While some people view it as a nutritional substance used to create energy needed to sustain life, I see food as something much more important. Quite frankly, I love to eat. I love eating like a fat kid loves… well, eating.
I should say upfront that all of the photos in this post will be borrowed from Google, because I’m not one of those instagrammers that takes photos of every meal. In truth, this is only because, typically, by the time my meal arrives, I’m too excited to stop and take a photo, add a filter, and wrestle with Brazil’s somewhat lacking 3G service. No, usually I dive right in, and by the time instagram comes to mind, my meal isn’t quite as pretty. Luckily for me, there are plenty of people photographing food, so I’ll likely be able to make your mouth water with someone else’s photos.
The food in Brazil differs depending on the region, but there are definitely country-wide staples such as rice, beans, and meat.
Growing up, my family didn’t eat red meat. I don’t think that would have lasted very long if I had grown up in Brazil. The meat here is so good that they usually don’t need to season it with anything but salt.
Restaurants here mainly use 2 ways to buy food beyond the typical American style of ordering per plate off a menu. The first is rodizio, which means eat-until-you-explode, and depending on the restaurant is usually around R$35-50. They have rodizios for everything from barbecue to sushi, and are usually (but not always) set up like a buffet. The second type of restaurant, where food is sold per kilo, is more common around lunchtime. These are also set up like a buffet, but your plate is weighed at the end, and you pay (obviously) per kilo. If you love trying new foods and have to have a bite of everything like me, both are equally dangerous.
Here’s a few of my favorite Brazilian staples:
The best typical Brazilian meal you can get is churrasco. It’s barbecue, but not exactly the same way we imagine barbecue in America. You won’t find hot dog buns or hamburger patties here. And you definitely don’t eat churrasco with potato salad, collard greens and mac & cheese.
Barbecue here is typically served with rice, sometimes beans, vinagrete (which is basically a delicious salsa made with vinegar and olive oil) and farofa.
The first time I heard about farofa was long before I visited Brazil, in a bar in the Lower East Side with my at-the-time Brazilian roommate, Rodrigo. We had come to the bar to meet an American friend of his who had spent some time in the north of Brazil, where both farofa and Rodrigo come from. He described it to me as something that “looks like sand, and tastes like sand.” Rodrigo seemed offended, but when I finally had a chance to see it for myself… Well, I can’t lie…
But trust me when I tell you, it’s much better than sand. It’s made from a plant called mandioca, and the process seems to be incredibly arduous. But in the end it’s basically a flour-like substance that is fried with butter, and then bacon and other deliciously fattening things are added. I caught a glimpse of the process when I was in Belem.
Unfortunately, being so far from its origin means that the farofa in São Paulo doesn’t quite measure up to the farofa of the north, but that doesn’t stop my paraense friends from dumping bowlfuls onto their plates. And of course, paraenses have a tendency to request food from anyone visiting SP, or bring back coolers full of food every time they go home for a holiday, so there tends to be enough good farofa to go around when hanging out with my friends.
You can’t write a blog post about Brazilian food and not include feijoada. It’s not necessarily my favorite, but it’s such a big part of the culture that it simply cannot be overlooked. On Saturdays and Wednesdays here in São Paulo (or Sundays in Rio de Janeiro), everybody eats feijoada.
Feijoada is made up of beans and pork and served with rice, farofa, and sometimes cute little smiling potatoes. When I say pork, though, I mean the entire pig. Anything and everything that can be considered edible is tossed in there.
Some places have multiple feijoada dishes labeled with each type of pork, and one pot of regular beans in case that’s all you’re into. If not, I usually stick with the farofa and batata smiles.
3. Pão de Queijo
The first time I came to Brazil, I landed in Guarulhos at 6am and was immediately lost. My friends hadn’t arrived at the airport yet, and I was frantically trying to discover how to use the pay phones to call them, with 0 knowledge of Portuguese. With a stroke of luck, I ran into the guy I had been sitting next to on my flight and his sister, who immediately rushed to my assistance. Not only did they let me borrow their cell phone, but when they heard it was my first time in Brazil, they brought me something called pão de queijo and made me taste it immediately. Pretty much anything would taste good to a girl lost and alone in a new country, but this was more than that. It was love at first bite.
Directly translated, it means “bread of cheese,” but it’s not exactly bread with cheese on top, or cheese melted inside. It’s bread whose batter is actually mixed with a special cheese from Minas Gerais and baked into a blob of deliciousness that I can hardly explain.
You can’t go a block in São Paulo without finding a place that sells it, and thank god for that because it’s ridiculously addicting. They even sell them at Starbucks and McDonald’s.
I always thought juice was a somewhat boring concept before coming to Brazil. I mean, I love juice boxes (who doesn’t?) but with all the added sugars and “concentrates,” juice in America probably isn’t even that good for you.
But here, the opportunities for fresh squeezed juice are countless. Nearly every lanchonete or padaria has a menu with a dozen different types of fresh juice. Including fruits that I wasn’t aware could be juiced. You can’t chock it up to the abundance of fruits here either, because most of the fruits consumed in Brazil are not native to South America at all.
Personally, I’m in love with suco de melão, or honeydew juice, which is even better than it sounds. Most of these places offer crazy mixes of fruit juices, such as abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple with mint) or all kinds of different fruits mixed with ginger or coconut water.
Since salads are not exactly a strong suit of Brazilian cuisine, I love drinking fresh juice to pretend that I’m still eating healthy. Fruits might be everywhere in Brazil, but people here seem to avoid vegetables as much as possible. I must say, despite all the delicious food here, I do miss a good salad!