Brazilian food is diverse, but also potentially problematic. In the sense that nothing is off limits. You may or may not have heard of the infamous Feijoada. It is originally a slavery dish, of which you see similar concoctions all through the Americas.
Black beans make the bulk of the protein with the addition of the left over scraps from the former landowners’ dinner.
Undoubtably, this came down to the undesirable bits and pieces.
Don’t be surprised to see pig ears and tails or even the odd floating hoof. Nowadays, you can track down luxurious, contemporary versions, like vegetarian, gluten free or vegan feijoada. In truth, any dietary requirement imaginable.
But is it really a feijoada without a floating pigs ear? That’s the question.
At the end of the day, Brazilian food is a mixed pot as the cultures and ethnic diversity of the country itself. This is a guide to orientate you from the moment you sit down to when you are finally wolfing down your dessert.
Thankfully, I lived these experiences so you don’t have to!
Instead, I would like you to come away head over heels in love with the gastronomy of Brazil.
Take a deep breath, did someone say Brazilian BBQ?
Table Manners: Brazilian Condiments
On the table you will find a tin of olive oil. If it’s not imported from Portugal you’ve been hoodwinked. Brazilians love to smother all elements of their food in olive oil. You can drizzle it on the main dish, in your salad or dip your bread a la Italia.
The second condiment will be either a bottle or a small bowl (like a sugar bowl) of spicy sauce. Excluding cuisine heralding from the state of Bahia, most Brazilian food is, without wanting to sound too critical, bland. Though Brazilians season their meat fantastically, the actual food won’t come with sauce like an Indian curry or a Mexican enchilada. Therefore, they have this little, underwhelming, but confounding bottle of spice.
Warning, dab a little on your plate, unless your insides are made of steel.
Next up is Molho inglês (English Sauce). Here I commend the Brazilians because bless them, they cannot say Worcester sauce. Though, here’s a secret guarded by the Brits – neither can we. So you can rest assured I’m on the petition for switching the (ridiculous) name to English Sauce too.
Molho de Alho, which is an Arabic garlic white sauce that you should smother your meat in. It’s very self-explanatory and there’s no tricks up its sleeves. Love garlic, love this sauce.
Bread basket – this resinates from the Italian ancestry, though in my opinion, and I lived in Italy, they failed to really pull off this tradition. The bread is usually tostados, which is toasted bread as a form of preservation. It’s ok if you are hungry and also if you want to dip it in a sauce.
Petiscos: Sharing the Love
Have you ever been in a British city on a Friday or Saturday night?
Often, it can resemble one of those apocalypse movie scenes, the ones directors use to establish fear. It is just about realistic enough to hound to home that there is a small possibility this apocalyptic future, be it zombie based or a result of a natural disaster, could ensue.
We are talking ambulances, drunk folk rolling on the ground, fights kicking off left, right and centre. I’ve seen foreigners truly concerned and baffled by the events they’ve faced on a weekend night in England.
In Brazil though, you won’t be faced with such debauchery.
Now, they drink A LOT. But in general they’ll indulge in beer and always order petiscos.
The rough translation of petiscos would be “nibbles.” Dishes that come as sharing platters that the group will eat invariably with cocktail sticks. From what I have observed, it is the reason they also don’t end up rolling around unconscious on the street, like the Brits.
They fend off drunkenness by lining their stomachs. Here’s my suggestions that you will find on most menus.
1. Filé mignon com cebolada/ em molho de gorgonzola / em molho de madeira
Beef steak slices and fried with onion/ gorgonzola cheese/ madeira sauce.
2. Iscas de Frango ou Peixe
Chicken or fish pieces fried in a breadcrumb batter. They come with a dipping sauce usually with a garlic base.
3. Fried Mandioca
The Brazilian alternative to fries. Mandioca is the same a cassava, fried up and sprinkled with salt.
4. Dadinhos de Tapioca (this one is not common, but if it happens to be on the menu, you’re in for a treat)
These are little cubes or cuboids of tapioca, a flour made from the cassava root. The tapioca is fired with a cheese similar to halloumi and which is dipped in a usually slightly spicy fruit conservative.
5. Batatas Portuguesas
Homemade crisps in the UK and potato chips in the USA. Significantly superior than those that come in a bag from the supermarket.
I cheated a little on this one because in general a starter can also be a petisco. For example the two options below can be bulked up by ordering individually or a couple of portions.
1. Bolinhos de bacalhau (Cod fish balls)
Little fried balls of codfish mixed with potato.
These are fried pies filled with either cheese, shrimp or ground beef. You eat them by hand, wrapped in a napkin. If you want you can drizzle the Spicy sauce or Garlic sauce inside.
Pratos Principais: Main Dishes
The only thing to note in this section of the menu is the option to share dishes. Many, if not all restaurants will have a selection of dishes that are portions for two people (Para duas pessoas).
This could be a large meat joint or even moqueca, which is a Brazilian fish stew. It is really worthwhile teaming up for the two person dishes as they are usually the restaurant’s speciality.
1. Moqueca Bahiana
As in the picture above the Moqueca is made by added an array of fish or seafood in a stew of coconut milk, dendê oil (pal oil), spices and herbs. This is a specialty from the state of Bahia, though there is also a version from Espírito Santo that omits the coconut milk, called moqueca capixaba.
A quick run through of what is available to bulk up your meal. Usually the main dish is accompanied by a side that you can choose. If you are opting for the meal for two, you can select 2 sides.
1. Arroz com Brócolis (Rice with broccoli, which dyes the whole rice a startling green)
2. Batatas fritas (Fries)
3. Batatas portuguesas (Homemade Crisps or Potato Chips)
4. Feijão (stew of black or red beans, seasoned with garlic)
1. Pudim de Tapioca – A rather wobbly dessert made with tapioca, coconut milk and eggs. Imagine a dessert you can slurp off your spoon without chewing once.
2. Doce de Goiaba com Queijo Minas – Also written as the Romeo and Juliet. The Goiaba is a preservative made of guava with sugar. The Queijo Minas is a white, wet cheese specific to Brazil that for absurd reason couples like a treat with the guava.
3. Brigadeiro de Colher – a candy made in Brazil of cocao powder and condensed milk. Traditionally the sweet is rolled into a ball and placed in cases. In restaurants you can also get this same treat that you eat using a spoon. It’s more sophisticated, apparently.
4. Petit Gateau – A warm cake with a gooey chocolate centre.
5. Quindim – desiccated coconut base, topped with a cooked egg yolk, sugar mixture.
Sucos: Juices made with natural fruit.
Caipirinhas: you can choose with cachaça or vodka and your fruit.
Chope: draft beer that comes in about half a pint.
Cerveja: large bottle of beer.
Refrigerante: cans of soda, add zero to the end for a diet version.