Traditional Brazilian food is delicious, colorful, diverse, and exciting. Because Brazil is such a melting pot of colors and customs, its cuisine varies from one region to another, reflecting the country’s diverse backgrounds and vast territory.
Brazilian food has been heavily influenced by the Portuguese colonization of the 16th century, by slaves brought from Africa, and by indigenous peoples, as well as other European, South American, and Asian countries. After slavery was abolished, Brazil recruited Europeans and Japanese immigrants to work in the coffee plantations – indeed today, Brazil is home to the world’s largest community of Japanese descendants outside of Japan, numbering about 1.6 million people.
This influx of immigrants brought even more recipes and culinary influences to the table of traditional dishes. From the moment you arrive in the country, you’ll see that Brazilian recipes are prepared with love, and meals are more than simple meals – they’re an event. Here are 12 of the most famous Brazilian dishes you should try on your Brazil vacation if you get the chance.
The most famous of all Brazilian dishes, Feijoada is eaten in every corner of the country. This rich, hearty stew consists of black beans cooked with different cuts of pork, supplemented with tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots to round out the flavor. Traditionally, it’s made with slow-cooked offal such as trotters and ears. Brazil’s national dish is served with fried kale mixed with bacon bits, rice, farofa (toasted cassava flour), and a slice of orange.
Famous for its distinctive smoky flavor, this is a deliciously salty dish made from small pieces of bacon fried with cassava flour. It is served with rice and beans, which absorb the juices and add an extra texture to an otherwise quite mushy meal. Recipes contain varying amounts of salt, bacon, and spices and the consistency of the farofa varies greatly. It can be eaten as a main or as a side dish, which works particularly well at a barbeque.
Moqueca is a tasty slow-cooked stew typically containing prawns or fish, coconut oil and milk with added vegetables, tomatoes, onions, and coriander, and served piping hot in a clay pot. There are several regional variations of this dish. In fact, the neighboring states of Baianos and Capixabas both claim to have invented it and both serve mouthwatering versions.
A thick stew from Bahia, made from shrimp, bread, ground peanuts, coconut milk, palm oil, and a mixture of herbs, which is mashed into a smooth paste and commonly eaten with rice and acarajé − a type of fritter made from cowpeas. There are different variations of the dish, the shrimp can be replaced with tuna, chicken, cod, or just vegetables.
Acarajé is another favorite from Bahia. This crispy fritter is made from black-eyed peas, which are mashed with chopped onions and deep-fried. It’s popular street food.
These pastry pockets are either curved or rectangular and filled with stuffing that might include cheese, ground beef, and chicken, along with more unusual fillings such as a heart of palm and guava jam.
A flaky crust pie filled with casseroled chicken and a mix of vegetables such as corn, hearts of palm, and peas. Beef and shrimp are sometimes used instead of chicken. It’s often served for family lunches and dinners at weekends and on Brazil’s public holidays. Small versions of the dish are typically sold at street stalls.
Bolinho de Bacalhau literally means ‘little cod ball’, and is a traditional Portuguese recipe deeply rooted in Brazil. These delectable fishy snacks are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The pieces of salted cod are firstly boiled before they are deep-fried. It is a very popular appetizer and is also great as a main dish served with rice and vegetables.
The Brazilian “cheese bread” originates from the Minas Gerais, a region in the south. The light, fluffy baked cheese rolls or buns became popular in the 1950s although the recipe dates back centuries. Like many other Brazilian foods, this snack originated with enslaved Africans, who would first soak and peel the cassava root before making the bread. The dough is made from cassava flour and queijo Minas, a Brazilian soft cheese. They can be eaten at any time of the day and are also popular for breakfast, served with cheese and jam.
Barbecued meat is a Brazilian specialty. Picanha, a triangular cut of beef that comes from the rump cap muscle, is the most popular cut and it is seasoned with only salt before it’s cooked to perfection. The steaks are often bent in a horseshoe shape, skewered, and cooked over an open fire at the country’s churrascarias (restaurants that serve meat on huge sword-like skewers grilled over a wood fire). The thick layer of fat is charred and the tender, pink, smokey middle falls apart in your mouth. Picanha is one of the highlights you’ll find at a Brazilian barbecue.
Brigadeiro is Brazil’s version of the chocolate truffle. This classic dessert is made of condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter, and then shaped into balls and covered in chocolate sprinkles. The traditional brigadeiro is milk chocolate, yet there are also white chocolate versions available, too. They are even more scrumptious when made with a whole strawberry in the center. They are named after the 1940s political figure Brigadier Eduardo Gomes and have been popular since World War II.
Canjica is a sweet porridge made with white corn, cooked with milk, coconut milk and sugar with sprinkles of cinnamon on top. It is usually served during the annual winter festivals in June.
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