It still amazes me how little folks abroad seem to know about Brazilian cuisine. The tons of videos across the internet of foreigners trying a typical snack or dessert for the first time are proof of how underexplored this marvelous and colorful world remains. And that’s why on this post we’ll focus on facts about Brazilian food!
From our love of rice and beans to our quirkier eating habits and key culinary influences, you’ll get a taste (or sort of) of Brazil’s delicious grub!
Shall we dig into our feast?
Facts about Brazilian food: First things first
Let’s introduce you to the basics of the cuisine of Brazil, so we’ll be on the same page when we start talking dishes.
It’s all about the region
To make a long story short, Brazil is made up of five regions; although none of them is culturally homogeneous, each has a sort of distinctive identity.
The Amazon covers almost the whole North; the contrast between palm-tree-lined beaches and the dry countryside defines the Northeast; the Southeast is urban and cosmopolitan; the Midwest is rural and was historically isolated; and the South was settled by Germans and other European immigrants.
Of course this outline is a gross generalization. But it should give you an idea of how talking about a single Brazilian cuisine, despite some nationwide commonalities, would be misleading.
Mix the first nations’ herbs and roots with the love for codfish, deep-frying, and egg-based desserts of the Portuguese, add the stews and vegetables brought over by the Africans, and you’ll have the basis of the Brazilian cuisine.
Then you can throw in the contributions of the Japanese, Italians, Germans, Arabs, and other diaspora communities and upgrade them to accommodate the local taste.
Sprinkle a little obsession with novelty and international trends for good measure, and voilà! You have a full-on Brazilian feast on the table.
Not too spicy…
This may surprise you: Brazilians in general are not used to eating hot food. For most of us, that’s an acquired taste. I say “most” because in Bahia, the blackest Brazilian state, folks do like their food spicy, though it’s more common to add hot sauce on top of your serving than actually cooking with it.
The majority of the cuisines that influenced ours (indigenous, Portuguese, Italian, Arab) aren’t famous for being particularly hot. We share this preference with the other countries in southern South America: Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.
…But extremely sweet
If our savory dishes are quite balanced (please don’t call them bland), we make up for that with the sweetness of our desserts. You’ll find few recipes without either condensed milk, dulce de leche, sweetened yolks, or meringue.
Exceptions like paçoca (a crumbly peanut candy), Romeu e Julieta (i.e. fresh cheese paired with guava paste), and the beautiful passion fruit pie above might suit those of you with a more sober (meaning blander) taste for sweets.
All eyes on the refogado
Since (for the most part) we’re not fans of chili, we trust a sacred institution of Brazilian cuisine with giving flavor to our food: the refogado. Basically, cooking rice, beans, and virtually any sauce involves sautéing them at some point with onions and garlic, and seasonings like cumin and bay leaves.
In case you know a thing or two about Latin American or Southwestern European (i.e. Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese) culinary traditions, you may be familiar with refogado. In English, it’s more commonly called a sofrito, after its Spanish name.
This is where Brazilian cuisine meets northern South America: the combo the majority of Brazilians eat almost every day is pretty similar to the Venezuelan pabellón criollo or the Colombian bandeja paisa. While again regional takes apply, rice, bean stew, meat, and toasted cassava flour (our beloved farofa) are the norm.
Cassava is indeed the key contribution of indigenous Brazilians to the national cuisine and is one of our most versatile ingredients. You can fry it and serve it with jerked beef, boil it and have it for breakfast, use it as a base for fish stews, turn it into cakes,… The possibilities are endless!
Brazil has been the no. 1 coffee producer and exporter on the planet for 150+ years now.
Before the brown beans took over the rolling hills of the southeast of the country in the 1800s, sugarcane from the coastal plains of the Northeast was the lifeblood of our economy — we actually remain the leading exporter of sugar too.
The national passions
These are the most concrete facts about Brazilian food we managed to think of!
This is kind of like the bean stew Brazilians eat every day, except on steroids. And it’s always made with black beans. Traditional recipes include pig trotters, ears, tails, and knees in the mix, whereas lighter ones will bear jerked beef, ribs, and one or two types of sausages only.
Feijoada was the substantial meal enslaved people ate to get through the day. That’s why less noble pork cuts are frequently added, in fact.
Ironically, it went on to become Brazil’s national dish. It’s typically prepared for Saturday lunches and usually paired with sautéed collard greens, pork rinds, orange slices, and rice (because of course).
I bet most of you didn’t think we’d put pizza and Brazilian food in the same sentence. Yet pizza is so big in Brazil we had to dedicate an entire article to it.
This shouldn’t be too shocking: about 25 million Brazilians are of Italian descent. São Paulo, where 1 million+ pizzas are eaten daily (only New York beats it), is our very own pizza capital.
If you picture burgers and hot dogs on a portable grill whenever you think of a barbecue, it’s really past time you visited Brazil. Houses here don’t need to be fancy to have built-in brick grills.
A Brazilian barbecue (aka a churrasco) has nothing to envy a state banquet (those of you who have been to both can bear witness).
Sausages, chicken wings, drumsticks — and hearts!—, garlic bread, cheese, and, obviously, a wide assortment of steak cuts make a perfect match with pico de gallo (which we call molho à campanha), potato salad, farofa, and rice.
Brazil ranks sixth in the world for meat consumption per capita, following the U.S., Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and Spain. That’s even more impressive if you bear in mind Brazil is a middle-income country.
Yet interestingly, in spite of having the largest cattle population on Earth and being the second-biggest producer of beef, Brazil consumes more poultry than beef each year.
Coxinhas are just one of the many fritters Brazilians adore. But they’re hands-down the most famous ones. The tear-shaped snack is filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese and is simply an amazing drunk food.
No kids’ party in Brazil can take place peacefully without batches and batches of these mouthwatering truffles.
Brigadeiros earned their name after a brigadier who ran for President in 1946. A supporter came up with these to fundraise for the campaign, and before anyone noticed they became “the brigadier’s candy”, then “brigadier” for short.
Brigadeiros are quite easy to make: you boil condensed milk and cocoa powder together till you achieve the right consistency. While the classic version is rolled up into little balls and coated with chocolate sprinkles, a creamier brigadeiro straight out the pot cheers up the gloomiest night.
How we wash it all down
We couldn’t possibly get away with leaving out Brazilians’ favorite drinks if we’re to put together a truly comprehensive list of Brazilian food facts.
Brazil is the world’s third-largest market for beer, though it’s a mere 31st when it comes to per capita consumption. Still, going to a bar, club, barbecue, or beach and spotting someone drinking something other than beer is often a challenge.
Wine has been catching up in the last couple decades. But, as we say, it needs to eat a lot of rice and beans to be able to take on beer.
Despite Coke’s unmatched popularity, guaraná is certainly right up there.
Cachaça, distilled from sugarcane, is Brazil’s national liquor. Since its alcohol concentration averages 45%, not many people take shots of it.
Caipirinha (above), a low-ball cocktail in which it’s shaken with limes, sugar, and ice, is how most folks drink cachaça.
While caipirinhas sometimes accompany meals, cachaça shots (usually from aged cachaça) works both as an apéritif and a digestif. Win-win!
One of the best things about living in a big Brazilian city is that in busy areas you can find a juice bar at virtually every block.
And unlike some other nations, where drinking a glass of juice with your meal is not a habit (looking at you, Italy), that’s absolutely normal in Brazil. The hardest part is deciding which juice you’re getting!
Wondering why coffee didn’t make our list? Because it’s so great (and short) Brazilians typically enjoy it straight! Cakes and cookies are welcome, though.
Fun facts about Brazilian food
Our cuisine is unique in more than a few ways!
Pay-by-weight buffets are the ultimate weekday lunch
This helps placate our strange urge to mix (and often pile) wildly different types of food on the same plate. Seeing someone else pick paella, grilled steak, sushi, and quail eggs all at once raises no eyebrows whatsoever.
Pro tip: rice makes the best retaining wall to prevent beans stew from flooding your sushi!
Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to have a Brazilian churrascaria (i.e. barbecue restaurant) near you.
In case you don’t, this is how it works: unlike a regular all-you-can-eat, which is normally a buffet, in Brazilian rodízios waiters will go around tables serving the restaurant’s forte.
Grilled steak and pizza are the quintessential all-you-can-eat options, yet these days you’ll find eateries specializing in pasta, sushi (these are à la carte), appetizers, soups, seafood, and even desserts!
Wooden spoons and clay pots
In a few instances, the tool you use to cook a Brazilian dish matters. Apparently wooden spoons enhance the flavor and texture of desserts like brigadeiro and fruit preserves.
Meanwhile, fish stews, especially in Bahia and in the state of Espírito Santo (i.e. Rio and Bahia’s love child) are made exclusively in clay pots. When you go to a restaurant and the moqueca you order comes literally boiling in one of these… that’s hard to put into words, honestly!
Mango+milk was supposed to make you sick
The origin of this myth is probably as dubious as the myth itself. But legend has it that landowners wanted to stop enslaved people from having milk, which was a costly commodity, while eating mangoes — which were plentiful.
So slaveholders allegedly got the word out that mixing the two could even kill you. To this day, older seniors might resist pairing milk with mangoes.
After all these facts about Brazilian food, I hope you agree with me on how every global city worthy of the name should have at least one authentic Brazilian restaurant. (Did I just give a business tip?)
Before you go, let us know in the comments below which of the items above you found the most surprising or the weirdest!