Picture this: you’ve never been to Rio before and you have no idea what to get for your first bite of the day. You won’t miss the chance to get a taste of an authentic Brazilian breakfast, right? Luckily for you, by the end of this post you’ll know exactly where to head, what to order for breakfast in Brazil — and even how to do it.
Now let’s embark on another delicious journey!
Coffee is king…
Brazil’s been the world’s leading producer of coffee for 150+ years. We do love our coffee: breakfast is called café da manhã (i.e. “morning coffee”) in Brazilian Portuguese for a reason. (Oddly, Europeans say pequeno almoço, or “little lunch”, just like the French.)
Yet we drink it quite strong; longer than an espresso, but way shorter than the average American coffee. So whenever you visit, please do yourself a favor, skip that chain with the green mermaid logo, and sip on some genuine Brazilian coffee. You can add as much sugar as you want — folks will drop a heap of it into their coffee.
…And bread comes right next
Our morning hero is right below and answers to the name of pão francês (i.e. French bread). This South American institution is nowhere as crunchy as it is in Brazil. Unlike baguettes, though, it’s pretty soft inside, which means scooping it out is commonplace.
So what does a typical breakfast in Brazil look like?
If you’re familiar with Brazil’s food culture, you know we deep- and pan-fry way more often than our warm weather ideally asks for. Granted, we won’t go as far as the Scots, who fry pizza slices and Mars bars. But our best-loved version of the toast is, no doubt, pan-fried bread. Pão na chapa is golden brown, crispy, and buttery; hardly anything can beat it.
Consequently, the preferred combination for breakfast in Brazil is by far pão na chapa + cafezinho (a cupful of black coffee). Misto-quente, or grilled ham-and-cheese, is a flawless alternative if you’re famished. Then there’s cassava and coconut cake, the classic Brazilian breakfast cake (orange cake gets an honorable mention). Boiled and buttered cassava is another all-time favorite.
It’s all about where you are in the country
Brazil’s impressive regional diversity is more evident in other aspects of the nation’s culture than the breakfast table. If you look closer, though, you can spot the differences between one area and the next.
Roughly speaking, Brazil has five official regions, each with a relatively distinct culture: the North, dominated by the Amazon; the Northeast, with its pristine coast and dry countryside; the Central-West, Brazil’s agricultural powerhouse; the largely urban Southeast, orbiting around Rio and São Paulo; and the colder South, which historically received a sizeable influx of European immigrants.
What we’re presenting here as the “quintessential” Brazilian breakfast is mostly centered on Southeastern preferences. In the South, for example, jellies, sausages, and cucas (i.e. crumb cakes, or Streuselkuchen in German) tend to be more common.
Northeasterners, in turn, prize cassava- and corn-based recipes. Highlights include beiju de tapioca (a cassava flour tortilla of sorts that can be filled with virtually anything), cuscuz de milho (boiled and buttered cornmeal), and canjica or mungunzá (i.e. corn kernel porridge). Bolo de rolo (seen above), a Swiss-roll-like cake filled with guava paste, is particularly popular in the state of Pernambuco.
Northerners of course use the wide range of local fruit in their favor, from bacuri, to tucum, to cupuaçu. Finally, rural workers in the Central-West munch a very substantial dish known as quebra-torto, which contains rice, fried eggs, jerked beef, and farofa (deep-fried cassava flour).
The on-the-go version of breakfast in Brazil
What do Brazilians eat for breakfast when they’re in a hurry? While a lot of people stick to the basics, i.e. pão na chapa + cafezinho, many others indulge in dishes that are a little harder to make by yourself.
That’s the case, for example, with pães de queijo, or cheese buns, a beloved snack made from cassava starch. Originally from the Southeastern state of Minas Gerais, they have truly taken over the country.
Another iconic Brazilian breakfast food is called either a joelho (literally, “knee”) in Rio or a bauru in São Paulo. It’s a salty pastry filled with cheese and ham, mostly on the soft side, yet slightly crunchy as well.
Last but not least, colorful juices and smoothies from juice bars (which are just everywhere), like the ones above, are really popular too. Apart from juice bars, bakeries (i.e. padarias) are the perfect setting for an authentic Brazilian breakfast. Though fancier padarias do exist, they’re generally a simpler affair.
A few useful words and phrases
I’m sure some of these will come in handy as you navigate your way through Brazilian bakeries and snack bars. They tend to be the least touristy places in the country, so outside upscale areas you might have a hard time finding an English speaker.
- água (com gás, sem gás) = (sparking, still) water
- café (com leite) = (milk) coffee [média is a nickname for milk coffee]
- chá = tea
- leite (integral, desnatado, em pó, com Nescau) = (whole, skim, powdered, chocolate) milk
- limonada = limeade [lemons are rare in Brazil, while limes are known as limões]
- suco (de laranja, de manga, de maracujá, de morango) = (orange, mango, passion fruit, strawberry) juice
- vitamina (de abacate, de banana) = (Avocado, banana) smoothie
- aipim cozido = boiled cassava
- bolo de aipim (com coco) = cassava (and coconut) cake
- fatia/pedaço de bolo = slice of cake
- iogurte = yogurt
- mingau de aveia = oatmeal
- ovos (fritos, mexidos) = (fried, scrambled) eggs
- pão de queijo (pl. pães de queijo) = cheese bun(s)
- pão na chapa (pl. pães na chapa) = pan-fried bread (rolls)
- torrada = toast, either fresh or packaged [like mini toasts, but bigger]
Spreads & Toppings
- frios = cold cuts
- geleia (de abacaxi, de amora, de damasco) = (pineapple, mulberry, apricot) jelly
- presunto = ham
- manteiga = butter
- mel = honey
- pasta (de atum, de alho-poró, de azeitona) = (tuna, leek, olive) spread
- peito de peru = turkey slices
- queijo = cheese
- requeijão = Brazilian cream cheese
- açúcar = sugar
- adoçante = sweetener
- colher, faca, garfo = spoon, knife, fork
- copo = glass
- guardanapo = napkin
- talheres = silverware
- xícara = cup
Best places to have breakfast in Brazil
We couldn’t wrap this up without a comprehensive guide of the tastiest breakfasts around the country!
Rio de Janeiro
- Confeitaria Colombo: Downtown Rio’s most traditional patisserie (pictured below) has been serving glamor since 1894. It’s no wonder it’s been picked as one of the ten most beautiful cafés on the planet. Colombo’s French toast is the stuff of legend, and one dessert is more tempting than the next. Their newer branch overlooking Copacabana Beach (the very first image on our post) is definitely worth a visit too.
- Da Casa da Táta: With its divine cakes and wooden tables (seen above), Da Casa da Tata is a true little gem. Nestled in Gávea, the green district around the Catholic University, it feels like the house of a Brazilian granny.
- Talho Capixaba: This bakery-café-deli in Leblon, Ipanema’s quieter neighbor, started as a butcher shop in 1958. It went on to become one of the most celebrated eateries in town. It’s open from 7 a.m. through 9 p.m., so it’s a fantastic option throughout the day.
- Futuro Refeitório: An old garage turned into a café? Check. Post-industrial decor? Check. Swiss cheese plants all over the place? Check. Nothing screams “trendy São Paulo youth” any louder. Despite the huge menu, they get it right every single time. Certainly not in a classic way, though.
- PÃO, Padaria Artesanal Orgânica: PÃO appeared 11 years ago as a tiny organic bakery. Now they have five locations across town. It’s a little more down-to-earth than, say, Futuro Refeitório, but still extremely ingenious. Their six-layer chocolate and caramel cake is just to die for.
- Santiago Padaria Artesanal: While Santiago’s patisserie game is next level, honestly you can’t go wrong here. Like any self-respecting Brazilian bakery, it has scrumptious cheese buns and smoothies as well.
- Casa Castanho: Salvador da Bahia’s greatest café boasts a menu complete with toasts, sandwiches, waffles, cakes, tarts, sandwiches,… brookies (brownie cookies)! And for all of you late-breakfasters and brunch lovers, this is the place to go: it’s open till 3 p.m.
- Reteteu Comida Honesta: Reteteu is the perfect spot to discover the amazing cuisine of the Northeastern state of Pernambuco. It’s located in the state capital, the historic and sunny Recife, yet it only serves breakfast on weekends.
- Vitamina Central: Considering that Brasília was founded in 1960, a 45-year-old business is ancient. Its fresh juices, smoothies, açaí bowls, and stunningly shiny baked goods are a local favorite, for good reason.
Brazil evokes bright colors and self-indulgence in many people’s imaginations. And when it comes to food, that couldn’t be more accurate. Breakfast in Brazil is about fresh fruit as much as it is about crispy, buttery toasts.
Then you wash it all down with some intense coffee and you’re good to go about your day. What could be better than that?