About 2-5 million native Indians lived in Brazil when the first Portuguese explorers arrived early in the 16th century. Beginning in 1538, almost 5 million Africans arrived before the abolition of slavery in 1888. Italians, Germans, Syrians and Lebanese followed Portuguese immigrants. Asians arrived during the 1930's. This population mixture has created a national cooking style marked by profound differences.
This way, ingredients from all over the world have found new partners in Brazilian fruits, spices and fish. From a simple fresh tropical Brazilian fruit juice to a sophisticated 5-course dinner, from a hearty German Sauerkraut to a rich Afro-Brazilian Moqueca, Brazilian cooking offers new delights for all kinds of tastes.
Due the country’s greatness, each region has its specialties. Though in all regions you can usually find the basic Brazilian fare on the menu, the real adventure is discovering the unique flavors of each region.
The Indian influences on Brazilian cooking have best been preserved in the Amazon, which diet is rich of fish, tropical fruits, peanuts, yams and roots vegetables as basic ingredients. But there are lots of different types of fish and they combine in many ways with other ingredients. There is even a fish (Tambaqui) that tastes of its main diet: fruit. One special dish is Pato ao Tucupi, duck in a special sauce with manioc extract.
The northeastern cuisine is a hot cuisine, dominated by sun and sea and, especially in Bahia, you find African recipes with new ingredients. The many riches of the sea are turned into wonderful seafood dishes like Moqueca (rich stew made with fresh fish or seafood, coconut milk, spicy peppers and flavored with the dendê oil, which gives this dish its characteristic red color, served with rice), Acarajé (a mashed bean small cake stuffed with peppers, dried shrimp, onions, ginger, tomato and okra pasta), Vatapá (a puree of fish or shrimp) and Dendê Oil (orange palm oil), while in the dry interior Carne de Sol (sundried beef) is served with manioc fries. And centuries of sugarcane production have resulted in many sweet solutions for drinks and desserts.
In this region of wide open spaces with big rivers and occupied by immigrants from other parts of Brazil, you will find dishes (adapted) from other regions of Brazil. Fish (piranha soup) and game are also important on the menu and the fruits of the savanna add distinctive flavors.
In the southeast, a large population from many origins, means a great diversity of dishes. The menu of cosmopolitan São Paulo includes sushi, pizza, tabouleh and "cuscus a paulista". International Rio has adopted the feijoada and French cuisine. In both, the two most cosmopolitan cities of Brazil, there is a great concentration of national and international restaurants with contemporary food. In Minas, the coffee and milk state, the origins of Portuguese country cooking have been very important, where regional dishes are short ribs, beans and local soft ripened cheese. The Pão-de-queijo (cheese bread) is a treasury of Minas cuisine. It's a bread made with local cheese, crisp outside and soft inside, which is already being exported to U.S. and other countries.
The south is the birthplace of the Chimarrão (a hot herbs drink) and the Churrasco (beef barbecue), a gaúcha tradition that has spread all over as Brazilian favorites and widely found in the steakhouses all over the country. In the “All you can Eat” steakhouses, the Churrascarias, pieces of beef are skewered into a metal sword and roasted over hot coals. The immigrants from Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe have kept their cooking traditions based on wheat, potatoes and leafy vegetables and introduced wine.
Don’t leave Brazil without trying…
- Feijoada, considered the national dish, a heritage from African slaves during Brazil’s colonization. They used pork leftovers that their Portuguese masters wouldn’t eat, such as ears and tail cooked with black beans. Nowadays it is elaborated with many different smoked and sun-dried meats, smoked sausage and served with a number of side dishes, including sliced oranges, cold cuts, farofa (stir-fried manioc flour), couve mineira (thinly sliced kale) and white rice. Feijoada is commonly served on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
- A traditional Churrascaria. Don’t forget to ask for a Picanha, the noble part of cow meat in Brazilian cut, very soft and juice.
- Delicious tropical fruits and juices that are found all year round. Some rare examples are açaí, cajú, cupuaçu, graviola, mangostim, carambola, pitanga, romã, cajá, umbú, tamarindo, saputi, jaboticaba, acerola, mangaba, among many others.
- Savory snacks served as appetizers called Salgadinhos: codfish croquettes, rice cake, manioc cake stuffed with melted Catupiry cheese, Carne de Sol or shrimp and Pão-de-queijo (small hot cheese rolls).
- Among the popular drinks are Chopp (draft beer) and Cachaça (rumlike hard liquor distilled from sugar cane), Brazilian most famous cocktail is the Caipirinha. Caipirinha’ s ingredients consist of crushed lime slices, ice and sugar served over Cachaça. You'll also find Caipirinhas made with kiwi, maracujá (passion fruit), strawberry and coconut.
- Guaraná is a national soft drink, made with Amazonian Guaraná berries.
- Brazil is ranking as one the largest producers of coffee in the world. At breakfast, coffee is served with hot milk and after meals in tiny cups, really strong.
- There are more than 400 wineries in Brazil, they produce about 3 million hectoliters per year (Brazil ranks 26 in the wine producer list) and Brazilian white wines are starting to earn international prizes.
- The Brazilian malagueta pepper, widely used in Brazilian cooking, is thought to be the ancestor of C. frutescent varieties (which includes Tabasco pepper). African slaves also brought a malegueta pepper with them, but this is from a botanically different family.
- Organic production in Brazil is growing rapidly and the biggest supermarkets have a wide range of organic products available. Brazil also exports certified organic fruits, coffee and meat.