Brazil isn’t widely known for its cuisine, but you will eat very well with some real treats. You’re also very unlikely to go hungry. Food highlights include fruit and their juices, seafood and the ubiquitous manioc, rice and beans.
Brazil’s own cuisine is really that of Bahia in the North East, with its unique African, Portuguese and sea-facing influences.
Brazilians eat a lot – portions are big. Many restaurants serve food by the kilo. Help yourself, weigh it at the till and pay by weight. Lunch (almoço) is the largest meal of the day with dinner (jantar) often being a ‘light’ snack, at least in comparison to the mountains of food at lunch.
It’s quite common to order a main dish to share – with there being plenty for two.
It’s generally not considered polite to touch your food in Brazil. Sandwiches or pastries will be eaten with a napkin scrupulously between hands and food. Sandwiches have been known to be eaten with a knife and fork, but haven’t witnessed that ourselves.
Going against popular belief, food, rather than water, is usually the culprit of intestinal problems. Eating well cooked, piping hot food, is possibly the best way to avoid problems.
Avoid uncooked and under cooked foods. Salads in particular should be avoided until you’ve developed some local intestinal flora to be able to handle it. Fruits that must be peeled before being eaten, such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges, are usually a safe bet.
Breakfast (café de manha) tends to be quite strong coffee and a selection of weird, wonderful and fabulous tropical fruits. In our experience the coffee you’ll drink in Brazil actually isn’t that good – presumably the best beans are exported or sent down to the riches and more European culture of São Paolo.
If you haven’t ever tried a custard apple (Fruta de Conde, pr. con-je) find one, break it open and suck the flesh off the large seeds inside it is quite delicious.
If you are feeling brave then a traditional weekend dish is Feijoada. A deep, dark stew of beans, spices and various, shall we say, less pretty, cuts of beef and pork.
Served with the ubiquitous ground manioc farofa and rice it is a seriously hearty lunch. It is also very, very tasty.
You must try a Churrasco or Brazilian barbeque at some stage. This is really a temple to eating – all at a set price. Firstly there will be a fairly extensive ‘salad bar’ which may actually stretch the concept of salads as far as sushi on one side and soup on the other.
You then sit down and tuck in. Meanwhile, waiters will wander around the tables with skewers of every imaginable cut of beef (and the occasional sausage) slicing off pieces directly onto your plate.
There will always be some form of red light/green light system in operation for you to use it might be a simple token which you flip onto green when you want more food, red when you are having a breather.
Seafood and fish is another big highlight in Brazil. Just plain grilled fish & seafood is delicious, fresh and plentiful.
The fish stew from the northeast, Moqueca de Peixe, is wonderful: marinated white fish stew with dende oil, coconut milk and spices served with coconut rice.
Fruit is a big deal in this country – particularly in the Amazon you will come across strange looking beasts that are absolutely fantastic. Hard to describe many of them: açaí, araçá-boi, buriti, camu-camu, cupuaçú, graviola, pupunha and tucumã will all appear on menus either as juices or sorbets so it’s well worth being experimental with at least some of them.
And do not leave Brazil without trying cashew (caju) fruit juice.
Do not drink the tap water, stick to bottled/purified water.
For soft drinks try the fruit juices (sucos)- invariably excellent and refreshing.
Also, drink coconuts – most roadside stalls have coconuts hanging up or in the fridge, order one and they will slice the top off, pop a straw inside and off you go. Refreshing, tasty and incredibly good for your liver by all accounts. Please note that fresh coconut water bears no relation to the stale poison inside the nasty brown coconut shells usually seen in the UK.
Cans will be served with a straw – drinking straight from the can is a no-no.
Guaraná (pr. gwa-ra-NAH ) is a widely-available soft drink made from berries from Amazonas. The taste is probably well described as “”a bit like Red Bull only nice””.
Antarctica is the biggest brand. I won’t attempt to explain the pronounciation except to say that it sounds nothing like Antarctica in English.
Don’t drink too much of it though – guarana is quite a stimulant and is advised against for some heart conditions such as arrhythmia.
Beer, cerveja (pr. ser-VAY-zja) is very popular and usually served very cold (bem gelada often from special beer chillers that run to about -4°C).
It’s often served in 600ml big bottles which are put in plastic insulating sleeves and are typically shared with small (often chilled) glasses topped up as regularly as you like.
There’s not a lot to choose between them, but we’d agree with the widely-held preference for Skol and Bohemia brands.
Cachaça (pr. ka-SHA-sah) is the main ingredient in Caipirinha (pr. kai-pa-reen-ya), a glorious drink, perfect as a sundowner. Prepare to fall over if you have more
If you want to buy some Cachaça to bring home, you could try Germana (aged 2 years in barrels) or Magnifica (a less premium grade) which were both recommended to us. The Germana is excellent.
Brazilian wines, by most Brazilians’ own admission, aren’t anything to write home about. There are some, however, and they are improving.
You can get good Argentinian and Chilean wines in the better restaurants, though they will be expensive.