexico and, of course, the sublime beef and red wine of Argentina.

steak-chimichurri

Two fat Argentinian steaks, one bowl of delicious chimichurri and one happy Englishman!

 

So maybe that Facebook comment was fair after all? When people think of a holiday in Brazil they generally think of beaches, samba, carnival and football – not the food. But even if people aren’t obsessing over the food when they arrive in Brazil, what do they think of it when they actually try it?

My guess is that the response is mixed. I know many people who love Brazilian food (in case you haven’t guessed, I fall into this category), but I’ve also heard people describe Brazilian food as being heavy, greasy (think of all those deep fried salgadinhos) and lacking in subtlety. Despite the fact that I’m a fan of Brazilian food, I do understand why someone visiting Brazil for a few weeks might feel that way.

 

Comida pesada

First off, a lot of Brazilian food is quite heavy. If you buy a prato feito (a cheap lunchtime dish favoured by workers) it will almost always include rice, beans and french fries (plus some chicken, beef or fish and a fried egg). Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, is amazing, but I find it is best followed by a 2 hour snooze on the nearest sofa. Bottom line is that you’re not into carbs then many Brazilian dishes will disappoint you.

pão-de-queijo

Mmmm, pão de queijo! It might not be sophisticated, but this is truly delicious comfort food. This was baked in the Eat Rio oven!

 

Are you getting good stuff?

All the best restaurants I’ve been to in Brazil have been recommended by a friend or relative. Conversely, when Mrs Eat Rio and I just pick somewhere random to eat, the food is usually no better than passable. Of course visitors/tourists can look up restaurant recommendations, but very often they just wander out to see what they can find. I think this is the easiest way to leave Rio with a bad impression of Brazilian food (if only you knew someone who could recommend some good places!).

 

empanado camarão

Empanado camarão – yes it has been deep-fried, but it also happens to be absolutely delicious!

 

Learning the food

I used to disparagingly compare farofa to dry sawdust, but now I love it! At first I even thought that moqueca, now one of my favourite Brazilian dishes, was boring. So what changed – the food or me? Of course eating in the right places helps, but I also think that it takes many people (including me) a little while to understand the food and come to appreciate it.

 

Moqueca-baiana

Moqueca Baiana – went from ‘boring fish stew’ to one of my all time favourite dishes.

 

Having indulged heavily (a little too heavily perhaps) in the delights of Brazilian cuisine, I am now able to tell the difference between a good moqueca and terrible one. What seemed at first like no more than a big, sloppy fish stew is now a wonderful combination of seafood, coconut and dendê (palm) oil. That ‘dry sawdust’ farofa is now an essential accompaniment to rice and beans, which makes me incredibly happy.

 

Exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F…

So, does Brazilian food stand up against the cuisines of other countries? I may be a little biased here, but I think it does. There is so much variety, from the amazing meats and comfort food of the south, to exotic fruits and and other ingredients from the Amazon region. And then there’s many Brazilian’s favourite, the comida nordestina (food from Brazil’s north-eastern states).

farofa

Farofa – buttery, a little crunchy and wonderful sprinkled on top of beans and many other dishes with a sauce. Sawdust never tasted so good!

 

 

cupuaçu

This is cupuaçu, a fruit with an incredible flavour from the Amazon region of Brazil.

 

tacacá

Tacacá, the lip-numbing soup from Brazil’s northern states.

 

 

Tok-tok caranguejo

This is tok-tok caranguejo – simple, light and tasty.

 

 

Pirão

Pirão is a great example of how important it is to get recommendations. When Pirão is done badly it’s like a dull, mushy wallpaper paste, but when done well, this combination of fish cooking juices and manioc flour is sublime.

 

So, with this post I make my case for Brazilian food – varied, interesting, and deeply satisfying. What’s your favourite Brazilian dish?

parma-ham-sandwich

After my unkind remarks about the Brazilian sanduiche natural in a recent post, I’ll leave you with proof that Brazilians can make excellent sandwiches when they set their minds to it! I count 15 layers of parma ham, topped with gooey brie and rucula (arugula/rocket). Bom apetito!

 

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36 comments

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  1. Brae

    Amazing post Tom! I LOVE Brazilian food. In fact, the first year I went there I went thinking I’d come home slimmer (surely Brazilians only eat tropical fruit), but I came home many pounds heavier thanks to things I never knew existed like pao de queijo, coxinhas, pastels, feijao tropeiro, goiabada com quiejo and brigadieros. What I love most about Brazilian food is it almost always cooked from scratch. I was never served reheated prefab food, which here in Canada we love b/c it’s quick & easy! Also, I too love farofa – so amazing to soak up the juices. The strangest thing to me about Brazilian food is how it’s consumed. A little in the morning, a lot at noon, and a little late at night. It took me weeks to realize that I better eat loads at lunch b/c nothing would be served until late at night and then it would be a little of this and a little of that. I missed the biggest meal of the day being served at around 5 or 6 :)

    1. tomlemes

      Hey Brae! I wish I could remember what I thought about Brazilian food before I arrived (if I actually had any thoughts on it before I got there!). Back in England I used to love the huge meal at the end of the day, but I have really taken to the Brazilian model of big lunch, light supper. The only problem is that I do get rather sleepy in the afternoon…

  2. Andrew Francis

    Well, I’m obviously biased but here are my two cents anyway. I think for the most part, Brazilian food is more about home cooking than Michelin stars so I can understand some people being disappointed. On top of that, a lot of foreigners probably don’t even know what to expect other than the churrascaria and possibly a feijoada but as you’ve pointed out there’s a lot more variety than that.

    I also agree with Brae about food being cooked from scratch and not just food but drinks too. You’d be lucky to get freshly squeezed orange juice even in a good London restaurant but everything else is bottled and tastes accordingly.

    1. tomlemes

      And yet the supermarkets (in Rio at least) are mostly packed with ‘Nectar’ (i.e. juice with water and sugar) instead of pure juice. I guess Cariocas just get their juice freshly squeezed/blended from the nearest casa de suco…

      1. Andrew Francis

        I’m not trying to defend supermarket juice but if I make some at home, I add water and sugar depending on the type of fruit but the amounts are definitely a matter of personal taste.

        1. tomlemes

          It’s funny isn’t it? I think Brazil and Britain have quite different juice cultures. As a kid I grew accustomed to having orange and apple juice in the fridge – always pure and we would never add sugar (one of my aunts even used to make us add water to our fruit juice, a hangover from war-time austerity I guess).

          BUT, that was just orange and apple juice. In Brazil I often buy some maracujas to blend at home. First time I tried it without sugar I nearly screamed! For fruits like that, sugar is required! :)

          1. Andrew Francis

            When you say pure, you’re assuming Tropicana doesn’t add anything that it isn’t strictly required by law to disclose on the ingredients list, right? Like horsemeat… Just kidding! :-)

            Speaking of ingredients, I used to wonder why here in Britain apples appeared in so many different fruit juices, particularly ones that didn’t mention apples on the front of the packaging. It took me a while to figure out that apple juice is used instead of water to dilute the main fruit in the juice. That makes it more fruity so that’s probably a good thing.

          2. carlos eduardo

            The reason apple juice, and probably some other juices as well, are mixed in with other juices is so the label can say 100% juice. If they mix in sugar water then they cannot legally say 100% juice. In the USA, if you buy a bottle of grape or cranberry juice, and the label says 100% juice, if you read the ingredients it almost always includes some apple juice. It kind of ticks me off that in the top citrus producing country of the world, Brazil, pure 100% orange juice is so expensive.

          3. tomlemes

            Ah ha ha! This horsemeat thing is funny – I heard that those horsemeat lasagnes were topped with mascarpone ;)

            Also, were you in the country when this scandalous story broke? Orange ‘drink’ turning kids yellow!

            RE: apple juice, I always thought that they use it in place of a sweetener because then they can still say 100% pure fruit juice.

          4. Andrew Francis

            No, I missed that one but 1.5 liters of any drink is probably too much for a child. :-)

  3. The Gritty Poet

    “So, with this post I make my case for Brazilian food – varied, interesting, and deeply satisfying. What’s your favourite Brazilian dish?”

    Have you tried this?
    http://flavorsofbrazil.blogspot.com.br/2012/05/recipe-barreado.html

    1. tomlemes

      Oh man, I haven’t tried that, but it looks grrrrrrreat! I’ll add it to the list… :)

  4. carlos eduardo

    The one issue I have with comida Brazilleda is the limited serving options. It seems like you can only find either quilos or prepared plate places. At the quilos, you can have all the options you want, but you pay more for the privilege. At the prepared plate places, you get what you get for the fixed price. The other issue i have is the lack of free drinking water. I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of establishments in several states throughout Brazil, and in only one place (at a really nice but also inexpensive quilo in Ingleses on Floripa) did they have a water fountain for someone who just wanted to drink water.

    1. tomlemes

      I still get caught out by the serving sizes – after almost 3 years I should have learned my lesson, but from time to time I severely misjudge the portions and find myself looking at enough food to feed 4! This presents a further problem – self-control. I am used to finishing everything on my place, but when you have enough to feed a small family, you have to learn when to stop!

      You’re right about the water – I haven’t seen it for free anywhere in Brazil.

  5. Eva

    Hmmm, I think about this sometimes and wonder if I´m just being closed minded…I find Brazilian food pretty bland for the most part, a friend of mine (who lives in Brazil) was in Colombia over winter break and said, oh the food (in Colombia) is like Brazilian food except that it´s way more flavorful, and thats´s pretty much my feeling as well, I miss the lack of spicing here (other than the hot sauce, which is fine but boring).
    That said, my two favorite Brazilian dishes (by far) are rabada and açãi (which doesnt count as a dish but I love it anyway), and I like carne seca com aipim in the botecos, moqueca´s ok but I feel like other countries do coconut-seafood stews so much better…

    1. tomlemes

      Rabada is amazing isn’t it? On moqueca, I had two absolutely incredible examples while I was up in Bahia – way better than anything I’d had in Rio and it really changed the way I think of it.

      I know what you’re saying though – it’s probably telling that the non-Brazilian dishes I make most at home are Indian curries and various Thai dishes. The zing of food from those regions is missing from most Brazilian food.

  6. Alex

    Im torn on Brazilian food.

    For me, the quality of food here IS BETTER than the quality of food in the US. It tastes healthier, fruit is way more flavorful and in general the food just seems less unhealthy (meaning not laced with chemicals like it is in the US.)

    I think the region of Brazil that you’re in plays a gigantic role in if you’re gonna like the food or not. I’m a spice freak, I LOVE spicy dishes. I love seafood. For example, ceviche would probably be what I would order for my ”last dinner” if I was on death row. I am OBSESSED with Mexican food, easily my favorite cuisine.

    In Sao Paulo, there is literally NO spice on anything. And yes, lots of the food is bland. Coxinhas are heavy and bland. Rice and beans is good, but, it’s rice and beans…nothing crazy. Farofa is OK……Pao de Queijo is good, but in general all the things I love in food (talking about FLAVOR) Sao Paulo really really misses the mark for me. The most insane ”spice” you will see here is salt.

    Bahia is different though and that’s why I’m avidly seeking out Comida Baiana whenever I can. I tried Acaraje today, and I thought it was kind of weird but at least it’s SCREAMING spicy.

    But for me, my favorite Brazilian dish would have to be anything you get at a Churrascaria.

    1. tomlemes

      Hey Alex,

      The fruit and vegetables in Brazil are great aren’t they? Really full of flavour and great value for money if you shop in the street markets. I’m still getting to know all the weird and wonderful fruits – some of them are really delicious! Also, have you seen the mandioca they sell covered in wax? I only noticed it recently and I was mightily confused! Apparently it is to keep them fresh/protected during transit/storage.

      Regarding spice, I do find myself reaching for the pimenta on a regular basis. I’m a big fan of the malagueta sauces they make, but compared to some cuisines it can get a bit one dimensional. Flavour-wise, things definitely get a bit more interesting up north, but I think all the regions have something good to offer :)

  7. Yannick Opel

    I fail to see how a sandwich with Parma ham (Italian) and Brie cheese (French) has anything to do with brazilian cuisine.

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Yannick – did you read the caption under the photo? Having already presented some examples of what I deem to be delicious typical Brazilian dishes, I finished with a photo of what I deem to be a delicious sandwich which was made in Brazil. This was to counter the fact that in a recent previous post I had criticised the Brazilian Sanduiche Natural and implied that Brazilians can’t/don’t make good sandwiches. Here’s the link.

      1. carlos

        Here is a question I’d like to throw out to anybody who has an opinion on the subject and wants to share it. The question is, what would you say is THE most distinctive Brazilian food or dish? As far as bebidas go, clearly it is the iconic caipirhina. But I am not sure there is a consensus on the food question, hence my desire to read people’s opinions. Thanks.

        1. tomlemes

          Hey Carlos – I think a lot of people would respond with Feijoada as it is practically the national dish (though not officially: http://tinyurl.com/ootjdfc). However, is it really so distinctive? I’m not so sure – it’s not all that different to the French classic, cassoulet.

          To choose one food/dish to represent the whole country is tough because most of the food of Brazil is so regional. Maybe I would go for farofa – I had it in the far north, the northeast and down here in the Southeast and I can’t think of anything similar from other countries.

          1. carlos

            That’s pretty much what I was thinking. Fejoida is pretty popular as a dish, yet I know plenty of Brasileidos that hate it, and more that don’t hate it but never eat it, because it is so time consuming to prepare. I was thinking either farofa or rice would probably be “the most commonly eaten food in Brazil”. I honestly don’t know any Brazilian who does not like both, and who does not eat both very regularly.

          2. tomlemes

            It took me a little while to ‘tune in’ to farofa, but now I absolutely love it! I actually find it strange that other countries have not developed an equivalent. My wife was surprised to hear how rarely we eat rice in the UK – probably only a couple of times a month! :)

  8. Jon Pirovksy

    Nice blog!

    I guess the comments about the lack of flavor have much to do with the brazilian notion that, if the food is too spicy, it will mask its real flavour. I personally love this notion! First time I got to the US I was very much disappointed at how much everything was sooooo hot and I couldn’t feel the real flavour of things…

    As you said, if you try a moqueca or feijoada at the wrong place, you will get disappointed. And the country is the size of continental US, its cuisine is way too diverse to be reduced to just one post…

    Just had a lovely weekend in the southernmost State of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, and had the opportunity to try some of the local specialties: Galeto al primo canto, Churrasco, Xis, local hot-dogs… all wonderful!!!!

    1. tomlemes

      Hi there Jon – sorry it has taken me so long to reply – I was away travelling then you commented and I’m only just catching up now.

      That’s a really good point about adding spice to foods. I think the thing about spice (and by “spice” I guess I mean chilli peppers, etc) – if you’re not used to it then it can be extremely distracting to the point that you can’t think of anything else. I used to hate the stuff. Then, when I started getting into it, I found I wanted more and more – it was like it enhanced the flavours of the food I was eating it on, though I’m sure to someone with less tolerance it would have ruined the food.

      I really need to go down to the south of Brazil – sadly I haven’t been south of São Paulo yet. Your list of foods from Rio Grande do Sul sounds great! :D

  9. Maria Aparecida

    We enjoyed Brazilian barbecue (beef , chicken and sausage , roasted over coals ) .
    We also have buxada , which is also known as tripe , tripe cooked with goat or beef .
    Another popular dish in the Northeast of Brazil is sarapatel , viscera and made ​​with pig’s blood and spices , very good .
    What we most Brazilians consume mainly in the South and Southeast of Brazil ‘s poultry meat , pork, beef , lamb and pasta dishes , such as pizza, lasagna , spaghetti, drumsticks , esfihas , pastéis.Nossas drinks are natural fruit juices , guarana , caipirinha ( cachaça sugar cane ) . I personally really like the BBQ ( roast beef ) , and salads , not like the food the North and Northeast of Brazil . I also do not like fried or fatty foods . Our popular desserts are ice cream, rice pudding ( made ​​with milk , rice , sugar and coconut ) , sweet pumpkin , sweet milk (made with milk sugar ) , tack (made from peanuts ) and puddings (made from eggs, milk , sugar , cornstarch , and flour , topped with luscious sugar queimado.Nossas most consumed fruits are orange , watermelon , pineapple , banana and mango .
    Almost all the spices ( spices ) and exists in Brazil is imported from India , the most uncommon in the food that is produced in Brazil is the chives and

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Maria! Thanks for your message! :) Brazil is so big that it means there is a lot of variety in the food and also the landscape, traditions, accents, customs, etc. It really is an amazing country and I think there will always be something new for me to discover!

  10. Hugo Cassimiro

    Very nice post!

    I was searching for how the other people see us by our cuisine and how much they like regional food and found your post. I’m Brazillian, born in the Northeast of the country and I have tasted a large variety of our food and I think that I couldn’t know even a half that what we can do, specially with amazon fruits which have a thousands of different flavors and thousand more blended juices so you can imagine what we can do with much more. I really like Feijoada, it’s like the most popular dish in my family and I eat at least twice on a month, we can’t say that it’s the “brazillian favorite food” but I think most like this dish.

    Speaking about our spice, I would agreed with you when you say ” it was like it enhanced the flavours of the food”, I’m starting to use some spice in my recipes and I was really into it now! But I try only a few recipes with this. I like to taste the real flavours of the food, as when you put in your mouth and knows exactly with what and how it was made.

    anyway, thank you for the post and I would like to know how taste the UK food. :D

    congrats

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Hugo! I know what you mean about the Amazonian fruits – there are *so* many that I’m sure I’ll never know them all! I think it’s really interesting what Alex Atala is doing at his DOM restaurant in São Paulo – making use of all these uniquely Brazilian ingredients and flavours.

      You’re right about spice – it has a place, but there are also times when it is better to let other flavours be the star. As for British food, when I open my restaurant, I will reserve you the best table! :D Thanks for your comment!

  11. Juliana Xavier

    Hey!

    Great post Tom, and nice comments too.
    I’m Brazilian from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Here we’re all for comfort food. Pão de queijo comes from our state, plus we have the best cachaças in Brazil. :-)
    I actually googled ‘Braziliand food’ cause I’m writing an article on that and was pleasantly surprised with your post, although aghast by the lack of information in English about the topic.
    I love to eat and take great pleasure in showing my foreigner friends the variety of Brazilian food.
    I think that the best way for people to find themselves having the best culinary experience is by getting a good foodie friend or guide. Really, to get the good stuff you need to know where to go. If y’all coming to Belo Horizonte, get in touch and I’ll show you around!

    Best regards.

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Juliana! Thanks for your comment and also the offer – when I visit BH (I still haven’t been) I will send you a message :)

      I totally agree with you about finding a food enthusiast who lives locally. That was the whole reason we started running food tours here in Rio – to show visitors the best food in Rio!

      Abraço!

  12. Alba

    Hi Tom.

    Lovely blog.
    One of the first questions people here in UK ask me is…What is Brazilian food like? How can you explain it? You need to experience it as you said and then start to appreciate.
    I make some Brazilian products here and after the first question mentioned above, they always like it!
    Congrats again and when I am in Rio, I will look for you and your services.
    Hugs
    Alba

    1. tomlemes

      Thanks Alba – definitely look me up when you’re over here in Rio. Good luck with your products – I’m sure the people of the UK will be happy to discover more about Brazilian food :)

  13. Yan

    Hi, first of all, I don´t wanna read the other comments, so if someone else had the same things to say, I´m deeply sorry…

    So, okay, as a brazilian person, I would like to agree with you that around here, if you just randomly pick some place to eat, you will probably have a terrible experience, as even for us it is hard to find those good places, those hidden pearls haha… Of course if you have a lot of money you can always go to the more expensive restaurants, but when it comes to brazilian food, their price doesn´t always mean quality; and by doing this you would also miss a lot on the traditional food of everyday-brazilian-life. Keep in mind that I live in the southeast region and have not traveled very much, so I don’t have much information about the food from other regions. That said, I here go my suggestions, which I think you might have tried already, only not mentioned in the text…

    My first suggestion would be the whole group of “Comida Mineira”, that is, food from the state of Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais is recognized around Brazil especially for it’s food. Also, geographically it acts like a limit between the Southeast region and the Northeast one, a geographical matter that also affects the food. I would like to especially mention the Carne Cozida com Batata (Baked Meat with Potatoes) and the Mandioquinha Frita (Fried “Cassava”, that is, fried mandioca). Besides these two, there are a lot more dishes from Comida Mineira that are worth mentioning (Feijão Tropeiro, Tutu de Feijão, Frango com Quiabo and so on). The simple and delicious Pão de Queijo that you mentioned is also a simble of Minas Gerais.

    Now I also think that another type of food is worth mentioning: Brazilian Foreign Food. I mean, the traditional dishes from around the world, that are made here in Brazil. Examples of this would be brazilian variations of pasta and pizza in the state of São Paulo. São Paulo’s pizza is considered one of the best around the world. There are many flavours that you will only find in Brazil, with many variations on the same flavour from one pizzeria to the other, so it is a very interesting thing to eat around a lot of pizzerias in São Paulo. Eating italian food around that state is great, because there was a big italian imigration in the past, which, over the years have distorted many of the traditional italian dishes into brazilian dishes. Also there was a big japanese imigration, thus creating special, brazilian-only versions of sushi and yakisoba, for example.
    Honorable mention would go to brazilian’s everyday morning bread, the Pão Francês. Although it’s name means literally “French Bread”, it is a result of french imigration which did not find around here the right ingredients for their normal breads, so they created a variation. French Bread can be found at any brazilian bakery, it’s most common way of being served is fried with butter on it. French Bread with butter on top of it is called Pão na Chapa, brazilian’s most common breakfest, usually well-accompanied by some coffee with milk.

    Now for the candy! Brazilian candies I would suggest you would be, of course, the delicious party candies: Brigadeiro, Beijinho, Bem-Casado, Bicho do Pé, Cajuzinho… These are all candies served in small unities at parties or weddings. Also you can try the Ambrosia (which is pronounced Ambrozeea), a dessert made of milk, eggs, lemon peel, sugar and cinamon. Good ones are the peanut-based candies too, such as Paçoca and Pé de Moleque and it’s variation, Pé de Moça.

    I will end my comment with the suggestion for trying out Brazilian barbecue, which is served on restaurants called churrascaria. On barbecue, KEEP AWAY from those little skewers on the streets, they will probably be disgusting and give you a diarrhea.

    I know it’s a lot of stuff for you to search on, but those are all good stuff that I eat on my daily life around here which I would like to share with someone that aprecciated the food from my country ^.^” Hope I have provided suggestions that you didn’t try yet.

    My best wishes,

    Yan

    1. tomlemes

      Hi Yan – thanks for your comment! Some great tips in there! I have to say that I haven’t really taken to Brazil’s candies – for my taste they have too much sugar and not enough ‘zing’. Having said that, I do like paçoca and I also like pudim. I haven’t tried ambrosia yet though.

      Anyway, thanks again for all that information – I’ll be sure to look out for the things I haven’t sampled yet :)

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