Brazilian Food is as diverse as your going to find in Latin America. Heavily influenced by Arabic, African and Portuguese immigrants, Brazil’s culinary world has reaped the rewards from the melting pot of people and varying landscapes across the country.
Before I get started with the most popular foods, let me share a few facts…
- While Southerners love their churrascos (BBQs), northerners opt for more seafood and spicy treats.
- Brazilians everywhere love their buffets and pay-per-kilo (pay-by-the-pound) restaurants, so practice self control when visiting.
- Like many Latin countries, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and the principal plate in most local places is rice, beans, french fries, a small salad (a slice of lettuce and tomato) a piece of meat or fish and farofa.
- Salgados, which are fried or baked snacks like empanadas, coxinhas and kibes, are popular anytime of the day and often substitute dinner.
- Rio d Janeiro has a strong sandwich, salgados and juice culture and you can find small, stand-only shops that serve all three on virtually every corner around the city.
- The most popular street foods around the country are hot dogs, popcorn, tapioca, acarajé and espitinhos.
Now that you understand the basics, here are 23 traditional Brazilian foods and dishes that you should try the next time you travel deeper in Brazil.
Disclaimer: All photos and food were taken and eaten by me, not in the same day though. Also, please do not try to lick, suck or bite your computer screen.
23. Pão na Chapa
What: Toasted french bread baguette loaded with butter or Requeijão (cream cheese).
Where: Order it at any bakery, sandwich stand or juice bar across the country.
Tastes Like: Buttered or cream cheese covered toast. This one’s pretty simple.
What: The popular Brazilian salgado consists of chopped or shredded chicken, meat, and/or cheese, covered in dough, molded into a cone, then battered and fried.
Where: From restaurants to street vendors all across Brazil, these dangerously delicious little devils are everywhere.
Tastes Like: A fried chicken cordon bleu, minus the ham, but with shredded chicken and dough… okay, so it’s completely different. Think, shredded chicken poppers.
Also Try: Bolinho de Bacalhau
What: Take a deep-fried black-eyed pea fritter, split it in half, add a generous portion of caruru and/or vatapá (a spicy cream of fish and shrimp paste cooked in peanut sauce), and then add green and red tomato salsa, fried shrimps and homemade hot pepper sauce.
Where: Found on street corners all over the north/northeast of Brazil.
Tastes Like: A crazy fried shrimp falafel taco from outer space.
20. Mortadella Sandwich
What: Layers of delicious, grilled mortadella meat (ham/bologna) on french bread with a disrespectful amount of melted cheese.
Where: Most sandwich spots around the country will offer a variation of this tasty sammy, but the best rendition I found was at the public market in Sao Paulo.
Tastes Like: This isn’t your grandma’s bologna sandwich.
19. Moqueca de Camarão
What: A hearty Brazilian shrimp stew made with coconut milk, palm oil and all the essential veggies like onion, tomatoes and peppers.
Where: This is traditionally served in restaurants and homes in Northestern Brazil.
Tastes Like: The Peruvian dish I cooked in Lima with local friends, Chupe de Camarones, except this has coconut milk and a lot more sides.
What: Fried pockets filled with meat, cheese or sweets like banana or doce de leite.
Where: Like the coxinha, pasteis (plural for pastel) are a Brazilian snacking staple and can be found throughout the country.
Tastes Like: Savory, stuffed fried dough.
What: Beef ribs. Just add salt and let it go in the oven or on the grill
Where: Very popular in the Southern States of Brazil, but can be found in Churrascarias (Brazilian steakhouses) everywhere. The best ribs are served up from family BBQs like this one in Curitiba
Tastes Like: Ribs. Salty, meaty, deliciousness.
16. Tambaqui de Banda
What: Grilled fish. Simple and perfect.
Where: Northern Brazil (around the Amazon).
Tastes Like: Light, fresh, grilled fish. One of the best dishes I’ve had in Brazil.
What: Cow pancreas, grilled and served with an onion and tomato salsa.
Where: Northestern Brazil.
Tastes Like: A salty car tire. Once was enough for me.
14. Polenta Frita
What: The golden sticks to the back/left of the sampler plater are fried polenta (cornmeal) fries.
Where: I have only found them in Southern and Central Brazil, but I’m sure they can be ordered elsewhere.
Tastes Like: Crunchy on the outside, creamy and corny on the inside. Like a french fry, but much MUCH better. Another popular fried french fry rendition is mandioca frita (fried yucca), but to me, polenta frita is the best fried rod around.
What: Kibe (or Kibbeh) is actually an Middle Eastern snack brought over by immigrants and cherished by Brazilians. Here, the most popular rendition is a torpedo-shaped ball of bulghur (cracked wheat), minced onions and finely ground lean beef stuffed with beef, cheese or vegetables.
Where: Your local salgados stand and arabic joints across the country.
Tastes Like: a fried meatball seasoned with exotic spices from faraway lands.
12. Carne de Sol
What: Sun-aged steak served with all the usual suspects.
Where: Northeastern Brazil, where the sun tenderizes the meat just right
Tastes Like: Steak. It’s good but not all that exciting.
11. Caldo de Sururu
What: A Brazilian mussel chowder made with mussels and sometimes other seafood, garlic, onions, potatoes or yucca, spices and tropical palm oil.
Where: Typically found in Northestern Brazil, the most interesting place you can order it on the beach. Vendors walk around with kettles of this hot soup along with cilantro, chili sauce and limes to top it off. Not exactly my ideal beach snack, but it’s great on a cool evening on the streets of Salvador.
Tastes Like: An exotic clam chowder, the red not the white.
What: Guava paste, usually spread on toast, stuffed in pastries or eaten with minas cheese and called a Romeo and Juliet.
Where: Breakfast tables, grocery stores and bakeries everywhere.
Tastes Like: A deliciously sweet fruit roll-up on steroids.
What: Steak, chicken, sausage and cheese on a stick.
Where: Served up on the streets and even grilled fresh at the beach.
Tastes Like: The answer to all your drunk problems.
What: Condensed milk, butter and chocolate rolled into a rich ball and covered in chocolate sprinkles.
Where: A bakery near you.
Tastes Like: An undercooked brownie ball with chocolate sprinkles. Yeah, they’re good.
Also Try: Doce de Leite on or in anything.
What: A delicious dark purple berry that when combined with guarana syrup and some granola, it turns into the perfect breakfast, post-workout or anytime meal. Add strawberries or bananas for an extra kick of awesome.
Where: Açaí is actually from the north but Cariocas (people from Rio) eat it like it’s nobodies business – myself included.
Tastes Like: A thick blueberry smoothie that I would bathe in if it was socially acceptable.
6. Pão de Queijo
What: Warm, cheese stuffed buns.
Where: Created in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, but now popular all over
Tastes Like: Extra cardio tomorrow, no regrets today.
What: Fried cassava flour that may include egg, bacon, banana, torresmo (pork rinds, above) or other add-ons. Brazilians use it as a topping for rice and beans, meat and anything else they can get their hands on.
Where: You can’t escape it.
Tastes Like: flavored sawdust. I think it was something created by the beer companies to dry your mouth so you would drink more beer (Brazilian friends hate when I say that).
What: Tapioca is a starch extracted from the manioc plant that looks like sea salt. Add butter to bond it and cook it like a tortilla, add savory or sweet fillings and fold into a taco shape.
Where: Native to northern Brazil but found on street vendors everywhere
Tastes Like: Good question. It’s kind of like a chewy, gummy, burrito, but not really.
What: Meat. Lots and lots of beautiful meat. Steak, sausage, pineapple, and odd bits
Where: It’s a religion in Southern Brazil but can be found all over.
Tastes Like: Success.
2. Fruit & Juices
What: Delicious, mouthwatering fruit and fresh fruit juices.
Where: It varies by region, but they’re all worth a lick, bite or squeeze
Tastes Like: Some familiar, many foreign, most tasty, some funky, all welcome.
What: This is Brazil. A thick meat and bean stew with rice, greens and farofa sides
Where: All over Brazil. Many restaurants and families will prepare this dish on the weekends, because once you eat it, you’re not going or doing anything.
Tastes Like: a meaty chile without the ground beef or chile seasonings.
Está com fome? Are you Hungry?
See Also: The Ultimate Guatemala Food Guide
Nice article! You should had feijao tropeiro also .
ps.: It is Espetinho and not Espitinho! rs! 😉
Thanks Barbara, I made the update. I was going to give feijao tropeiro it’s own category but, to be honest, I really haven’t seen or heard locals talking about it much around the country.
Congratulations! Excellent post! You’ve got everything covered! Only forget the Caipirinhas (and some other small stuff, but it is impossible to list everything…). Parabéns!
Haha, I would never forget the Caipirinhas Carlos! I’ll probably do another, drinks-only post to cover the cachaca, guarana and all the other tasty Brazilian beverages!
Excellent resource! I wrote a couple of smaller guides to food in Brazil recentl (one about cheap eats, the other about just fruit since there are so many fruits!), and you’re definitely right about the variety. I was just in Minas and found all kinds of new dishes and treats.
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I’m heading to Minas at the end of the month Jenna, I can’t wait to try the cheese and different Brazilian cuisine from that area. Great site by the way!
Oh my god, everything looks delicious and never heard of many of these. Through not sure how well I’d get by as someone who does eat meat… still, yum!
The fruit and juices alone will keep you happy in Brazil! Also, most salgados come in a cheese-only form.
A variety of food I missed during my visit to brazil. These dishes looks delicious and mouth watering, will definitely try them in next year’s visit to Brazil.
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Absolutely Gary, make a check list and don’t leave until you’ve gained 10 pounds! haha
FYI you don’t use/need butter to bond the goma de mandioca in making tapioca. The heat of the pan (dry, no oil) will cause the goma to bond together into a tapioca. Butter is usually spreaded on it afterwards just for taste. As to the ‘nondescript’ taste, most foreigners (especially Anglos-saxons) simply lack the training/sophistication of mouth to appreciate the importance of texture that is basic in some of our staples (think glorious farofa too ;-).
Thanks for the info Chico, I’ve always seem them add butter and thought that was the process of bonding, good to know! As for the farofa, I enjoy the texture, it’s the dry mouth afterwards that I can’t get used to. : )
Sorry about the “spreaded”.
And by the way I think you did cover the basics, well done!
Just one other detail: pão de queijo is not actually ‘stuffed’ with cheese, instead grated cheese (usually cured Minas) is mixed thoroughly into the povilho (a sort of sour mandioc flour) dough before baking.
Great article! just one little typo: its GoiAbada, not Goibada 🙂
Thanks for the heads up Christopher!
That Mortadella sandwich is hilarious! Huge! For carnivores, I guess…
I see Brazil is a rather sophisticated place from the point of view of food. Just like Portugal is.
I love “Espetinho” and really the Brazilian food is very diverse and very tasty. I like your list of meal, thank you.
I love brigadeiro!
Going to Brazil, Southern region in Nova Friburgo, Buzio, etc for the 3rd time in a year next week. I absolutely agree with all your descriptions and have found a few items I MUST try like the Mortadella sandwich. My fave foods so far have been Pao De Queijo, Espetinho (my Brazilian fiance just calls “barbecue” ), Coxinha, and the meat/rice/beans mix so popular at most of the buffets down there. I really enjoyed your write up and am going to use it as a default menu for my trip.