Decrypting the Brazilian Menu

Decrypting Brazilian Menu

Be prepared when you are faced with a Brazilian menu with these quick guidelines. Including an in-depth look at the country’s best cuisine. 

Brazilian food is diverse, but also potentially problematic in the sense that nothing is off limits. Once I found out after slurping up the last traces of my chicken dish that the sticky, red sauce was a concoction of seasoned chicken blood.

Then there is the Brazilian Feijoada a bean stew eaten on Fridays and Saturdays. Originally a dish made and invented by slaves, the black beans account for the bulk of the protein, with the addition of the left over scraps from the landowners’ dinner. 

Of course, 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 in your stew. Nowadays, you can track down luxurious, contemporary versions of the dish. Vegan feijoada packs a punch.

But is it even a feijoada without a floating pig ear? 

Brazilian food is just as diverse as the country itself. This is a guide to orientate you from the moment you sit down to when you are wolfing down your dessert. 

Be prepared though, my husband once fed me ox tongue in a soup. He also made me sacrifice live crabs in a romantic gesture

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?

Decrypting Brazilian Menu

Table Manners: Brazilian Condiments on the Restaurant Table

  • Tin of olive oil – it’s probably imported from Portugal and it matters. 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.
  • Bowl or bottle of spicy sauce – Though Brazilians season their meat fantastically, the actual food often 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 just a little on your plate, unless your insides are made of steel.
  • Molho inglês (English Sauce) – Brazilians cannot say Worcester sauce. Though, here’s a secret guarded by the Brits – neither can we. I’m on the petition for switching the (ridiculous) name to English Sauce too.
  • Molho de Alho – An Arabic garlic white sauce that you should smother your meat in. Love garlic, love this sauce.
  • Bread basket – Usually tostados, which are toasted bread slices. Also found at the Brazilian breakfast.

Petiscos Found on the Brazilian Menu

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. There are ambulances, drunk folk rolling on the ground, fights kicking off left, right and centre.

In Brazil though, you won’t be faced with such debauchery.

Now, they drink significant amounts. But in general they’ll indulge in beer over distilled alcohol and order petiscos without fail.

A rough translation of petiscos would be “nibbles.” Dishes that come as sharing platters that the group will eat with cocktail sticks. I believe this is the reason Brazilians don’t end up rolling around unconscious on the street.

They fend off drunkenness by lining their stomachs.

Here are some of the most common petiscos.

  • Filé mignon acebolada/ em molho de gorgonzola / em molho de madeira – Beef steak slices and fried with onion/ gorgonzola cheese/ madeira sauce.
  • Iscas de Frango ou Peixe (also known as gourjon or gurjão) – Chicken or fish pieces fried in a breadcrumb batter. They come with a garlic-based dipping sauce.
  • Fried Mandioca (frito) – The Brazilian alternative to fries. Mandioca is another name for cassava. Find it fried or boiled and sprinkled with salt.
  • Dadinhos de Tapioca – These are little cubes of tapioca, a flour made from the cassava root. The tapioca is fried with a cheese similar to halloumi and is dipped in a usually marginally, spicy fruit conservative.
  • Torresmo – Slice of pork meat and pork fat cooked until crispy (crackling in UK, pork rinds in USA).
  • Frango a passarinho – fried, bone in pieces of chicken. Not much meat, a lot of bone.
  • Queijo coalho com mel – coalho cheese is similar to halloumi cheese in texture, drizzled in honey.

Entradas: Brazilian Menu Starters  

  • Bolinhos de bacalhau (Cod fish balls) – Little fried balls of codfish mixed with potato.
  • Pasteis – 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.
  • Linguiça de pernil – pork sausage, often used to get the BBQ juices going.
  • Pão de Alho – garlic bread is especially popular at BBQ houses.

Pratos Principais: Brazilian Menu Main Dishes

Often on the Brazilian menu there is the option to share dishes. Many, restaurants will have a selection of dishes that are portions for two people (Para duas pessoas).

This could be a large meat joint or moqueca, which is a Brazilian fish stew. It’s worth teaming up for the two person dishes, as they are usually the restaurant’s specialty

Moqueca Bahiana

Moqueca is a stew 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 the state of Espírito Santo that omits the coconut milk, called moqueca capixaba.

Steaks | Picanha, Fraldinha, Alcatra, Chorizo, Baby Beef, Filé Mignon, Costela

Meats are sliced in unique ways in each country. Here’s Brazil’s beef steaks and other meats:

  • Filé mignon is an expensive, tender and flavorsome cut.
  • Picanha is a special, priced Brazilian cut of meat and its deliciousness is attributed to the thin layers of fat that stream through the cut. You won’t find picanha in any other country.
  • Alcatra is rump steak.
  • Fraldinha is flank steak or skirt steak.
  • Baby beef is veal.
  • Costela is the ribs.
  • Chorizo is the sirloin steak.

Make sure to try these meat cut at a traditional churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ house).

Tambaqui or Piraruca

These are the names of two large fresh water fish that are native to the Amazon river and its tributaries. Tambaqui is also known as Pacu Vermelho. Piraruca can reach 3 metres in length and weigh 200kg, so it is sold in slices. Both can be grilled or cooked on the BBQ (often found in Brasília).


As mentioned earlier, feijoada is a typical bean stew from Rio de Janeiro. Traditionally the stew was flavoured with many different parts of the pig, but nowadays most likely will carry sausage and bacon. Served with couve (collard greens) and slices of orange to aid digestion.

Bacalhoada (salted codfish)

Deriving from Portugal, salted codfish was imported from the cold waters of Northern Europe. Balcalhoada is a dish that mixed the preserved cod fish with potatoes, bell peppers, tomato, garlic, olives and boiled eggs. Before cooking, the codfish is pre-soaked in water to draw out some of the salty preservative, but expect a salty fish.

Moqueca Baiana: a Brazilian fish or seafood stew, made with dendê oil, coconut milk and optional spice.

Brazilian Menu Side Dishes

A quick run through of what is available to bulk up your Brazilian 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 two sides.

  • Arroz com Brócolis (Rice with broccoli, which dyes the whole rice a startling green)
  • Batatas Fritas (Fries) 
  • 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.
  • Feijões (stew of black or red beans, seasoned with garlic) 
  • Fried Gilo (a bitter vegetable, sliced thinly and coated in flour called the Scarlett eggplant in English, be careful of allergens and intolerance if you can’t eat regular eggplant).

Sobremesas: Brazilian Desserts

  • Brigadeiro de Colher – candy made in Brazil of cacao powder and condensed milk called brigadeiro. Traditionally the sweet is rolled into a ball and placed in cases. In restaurants however, you can also get this dessert in a recipient that you eat using a spoon (de colher).
  • Cocada – shaved coconut mixed with sugar and condensed milk. This is a creamy dessert originating from the Northeast of Brazil.
  • Doce de Goiabada com Queijo Minas – Also written as the Romeo e Juliet. The Goiabada preserve is made of guava with sugar. The Queijo Minas is a white, wet cheese specific to Minas Gerais in Brazil that couples like a treat with guava.
  • Petit Gateau – A warm cake with a gooey chocolate centre.
  • Pudim de Tapioca – A wobbly dessert of tapioca, coconut milk and eggs. Imagine a dessert you can slurp off your spoon without chewing at all 
  • Quindim – desiccated coconut base, topped with a cooked egg yolk, sugar mixture.

Brazilian Beverages (Bebidas)

  • Sucos: Juices made with natural fruit. To start with try abacaxi com hortelã (pineapple and mint), melancia (watermelon) or maracuja (passionfruit),
  • Caipirinhas: choose between cachaça or vodka mixed with a fresh fruit. Tangerina (tangerine), maracuja (passionfruit), caju (cashew) and morango (strawberry) are delicious. The traditional flavor is limão (lime).
  • Chope: draft beer that comes in as about half a pint.
  • Cerveja: a bottle of beer either in 300ml or larger.
  • Refrigerante: soda, add zero to the end for a diet version. Guaraná is Brazilian soda with flavoured by the Amazonian fruit of the same name. Find out more on Brazilian fruit in this quiz!
  • Drinks: pronounced ‘drin-ques,’ these are all the cocktails. In Brazil opt we suggest opting for caiprinhas, gin and tonics or Moscow Mules as a safe bet.

You may also enjoy our Guide to Brazilian Breakfast Food.

If you find yourself in Rio check out these 6 Traditional Brazilian Restaurants or 8 Wonderful Places to Eat in Ipanema.

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