Brazilian cuisine has been influenced by the Italians, the Spanish, the Arabs, Africa and the Orient. Brazilians dine on pasta, empanadillas, kebabs, wontons and their own version of couscous. Rice and beans are the staple foods which accompany traditional favourites, such as feijoada, and fruit is an essential ingredient at breakfast time. Restaurants which serve food by the kilo, “comida por quilo,” in a buffet-style arrangement, are popular and plentiful. This makes it easy to try a wide variety of different dishes all at once.
Tapioca is not to be confused with tapioca pudding. Tapioca, in Brazil, is a kind of crepe which can be served with a variety of fillings, either sweet or savoury. Plain cheese tapioca is a popular choice for breakfast, particularly in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco. For an afternoon snack, the sweet variety such as melted chocolate or doce de leite (sweetened and caramelised milk) is another Brazilian favourite. Tapioca is made from sour starch and completely gluten-free. It’s also not necessary to add oil to the pan when cooking the crepes, which makes tapioca a lot less fattening than other Brazilian snacks.
Feijoada is essentially a meat and beans stew, cooked for a very long time on a low heat and seasoned with onion and garlic. The most traditional feijoada comes with beef jerky, sausages and all the parts of the pig that are normally discarded, such as ears, tails and tongues, but there are now less fatty versions of feijoada found in Brazil, particularly in the most modern cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Whether dining on a traditional feijoada or a more modern version of the same, the dish is normally accompanied by rice or farofa (a very dry, powdery kind of grain) and sometimes fried plantain.
Cuzcuz… not quite couscous
Cuzcuz is traditionally associated with the state of Sao Paulo in the Southeastern area of Brazil. During the 10th century, it became a popular dish with Sao Paulo’s local aristocracy and earned the name Cuzcuz Paulista. Despite its appearance and similar name, Cuzcuz is very different to the couscous enjoyed in Europe and Northern parts of Africa. Couscous is wheat based, but Brazilian Cuzcuz is made from corn. In Sao Paulo, it is traditionally served with shrimp, boiled eggs, peas, and tomatoes, but in the Northeastern region of Pernambuco and in parts of the state of Rio de Janeiro, coconut milk and caramelised coconut shavings are added to the grain to make a very sweet and heavy, late-afternoon snack.
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Quentão is a type of hot, mulled wine and traditionally enjoyed during the June Festivals in Brazil in the Southern states when the temperatures drop. It’s one of the best ways of keeping warm when enjoying the celebrations in the winter time. In the south, the most popular version of Quentão is known as Quentão de vinho and is a rich, hot mixture of red wine, ginger, sugar and spices, normally cinnamon and cloves. The south of Brazil is where most of the wine is produced in the country, but in the north (where temperatures remain hot all year round too) the Quentão produced is made from cachaça instead. Cachaça is a very strong alcoholic drink made from fermented sugarcane juice. After one or two small cups of Quentão you can expect to be a little tipsy.
Coconut water… not coconut milk
Coconut water is a refreshing natural drink found inside the shell of a young, green coconut. It’s not to be confused with coconut milk (even though coconut milk is also used a lot in Brazilian cooking), because coconut milk is a manufactured product, made from the flesh of a mature, brown coconut and is very tasty, but highly fattening. Coconut water, however, is best enjoyed whilst sunbathing on a Brazilian beach and is a very healthy drink full of more electrolytes than the typical sport drinks available and incredibly rich in potassium.
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Açai is a small, dark purple berry which grows on a 15 foot-high palm tree in the Brazilian rainforest, fast gaining a reputation for being one of the best super-foods on the planet. It’s low in sugar, high in antioxidants and full of all the healthy fats and proteins that the body needs to stay fit and well-nourished. It is generally eaten at breakfast time in Brazil and normally enjoyed with a range of yogurts, granola, fresh banana or flavoured syrups. It’s served as a rich pulp, in a frozen form (somewhat like a sorbet, but with a lot more body) and will do wonders for your hair, skin and nails.
Baked sweet potato and sweet potato jelly/jam
The sweet potato is a popular root vegetable in Brazil and is best served either straight from the oven (batata doce assada) as an accompaniment to meat and fish or in its sweetened form, locally known as doce de batata (sweet potato jam). The baked sweet potato is the perfect side dish to a wide range of Brazilian dishes all across the country, but it is also a preferred snack when served on its own. The sweet potato jam is traditionally served with cheese and crackers. Its texture is sufficiently hard enough so that it can be sliced into strips and placed neatly on top of the crackers and it’s sometimes mixed with chocolate, making it even more sweeter than normal.
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Rabada com Agrião
Rabada, oxtail in English and Agrião (watercress) is a tasty combination on any Brazilian menu, even though the thought of serving them up together might seem a little strange at first. The stew bubbles away on a low heat for many hours, the watercress being added in only the final few minutes of cooking time until it begins to wilt. Garlic, onions and spices are added to increase the flavour and the meat, having been cooked for hours, tenderly falls of the bone every time. In the south of Brazil, the dish is sometimes enjoyed alongside a serving of polenta and red wine, particularly during the winter months.
Bobò de camarão
Bobò de camarão is a traditional Brazilian dish from the state of Bahía and its capital, Salvador. With an obvious tie to Brazil’s African influences, this coconut milk, prawn puree is sometimes as thin as a light soup and at other times as heavy as a creamy stew. The creamy nature of the dish is made from manioc, a favourite of the Afro-Brazilian slave community centuries ago, and a bright orange in colour. The vibrant orange tint comes from the orange palm oil, called dendê, necessary to make the recipe complete. White rice and a small, leafy salad are the traditional side dishes used to accompany this Northeastern favourite.
Traditional coxinhas are typically the size and shape of a pear, but sometimes they can be found in miniature versions. A very popular street-food in Brazil, the coxinha is a deep fried chicken croquette, for want of a better description, originally from Sao Paulo. Even though a popular kind of street-food, the coxinha can be found in most restaurants in major Brazilian cities, listed under the salgados or salgadinhos section of the menu (“salgado” meaning “savoury snack” in Brazilian Portuguese). Coxinhas are stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, onion, parsley, scallions and cheese. The dough is a mixture of wheat flour and potato, which is then deep fried until golden.
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Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata is a tiny, egg-custard puff-pastry tart, made from egg yolk and condensed milk. It’s the perfect afternoon snack in the larger cities of Brazil, accompanied by a large, milky, sweet coffee. Believed to have been first created by Portuguese, Catholic monks in the late 17th century, these sweet pastries are sometimes also served with sprinkles of sugar or cinnamon, adding to their already rich taste.
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Pamonha de Forno Goiana
Pamonha de Forno Goiana is a Brazilian kind of tamale casserole. It’s a heavy dish, made from pureed sweetcorn and baked in the oven. It can be served savoury or sweet (the sweet version is particularly popular in the Northeastern region of Brazil and in the state of Rio de Janeiro) and it is completely gluten-free. The corn is mixed with milk in order to make a kind of dumpling mixture which can either be served on its own or mixed with cheese, sausage, minced meat or minced chicken.
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