It’s not immediately obvious what Brazilian food is. Internationally speaking, you’ve most likely crammed into a Brazilian steak house at one point and shortly after rolled home in a meat-induced semi-coma.
Yet 14% of the Brazilian population, 30 million souls, are vegetarian.
Brazilian cuisine is far from meat-exclusive.
At the steakhouse you maybe didn’t even notice the sleek palm hearts and the tear-dropped ‘biquinho’ peppers blending in at the salad bar. Did you remember to slather vinaigrette and then farofa (cassava flour) on the meat at all?
In 2022, I was based in the beach neighborhood of Ipanema. In this guide you can try out lesser-known Brazilian titbits scattered around Ipanema. For each restaurant, I highlighted smaller items to sample. After that, you can top it up with other exotic unknowns on the menu that you fancy putting in your belly.
Bar do Adão
The original fried pastry bar has migrated to Ipanema. On the edge of the General Osório square, Bar do Adão serves zero-degree draft beer (there’s ice dripping off the glass) and over 40 pastry fillings.
What to try: Dos Deuses (brie, mozzarella, gorgonzola and parmesan), Mineiro (sausage, collard greens and cheese) and Boi Chique (beef and gorgonzola).
Sourcing its legendary meats from Minas Gerais, Churrasqueira is a place to get sizzling cuts served on cast iron plates.
What to try: Beef ribs with fried cassava, fraldinha (flank steak) 300g and Três Limões caiprinhas (made with 3 lemon/ lime varieties + a flamed cinnamon stick) and fried jilo chips as a starter.
It’s a bar serving bite-size portions of everything you’d expect at a Brazilian BBQ. It’s usually crammed, and you’ll need to order a selection of the dishes.
What to try: Chorizo 300 grams and BBQ chicken hearts.
Jappa da Quitanda
Another branch migrated from downtown to Nossa Senhora Square. They experiment with traditional sushi cuts in their combo dishes and use high-quality fish. And yes, sushi is Brazilian food, given there are 1.4 million Japanese descendants in the country.
What to try: The salmon belly is drizzled with truffle oil, and the joy of salmon is delectable, but order Jappa’s special combo (69 pieces) with friends to sample everything.
A juice bar with a handful of seats, Polis Sucos stacks Brazilian fruits from all over. This place allows you to sample the fad açaí, a frozen drink mixing the Amazonian berry and guarana syrup.
What to try: Açaí 300g with granola and a fruta de conde juice.
For a reasonably priced all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ house.
What to try: cupim (the cow’s hump), picanha (eat pink), caramelized bananas (order to table), chicken hearts, fraldinha, alcatra.
A Casa da Feijoada
Rumoured as the best feijoada in Zona Sul. The bean and pork stew is a traditional Rio dish eaten especially on Saturday lunch. It comes with slices of orange and clumps of buttered couve (collard greens). However, this house serves the dish every day, a rarity in the city. Don’t leave it too late; digesting the heavy pork-bean goodness takes a while.
What to try: Feijoada completa! Comes with all the sides, too. You can choose if you want items like pig ears or feet…
Manoel e Joaquim
Named the Portuguese equivalent of John and James, Manoel e Joaquim serves typical Portuguese bites. Independence from Portugal doesn’t mean the Brazilians had to break up with their food, too. Portuguese food is Brazilian food.
What to Try: Fried calamari and torresmo (pork crackling) portion. The fried jilo chips are delicious too!
You may also be interested in reading our Guide to Decrypting the Brazilian Menu!