My favourite Brazilian food

As my good friend the Bearded Wanderer put it, I was a bit of a tease recently: I mentioned on Facebook that I’d just discovered my new favourite Brazilian dish but then instead of saying what it was, I just signed off with “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow”.

Well, tomorrow was yesterday and I didn’t tell you about it. Sorry about that. Let’s just say that the small matter of cooking Christmas Eve dinner for 10 got in the way. So, without any further ado, let me pick up the story…

We stayed up very late on Saturday, saying goodbye to a friend who had been staying with us for a few days. We got through plenty of cerveja and a few too many caipirinhas, so we had a slow start to Sunday. Around mid-afternoon, we headed to a nearby supermarket to pick up some essentials for the hangover-fuelled, sofa-based movie-marathon we had planned for the rest of the day. Our route to the supermarket just happened to take us through Praça São Salvador, a rather nice square situated between the neighbourhoods of Laranjeiras and Flamengo.


Praça São Salvador

Praça São Salvador is well known for great live music. When we wandered past on Sunday, Carlos Evanney, a well known artist who covers the great Roberto Carlos, was playing. It was one almighty sing-along!


As the hangover kicked in, we decided to postpone the the trip to the supermarket and stopped at a little market stall where a woman was selling soup and a variety of stews. We shared a delicious pumpkin soup and I downed a can of guaraná. I instantly felt better. Then we saw it…

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Cow Hand Soup

Last Saturday some friends and I went to a kind of fundraiser for one of Rio’s top Samba Schools, Portela. It was pretty cool actually, there were a bunch of different bands playing up on a stage, there were plates piled high with feijoada and there were ice buckets full of beer. Oh yes, and there was some serious heat!

Portela Feijoada

A day of samba, cerveja, feijoada and fun!


With the temperatures up around 40°C (104°F), the ice cold beers slipped down very easily (along with a cheeky caipirinha or two). Eventually the sun sank, our boozy afternoon became evening, and I started to experience that special kind of hunger that comes after drinking a little too much.

Luckily for me, Mrs Eat Rio’s appetite tends to be well aligned with mine, so we decided to leave the stage area and go in search of sustenance. We wandered past stalls selling beers and caipirinhas and then we saw the sign.

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Last weekend we had a friend from London to stay. This was fun, not just because our guest was nice and not only because she brought us all kinds of yummy goodies from home, but also because her presence pushed us into doing a whole bunch of sight-seeing things that we probably wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. We wandered around a favela, we went to see some samba (these guys) and spent a fair bit of time eating and drinking in Santa Teresa. 

One of the places we ended up was Armazém São Thiago, a really nice old bar that dates back to 1919. The bar itself does pretty yummy food, but even better than that, on Sundays there is a lady just outside the bar cooking Acarajé

A delicious bundle of spicy goodness. I am designating acarajé as an essential food – see the others in the list by clicking the ‘essential food’ label on the right (Photo: Leonardo Martins).


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The foods you have to try in Rio.

If someone asked me what I thought were the essential foods to try when coming to Rio, I would probably bore them to death with my list of personal favourites. Of course it’s a subjective, erm, subject. I know some of my favourite Brazilian dishes won’t be to everyone’s tastes. A good example would be Tacacá. I don’t think anyone would argue against it being delicious, but the mucus-like goma de mandioca will seriously challenge some people’s appetite. 

Remember this piece of awesomeness from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Well Tacacá is nothing like this. But at the bottom of the bowl you will find a substance may cause you to reminisce about the last time you had a cold…

But although the exotic dishes are pretty cool (well, I think so anyway), they aren’t the ones I’d describe as essential. The foods you have to try aren’t particularly fancy, but they are a part of everyday life and if I were a visitor, these are exactly the things that I would want to taste first. I’ve covered a few of them already: Pão de queijo, farofa, coxinha, pastel

Today I thought I’d tell you about one more.

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The Brazilian Hangover Cure

Imagine a 100% reliable hangover cure that was only available until 1pm (and you’d have to venture right out into the world to get it – it can’t be kept in your bedside drawer). That would lead to some tricky mental balancing acts on Sunday morning wouldn’t it? 

“My head is in a world of pain and I would love to fix it up, BUT that would require me to get out of bed, get dressed and make my way to the market…” – tricky right?

When I am up early enough to catch the Sunday market in Gloria (it starts closing down around midday), the busiest stall by far is the one that sells Pastel (a light, crispy deep-fried pastry filled with cheese, meat, or various other fillings) and Caldo de Cana (sugarcane juice). 


Those golden pastry pockets have various fillings. Most popular are cheese (pastel de queijo) and minced meat (pastel de carne). This is the first part of the cure.

Pasteis (the plural of Pastel) are one of the great Brazilian lanches (snacks), ranking up alongside Pão de queijo and Coxinha. You can buy the pastry ready-made and conveniently cut to shape in every supermarket here and I find that serving a few pasteis makes me very popular when we have guests. If you’re interested in making them for yourself and don’t live in Brazil then you should check out the excellent Flavors of Brazil blog which has a recipe for the pastry.

So, you’ve got your pastel – crispy, a little greasy with oozing melty cheese inside (the cheese ones are my favourite). This all sounds good for combating hangover symptoms. But on its own this will not be enough. You need a drink. A fresh, sweet drink. 

Step 1: Get a truck full of sugar cane
Step 2: Pass sugar cane through industrial sugarcane mangle machine. Catch juice in jug.
Step 3: Take mangled sugarcane stems, twist them together, then pass them through a second time.
Step 4: Discard sugarcane pulp

Follow these steps and you will get this, a golden-green cup of magic:

Golden-Green Elixir – this will fix you up
Ice cold cups of caldo de cana are pretty much mandatory alongside your pastel. A sip of this sweet juice, followed by a bite of cheesy pastry, followed by more juice and before long you’ll be making plans for a trip to the beach, perhaps a few beers and later on maybe a churrasco!

Tasty Little Thighs

Title got your attention didn’t it? Well sorry to disappoint, but the thighs I’m referring to belong to chickens. The word Coxinha [co-SHEEN-ya] means little thigh and this is the name of one of Brazil’s tastiest and most popular snacks.

The Portuguese word for snack, lanche [lansh], originated from the English ‘lunch’ but at some point lost the original meaning and came to mean any quick bite.  Dotted all over the city are lanchonetes [lan-shon-ETCHES] or snack bars and these are great places to grab something quick, tasty and satisfying.

The much-loved coxinha, found in almost every lanchonete in Rio.


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Farofa – Tasty Sawdust

When I was young I used to look at the map of the world and want to grab South America in my left hand, Africa in my right,  and push them back together. It would be satisfying wouldn’t it? One of the legacies of the slave trade is that the people who now live so far apart – in the hollow of West Africa and the pointy nose of Brazil – have many cultural similarities: religion, music and, you guessed it, food.


Pangea – continental snuggling


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Pão de Queijo – cheesy goodness

When I visit a new country, one of the first things I do is get involved with the local foods. Regretfully not in a particularly methodical or scientific way, but by taking a more haphazard approach. I go to the places that look ‘local’, ask the taxi drivers about their favourite food, look for anything that looks interesting on street stalls and markets and generally just eat!
Some of my favourite Latin American foods: Arepas from Colombia…

…Tacos from Mexico…