Brazil may not be well known on the global culinary scene but for those in the know, the country has some real gastronomic gems. I love Brazilian food and I always end up appreciating it more than ever when I visit my family and friends in Wales – I especially miss pão de queijo and brigadeiro! Before I came to Brazil, I’d imagined that as a tropical country, it would be all about salads, seafood, and light, fluffy bread. Yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here, food feeds the soul, warms the cockles, and has a real homely feel. Here are 20 foods that you really should try when you’re in Brazil (you’ll love them!) and some of my favourite spots to find them in Rio de Janeiro.
Pastels are typically served in two ways – either as large, rectangular pastels (known as pastel de vento, or ‘windy pastel’) found at the farmers’ market or as small, half-moon-shaped pastels commonly found at bars. Popular fillings include minced meat, cheese, pizza (cheese, tomato, and oregano), heart of palm, chicken, and prawns. My favourites are the ones from the farmers’ markets (click here to see some of the best ones) served with a chilled sugar cane juice. For bar pastels, one of the best is Bar do Adão in Lapa and has unusual fillings on the menu such as apricot and brie alongside more traditional options.
Pão de Queijo
Pão de Queijo, a soft on the inside, crispy on the outside cheese bread, is one of my favourite go-to snacks. They are also gluten-free! For a great pão de queijo, try Cultivar in Santa Teresa, a venue that sells and produces organic products whenever possible.
I love canjica and I ate it for breakfast every day when I was in Poco de Caldas in Minas Gerais. It’s soft, white corn mixed with coconut milk, condensed milk, and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. The recipe varies slightly depending on who you talk to, but the result is pretty much the same. One variation is canjica com amendoim, which is the same recipe just with peanuts added (it’s amazing). Empório Jardim in the Jardim Botânico neighbourhood has a smooth and creamy canjica com amendoim on its menu.
A coxinha is a teardrop ball gooey dough wrapped around shredded chicken before being covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. It’s a substantial snack, although probably not one to eat every day! Some also come with cream cheese mixed with the chicken. Fornalha has both traditional and cream cheese coxinhas with branches in both Botafogo and Copacabana. Another place worth checking out for its great coxinhas is the Portuguese-colonial style restaurant, Casa Cave in Centro.
Brigadeiros are balls of truffle made from condensed milk and cacao powder before being covered in chocolate sprinkles. They are so simple yet are one of my favourite Brazilian sweets. Some stores have done their own gourmet takes on the traditional recipe with additions such as pistachio nut coverings or a strawberry inside the truffle. For moreish brigadeiros accompanied with a delicious cappuccino, go to Brigadeiros do Tuiter in Botafogo.
For a bite of something filling and homely, try a joelho. The joelho – which literally means ‘knee’ in English – is a thick, bread-like pastry with ham and cheese inside. The best places in Rio for a joelho are the juice stores dotted throughout Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. I’ve already recommended it for the coxinha, but Fornalha also does a great joelho too.
Açaí is a great post-beach snack and I love the refreshing taste on a hot summer’s day. Personally, I love it mixed with granola, but it’s also good wth strawberries and banana with a drizzle of honey on top. Once again, Cultivar in Santa Teresa makes the list for having the quasi-official title of the best açaí in town.
Biscoito Globo has a place among Rio’s cultural icons and brings about a certain nostalgia in Cariocas. Made with manioc flour, they are crunchy, airy crisps with a distinct taste that is incomparable. Despite their simplicity, they are incredibly moreish and are a tasty savoury accompaniment to an ice-cold mate. The best place to buy them is from the beach vendors at Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon beach.
Empadas are mini pies with fillings such as carne seca (dried meat), prawns and Catupiry, shredded chicken, and heart of palm. They come best served with a chilled chopp (Brazilian beer) on a balmy Rio evening. My favourite empadas are at Belmonte where they come with a small pastry base and heaps of carne seca piled on top. Every time I go there, whether I’m hungry or not, I can’t resist ordering one of these bad boys.
Romeu e Julieta
This combination of guava jelly-like paste and mild, white cheese just works on so many levels. It is sometimes eaten as the main flavour for a cheesecake, in a pastel, in an empada, or simply on its own. Head to Talho Capixaba in Leblon to get a fresh croissant with romeu e julieta on the inside. It’s delicious and is best served with one of the coffee shop’s excellent coffees.
Feijoada, a black bean stew slow-cooked with meat, is the national dish of Brazil and the ultimate comfort food. It comes a serving of black beans with salted pork, chunks of beef, strips of jerked beef, and slices of smoked sausages accompanied by fried kale, fluffy white rice, crunchy manioc and crispy pork crackling. There are plenty of great places in Rio de Janeiro to try this, yet for a traditional and authentic experience, head to Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa and wash it down with a cool, lime caipirinha.
Beijinho de Coco
The name of this tiny dessert appropriately translates to ‘little kiss of coconut’ in English. And that’s exactly what it tastes like. With a similar concept to the brigadeiro, the beijinho de coco is a mix of condensed milk, butter and covered in coconut shavings. Catarina Doces e Salgados in Copacabana has wonderful beijinhos de coco.
Moqueca, a stew made with seafood, prawns, coconut oil, milk, and vegetables, is a traditional Bahian dish yet is popular throughout Brazil. Sobrenatural in Santa Teresa has an amazing moqueca and the portion size is big enough for three people.
Quindim is a dessert that is either served as a large cake or in small, mouth-size portions. It’s basically like custard with coconut and is a light option for when you’re craving something sweet. It’s easy to find at juice bars and padarias (bakeries) throughout the city, yet one of the best ones is at Confeitaria Colombo in Centro.
Misto quente is basically toasted French bread with ham and melted cheese inside, yet its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s my easy, go-to snack almost every time and is perfect with a freshly squeezed fruit juice. They are easy to find – all the fruit juice bars throughout the city sell them.
Another Bahian specialty, acarajé is black-eyed bean pattie with added prawns and before being deep-fried to serve piping hot. They are delicious and I love them with a couple of drops of chili oil. Go to the Hippie Fair in Ipanema at Praca General Osorio on Sundays to get them fresh from the Bahian stand there.
The tapioca pancake was a typical food from the northeast of Brazil, yet has grown in popularity for its health properties – it’s a gluten-free option that is relatively low in calories. It can be eaten savoury with cheese, tomato, and ham, or sweet with chocolate, strawberries, banana, and sprinkles of nuts. The best places to buy them are the little mobile stalls that are dotted along the beach in Copacabana or in the city centre near to metro Carioca.
I love these and they usually feature as my go-to snack at botecos on a night out. They are the Brazilian alternative to chips and are deep-fried cassava sticks. I love them with a pouring of melted butter and a few drops of chili oil. There are so many botecos in Rio that sell great mandioca, yet I really love the one in Feria Nordestina in Sao Cristóvão.
Think the peanut-butter part of Reese’s Cup and that is pretty much the taste of paçoca. They are só good and make great on the go snacks. The best place to get them are from the supermarkets, the bancas (the newsagents on the streets) or at Casa do Biscoito that sells them in big tubs.
A stable part of the Brazilian dinner, farofa goes hand in hand with rice and beans. Farofa is fried cassava flour at its most basic, yet variations include additional fried bacon and egg. Go to any restaurant, bar or boteco that serves traditional Brazilian meals with beans and rice to try farofa.
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