Cultural Vistas’ internships abroad provide opportunities for U.S. college students to spend their summers gaining professional experience. It is also a chance to get to know the infectious Brazilian way of life, which of course includes sampling its delicious food.
Brazilian cuisine is a melting pot of global influences, ranging from African, European, Middle Eastern, and homegrown flavors. It’s as wide-ranging and unique as the regions and people that comprise Brazil. Dishes and local specialties in Brazil can vary greatly in flavor, spices, and preparation, depending on what state or region you’re in. For example, Bahia’s cuisine is heavily African-influenced, while many of São Paulo’s culinary offerings reflect its substantial Japanese population.
Because there are so many amazing and delicious foods to try in Brazil, it wouldn’t be possible to list them all here (you’ll just have to get out there and aspire to try as many as you can!).
So, here’s a selection of quintessential Brazilian fare to consider trying during your stay:
1.) Pão de Queijo (pronounced pow jee kay-zju)
Literally translating to “cheese bread,” pão de queijo is a common Brazilian snack. Contrary to what it sounds like, it isn’t a mound of bread with a cheesy center, but rather, a doughnut hole-sized morsel with a crisp exterior and springy-chewy middle. But don’t be fooled: just because pão de queijo doesn’t have a conventionally gooey center, it is just as satisfying, as its cheese-y flavor is baked right into the dough. And just like cheese bread, it’s incredibly stretchy when eaten fresh (owed in large part to the manioc/cassava flour used to create said dough).
Ultimately, pão de queijo is a great, cheap snack that can be eaten on-the-go. You can find it in local bakeries, restaurants, and sold by street vendors.
2.) Feijoada (pronounced fay-ju-ah-da)
Often called Brazil’s national dish, feijoada gets its name from the Portuguese word “feijão” (“beans”). The dish itself is a stew traditionally made of beans (typically black), and different cuts of beef and pork (including bacon, pork ribs, a variety of sausages, and even pork ears and feet), served over rice and often topped with farofa (toasted manioc flour) and accompanied by a side of sautéed collard greens. The contents of the dish can vary depending on the region (or household) in which it is prepared. For example, Bahia’s version uses kidney beans instead of black beans, and a number of vegetables.
Traditionally prepared in a thick clay pot, the lengthy and involved process can take up to 24 hours. Thus, the dish is only served in restaurants on certain days of the week (customarily Wednesdays and Saturdays). So if you’re not lucky enough to taste a homemade version of feijoada, make sure to call ahead and confirm what day(s) it’ll be offered!
If feijoada is Brazil’s national dish, guaraná is its perfect pairing as Brazil’s national drink. Guaraná is available nearly everywhere– from restaurants to the portable coolers of beach vendors. The drink is made using an extract taken from the seeds of the guaraná plant that grows in the Amazon. These seeds have particularly high caffeine content, and are commonly found in a number of well-known energy drinks and supplements, though guaraná is most popularly consumed in soft drink form. The taste of the soda will seem familiar to many, as it’s reminiscent of a sweeter version of ginger ale.
While the iconic green can of Guaraná Antarctica is by far Brazil’s most beloved and well-known brand (even touting “O Original do Brasil” – “The Original of Brazil” – as its slogan), Guaraná Brazilia, Kuat, Guaraná Jesus, and Guaraná Backus are popular competitors. Speaking from experience, if you get hooked on guaraná while in Brazil, be warned that it can be difficult to find stateside!
4.) Açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee)
Known as a “super food” and packed with more antioxidants than its other berry cousins, açaí is a purple fruit found in the Brazilian Amazon. Outside of the that region (where it’s used in cooking, often as a sauce), you’ll typically find açaí in juice form or as a sweet frozen smoothie/purée. In one common preparation, known as “açaí na tigela,” it’s served in a bowl and often topped with banana slices and granola. Juice bars, bakeries, cafés, supermarkets, and restaurants throughout Brazil sell açaí . But if you want to try unmodified açaí berries, be warned that its natural flavor is a far cry from its more common sweetened juice and frozen blend iterations. You’re unlikely to find the actual berries outside of the Amazon anyway, since it’s difficult to transport in its original form.
5.) Churrasco at a Churrascaria
Brazilians love their meat. And while Argentina also gets points for its churrasco prowess, it really is no contest. Going to a churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) is not only a literal feast, but one for the eyes as well. Almost as soon as you sit down, waiters greet you with an onslaught of different types and cuts of fire-grilled meats.
To be clear, a churrascaria is by no means your run-of-the-mill buffet/all-you-can-eat experience—it’s a quest of endurance. The true key to a churrascaria is to pace yourself, since you can easily reach your limit even before reaching the central component of the meal: the meat. Once seated, you can control when you are offered still-crackling meat selections by using a small sign at your place setting. It’s usually green and/or featuring a “sim” (“yes”) on one side, and red with “não” (“no”) written on the other. If a waiter offers a cut or type that doesn’t strike your fancy, you can just say “Não, obrigado/a” to get him/her to move on. Though picanha (filet) is overwhelmingly the most prized cut of meat at churrascarias, fraldinha (skirt steak), alcatra (top sirloin), and filet mignon are definitely worth trying.
There’s so many choices at a churrascaria, but it’s also important to keep the price in mind, as it is quite expensive. Because of the decadent nature of the experience itself, you probably won’t go to a churrascaria too often while in Brazil (which your wallet will thank you for), but it’s definitely something you should at least try!
**Honorable Mention: Fruit in Brazil
One of Brazil’s most impressive offerings food-wise isn’t a dish at all: it’s its vibrant array of fruits! Because the majority of these are either indigenous to Brazil itself or to northern South America, you’ll likely never have heard of or seen them before. Similar to the extensive list of uniquely delicious Brazilian foods, it’s impossible to list all the new fruits you’ll encounter. A great way to acquire new favorites is by sampling the freshly squeezed fruit juices available at local establishments. Because so many of the fruits you’ll find in Brazil are native to the region, the majority are untranslatable. This adds to the adventure of trying them!
Make sure to try fruits like: Bacuri, Jenipapo, Cajá, Mangaba, Buriti, Caqui, Pitanga, Jabuticaba,Camu camu, Umbú/Imbu + so many more!
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