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In case that’s been flying under your radar, Brazilians’ finger food game is just next level. From grilled cheese skewers, to chicken-and-cream-cheese fritters, to stuffed churros, it’s hard to beat the flavor, crispiness, and overall decadence of Brazilian snacks.
Our list of the best-tasting Brazilian snacks could go on forever… Yet since we don’t wanna make you too hungry, we’ve stopped at 30 items. That should still be enough for a feast, though!
Deep-Fried Savory Snacks
You can pin the fact that we deep-fry almost anything on the Portuguese, who first brought codfish fritters to our shores, or on Africans, who came up with black-eyed pea cakes. But the thing is deep-fried Brazilian snacks are perfect for every occasion, from children’s parties to happy hours, as drunk food, or simply as comfort food.
Just like most foreign dishes, we’ve upgraded this West African delicacy, which in its birthplace is a plain black-eyed pea dough fried in palm oil. In Northeastern Bahia, one of our blackest states, locals top it with vatapá (a seafood-based cream), dried shrimp, caruru (mashed okras), and sometimes even molho à campanha, a salsa that resembles pico de gallo.
If before visiting Bahia Brazilian cuisine tastes too bland for your liking, you’ll have countless chances to change your mind there. Bahians enjoy their food really hot!
2. Bolinho de Bacalhau
As I’ve never said Brazilians created all the snacks on our list, we’re including codfish fritters here, because why not? They’re common at happy hours and at the Christmas table. A drizzle of olive oil on top is a must.
Pro tip: the more shapeless they look, the better. Spotlessly round bolinhos de bacalhau (sadly, such as the ones above — sigh) have either excessive potato or flour in the batter. Codfish is expensive in Brazil, so avoid ordering these fritters at nondescript places or you might be in for a surprise.
This is the without a doubt the ultimate Brazilian drunk food. A coxinha, which literally means “little thigh” is made from shredded chicken, which, together with cream cheese, is enveloped by a potato-based dough and breadcrumbs before being dipped into boiling oil. It’s roughly like a Sicilian arancino, minus the rice (and bigger).
Deep-fried empanadas, anyone? If I had to pick the quintessential Brazilian finger food, this would be it. You can find it in family gatherings, order it at the bar or from waterfront stands. At farmers’ markets, pasteis are typically almost one foot long and paired with sugarcane juice.
Fillings vary a lot, but 99% of the time they involve some fresh cheese. Japanese immigrants, who were trying to adapt spring rolls to locals’ tastes, first invented pasteis back in the 1940s. I guess it’s not up for debate that they succeeded!
Brazil has a 130-year-old Arab diaspora community (particularly Christian Lebanese) and about one million citizens of Arab descent. This left behind an impressive culinary heritage and a few decades-old restaurants.
Among the tons of dishes brought over by the Arabs, this ground beef fritter, enriched with boiled wheat groats and peppermint, is an all-time favorite. Stuffing it with Brazilian cream cheese or ricotta is a common improvement.
Other Savory Brazilian Snacks
Apart from pastéis, which are too good to stay confined to a specific environment, fried snacks normally aren’t treated as beach food. So that’s where the majority of the Brazilian snacks in this section fit seamlessly. They’re also great for those summer days when the mere thought of fried food makes you sweat.
6. Biscoito de Polvilho
While the ultimate Brazilian munchies come in many shapes, the most classic biscoitos de polvilho (i.e cassava starch puffs), sold by a brand called Globo, are ring-like. They’re extremely crunchy and airy and come in both sweet and savory options.
The pairing biscoito Globo + mate Leão (a sweetened iced tea) is one of the best-respected institutions on the beaches of Rio.
Unlike other nations, Brazilians usually don’t fill their baked pies with ground beef. Empadas are more often stuffed with cheese (and sometimes onions), chicken, shrimp, hearts of palm, and codfish. A pan-sized savory pie is called an empadão.
Another wildly popular dish brought by the Arabs, this flatbread (spelled sfiha in English) is topped with cheese, ground beef, or, more rarely, chicken, spinach, or sausage.
9. Milho Cozido
Despite being common on waterfront promenades as well, buttered corncobs are typically associated with Festa Junina, a nationwide festival honoring rural culture and the saints of June (St. Anthony, St. John, and St. Peter).
10. Pão com Mortadela
Mortadella sandwiches are, somewhat stereotypically, a cheap, working-class snack in Brazil. In São Paulo’s Municipal Market, however, Bar do Mané has been taking the treat up a notch since 1933. Their sandwich is packed with over 10 oz. of mortadella!
11. Pão de Queijo
Brazilian cheese puffs are made by mixing cassava starch and shredded aged cheese. They originate from the state of Minas Gerais, one of Rio’s neighbors towards the countryside, but have spread across the nation.
You can get these yummy Brazilian snacks online here.
12. Queijo Coalho
Queijo coalho is a kind of aged, salty cheese that makes the perfect beachside snack when grilled on a skewer (and topped with oregano).
Tapioca is the name of both a type of cassava starch and the crepe-like snack you use it for. You can fill it with whatever you want, from jerked beef and cream cheese, to queijo coalho, to dulce de leche and shredded coconut.
Sweet Brazilian Snacks
The sweetness of Brazilian desserts usually has Europeans raise an eyebrow or two. Most involve either condensed milk, dulce de leche (doce de leite in Portuguese), caramel, or sweetened fruit. And that’s why they’re so amazing!
An açaí bowl is a fresh and appetizing way of starting your day. In most of Brazil, granola and sliced bananas or strawberries are the preferred toppings. Interestingly, though, folks in the Amazon (where the berries are from) serve it alongside regular meals, especially with seafood.
15. Bolinho de Chuva
The name of these little dumplings in Portuguese means something along the lines of “rain scones”, either for their raindrop shape or because they’re a flawless company on a rainy day. That is, if you have a grandma to fry them for you. Otherwise, they’ll definitely come out looking horrible. After they’re done, you can sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon and feel helpful enough.
Brazil’s soccer team’s performance has been lame for the best part of 20 years now. Not a big deal, as brigadeiros are the one and only national unifier. Such a mouthwatering dessert was never this undemanding: you just have to boil condensed milk and cocoa powder together, and voilà!
You can’t really have a birthday party in Brazil without the chocolate balls covered with sprinkles above. Yet people often stop short of reaching that consistency to be able to eat the cream straight out of the pot. Yum!
Latin Americans in general love these handmade sugar and shredded coconut confections, but in Brazil Bahians are famous for making the most delicious cocadas. While the two traditional recipes are white and burnt cocadas, more ingenious ones have ingredients like passion fruit added into the mix.
18. Churros Recheados
Remember when I first mentioned Brazilians “upgrading foreign dishes”? Here’s another marvelous example. Churros stuffed with chocolate or dulce de leche (or, less frequently, wilder fillings and even toppings, éclair-style) are too amazing to remain so obscure outside Brazil!
Butter cookies are not very popular with Brazilians younger than 50-ish. Yet fill them with guava paste, and it’s a whole nother story!
Paçocas are another food traditionally connected to Festa Junina, but so many people are obsessed with it that they’re now found at basically any time of the year.
Whereas the texture of paçocas is hard to explain, the fact that they’re produced by pressing sweetened ground peanuts together should make it easier to picture what they feel like in the mouth.
Buy it online here.
21. Pé de Moleque
Fancier foodies might call this sweet a peanut praline; Brazilians, in turn, know it as a pé de moleque, i.e. a “brat’s foot”. Though you can (and should) make these year-round, commercial pés de moleque usually pop up at grocery stores around Festa Junina season as well.
Brazilians have labeled a Berliner pastry a sonho, which literally translates as “dream”. The conventional version is stuffed with custard, but dulce de leche is also quite common as a filling. You’ll find these in any bakery worth the name.
Snacks That Taste like Our Childhood
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and slobber over the candies that entire generations of Brazilians have been growing up on.
23. Bala de Coco
Coconut candies may remind you of marshmallows, but they’re actually powdery like chalk, which means you should chew them. Back in the day, they were mandatory at children’s parties, where parents would eventually hand them out as birthday souvenirs.
These chocolate sticks are named after the Portuguese word for lipstick (spelled batom). The original Baton was milk chocolate only, so I treat with suspicion the half-milk-half-white and strawberry-stuffed iterations they’ve come up with in recent years.
Bis is the word used in Portuguese (and sometimes in French and Italian) for an encore. I’d say that’s a fitting name for chocolate-covered wafers that you can’t not binge eat.
26. Doces de São Cosme e Damião
September 27, the popular feast of twin saints Cosmas and Damian, is kind of a Brazilian Halloween (though bigger in Rio than anywhere else). While children don’t normally wear costumes on São Cosme e Damião, they do go around the neighborhood — or at least they used to — knocking on doors and then being given all sorts of candies.
One of these candies (seen above at the bottom of the image, near the center) is similar to a long marshmallow and, oddly, is known as a Maria-mole, which literally means “limp Mary”.
Sure, jujubas are gumdrops, but not spice drops like the ones you’re probably thinking of. Also, gummy bears don’t hold a candle to them. Sorry, not sorry.
Jujubas are soft, not rubbery. They’re not sour either, rather tasting like a candied version of the fruit (or the artificial flavors, anyway) more easily associated with each color.
I always wondered why some kids would get the simple version of these instead of the sandwich ones. Just for the colorful drawings on top? That couldn’t possibly be it! While I haven’t had Passatempos in ages, I do remember how superbly well the chocolate filling and the vanilla cookie go together.
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29. Pipoca de Arroz
This puffed rice of sorts is stale virtually every time you open the classic see-through, maroon bag. But that’s part of its charm in a strange way. It’s slightly sweet, much like rice flakes.
Apparently, these fun sandwich cookies are still around, but as with cartoons each generation of kids seems to favor different snacks. When I was growing up, half-and-half strawberry and chocolate Trakinas were all the rage.
Most of the tempting Brazilian snacks we’ve covered here are hard to replicate at home if you don’t live near some sort of international food shop. Don’t let that bum you out, though! That’s more than enough motivation to pack and try every single one in loco!
And before you go, check out our other posts on Brazil’s fascinating food culture. There’s one about breakfast and Brazilian pizza in case you’re still feeling peckish and, on a lighter note, another on Brazilian fruits and drinks.