Food-wise, Brazil is world-famous for its amazing regional diversity, top-notch beef cuts, and super fresh produce. But today we’re focusing on a lesser-known aspect of its mouthwatering cuisine: pizza in Brazil.
Let’s find out how it came to be, the most popular toppings, some cool trivia… and of course top it off with the pizzerias that you can’t miss when you visit!
Hungry yet? Well, you’re about to get!
What is a Brazilian Pizza?
We can’t really say there’s one Brazilian-style pizza. The dish is just everywhere, from snack and dive bars, to family diners and upscale, authentic restaurants. Still, if we exclude the restaurants that serve Naples-style pizza, a common thread does emerge:
- The dough is only slightly salty. I’ve heard Italians call it “sweet” more than once.
- The crust is either thin and cracker-like crunchy, or thick and bready like an American pizza. Lots of places offer both options, plus crusts stuffed with cream cheese or cheddar.
- Pizzas ooze cheese; true, not as much as Argentinian ones, but they’re cheesier than your average pizza.
- Sauce, in turn, is applied sparingly, and it’s usually not spicy.
- Most pizzerias bake at least two pizza sizes, yet four diameters (small, medium, large, and extra-large) are also routine. Snack bars serve them by the slice, as in many other countries.
- The typical Brazilian pizza menu is huge and will often leave room for customer creativity.
History of Pizza in Brazil
Pizza first made its way to Brazil brought over by Italian immigrants, somewhere around the early 1900s. Between 1850 and World War II, about 30 million Italians moved to Brazil. That’s half of Italy’s current population and resulted in the largest Italian diaspora community on Earth!
Thanks to a booming coffee business in São Paulo’s countryside, it wasn’t long till landowners took to reinvesting profits in the state capital’s factories. That’s why a great deal of the newcomers chose the state and increasingly the city of São Paulo as their home.
Initially, though, the majority of immigrants came from northern Italy. Those hailing from southern areas such as Naples (the birthplace of pizza) began pouring in at the turn of the century. That’s precisely when we first hear about the dish being baked locally. The evidence suggests that the first Brazilian pizzeria, Cantina Santa Genoveva, opened in 1910 in São Paulo.
It remained an Italian-expat affair until the 1950s, by which time pizzerias started to flourish in big cities across the country. Eventually Cantina Santa Genoveva shut its doors, but the dish had already conquered Brazil for good. Today, with 1 million+ pizzas eaten daily within the city, São Paulo is second only to New York in its pizza worship.
Common Brazilian Pizza Toppings
Richly topped pizzas do exist in Italy. Yet an Italian friend who worked at a pizzeria for a couple years once (half-)jokingly told me they cater exclusively to paunchy 50-year-olds. While the right balance among ingredients is of utmost importance in Italy, that’s hardly a concern in Brazil. Here, novelty trumps tradition every single time.
So what is the most popular pizza topping in Brazil? If I had to choose just one, I guess Calabresa sausage would be it. Italian immigrants from Calabria invented this mildly spicy sausage that is used either as a main topping alongside sliced onions or in the cherished Portuguesa pizza.
Speaking of which, the Portuguesa pizza (right above) deserves a paragraph of its own. Despite its uncertain origin, it may have been created by a Portuguese immigrant with the ingredients he had at hand: Calabresa sausage, (boiled) eggs, onions, bell peppers, and olives. Ham is also occasionally added, and other small twists are acceptable.
When it comes to meat, ironically beef is not very common as a topping. Virtually anything else can go on pizza, though. This includes shredded chicken, shrimp, some random tuna, and the highly contentious fresh anchovies. Pork appears almost exclusively in the form of ham and sausages, with pepperoni (thankfully) becoming more widespread by the day.
Finally, local favorites like Brazilian cream cheese (normally known as Catupiry after the oldest brand), hearts of palm, canned corn, and sliced tomatoes guarantee some extra color and texture. Among the “healthier” combinations, sun-dried tomato+arugula typically gets the upper hand.
The Sweet Side of Pizza in Brazil
If Brazilians are already pretty creative with regard to regular pizza toppings, don’t get me started on dessert pizzas. While I’ve seen the reaction of Italians to them range from “fantastic idea” to “you can’t call that pizza”, the truth is they’re not controversial at all in Brazil.
The more popular toppings here are Romeu e Julieta (i.e. fresh cheese and guava paste), bananas (with or without cheese underneath and often paired with dulce de leche, or doce de leite in Portuguese), and of course… (wait for it) chocolate!
Chocolate pizza in Brazil should definitely be treated as an independent category of pizzas. Using melted chocolate (either milk or white) as a base, virtually any topping can be added, from classics like strawberries, shredded coconut, and chocolate sprinkles, to more decadent ones like crushed Kit Kats and ice cream scoops.
Fun Facts about Brazilian Pizza
- To many Brazilians, putting ketchup, mayo, and even mustard on their slices is a no-brainer. São Paulo seems to be one of the few places where the practice is nonstandard.
- As with meat, sushi, and appetizers, Brazilians often eat pizza in all-you-can-eat restaurants. Waiters will walk around tables carrying two or three different pizzas. They’ll serve extra thin slices to allow customers to try lots of toppings. After 40 min to an hour of regular pizzas, a round of sweet ones follows!
- A nice way of sharing a pizza at Brazilian bars is by cutting it into tiny squares. Don’t ask me why, but this is called corte à francesa (i.e. French-style cut). Just watch out for fast eaters! (That would be me.)
- Most pizzerias will give you the option to order a half-and-half, including some places specializing in authentic Neapolitan pizza. And a few shops will let you choose up to four topping combinations. Talk about convenience!
- Despite the astonishing offer of pizzerias across the country, many Brazilians have a thing for frozen pizza too. Every year, my fellow countryfolks finish off around 500 million of this pretty unhealthy take on our beloved dish. That’s more than 15% of all pizzas eaten nationwide!
The Weirdest Brazilian Pizza
All-you-can-eat Brazilian pizza can be eccentric enough for first-timers. Hot dogs, beef stroganoff, and even chicken hearts (a national passion) aren’t unusual as toppings. But when it comes to truly weird Brazilian pizza, Pizzaria Batepapo is in a league of its own.
Located in the seaside town of Guarujá, about 100 km (62 mi) from São Paulo, Batepapo is notorious for cranking out outlandish pizzas as a way of attracting curious customers. Nothing seems to be off-limits, from the blander room-sized pizzas, to those featuring half a watermelon, a roast chicken, and even a freaking tire!
Best Places to Eat Pizza in Brazil (Rio+São Paulo)
Because São Paulo has historically received an enormous influx of Italians, it’s only natural that the city is home to the best pizza in Brazil. Rio is more of a mixed bag, yet, in the last ten years or so, outstanding pizzerias have been sprouting up all over the place.
- Bráz Pizzaria: Bráz’s pizza (seen below) ranked among the world’s ten greatest in 2019. It might’ve been almost single-handedly responsible for putting Rio on the gourmet pizza map when it first landed in the city in 2007. It’s now an empire worth seven locations in its native São Paulo, as well as two in Rio.
- Cantina e Pizzaria Speranza: Consistently reputed to have the most delicious pizza in São Paulo, Speranza is at the heart of the neighborhood of Bixiga, the reference point to Paulistanos of Italian descent. As a cantina (Brazilian for trattoria, i.e. a small Italian restaurant), it boasts a menu complete with pasta and risotto.
- Carlos Pizza: Carlos abides by the São Paulo tradition of adding little to no cheese to sausage-topped pizzas. Its locally sourced cheeses include the award-winning and handmade Tulha.
- Casa do Sardo: Apart from its awesome pizzas, Casa do Sardo offers a rare chance to enjoy dishes straight from Sardinia. Chef Silvio Podda opened it in the historic neighborhood of São Cristóvão, where Rio’s Zoo and former Imperial Palace are located. Plus afterward you can stop by their bakery-cum-gelato-shop down the same street and altogether kill your Italian food cravings.
- Tribas Pizzas: Since Rio is a hotspot for healthy food trends, we wanted to list a pizzeria that gives off that vibe. Tribas’ crunchy dough is organic, vegan, and hydrated using sweet potatoes and linseed.
World-Class Pizzerias across Brazil
Now let’s leave the Rio-São Paulo corridor for a bit and explore a few pizzerias around the country.
- Baco Pizzaria: As a member of the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, this Brasília-based pizzeria is hands-down the best in the country’s capital. What’s more, it topped the ranking of greatest pizza places in Brazil on two occasions.
- Pizza do Capão: Whenever you travel through the stunning Chapada Diamantina, make sure to stop by this unforgettable spot in the tiny hippie town of Capão. Bathing the irregularly cut slices of pesto pizza (pictured below) in the house chili-infused honey is just another level of pizza experience.
- Pizzaria Nono Ludovico: Porto Alegre, Brazil’s southernmost state capital, is as obsessed with meat as neighboring Argentina and Uruguay. So Nono Ludovico is the perfect spot to try original toppings like lamb picanha (a Brazilian cut that somewhat resembles a top sirloin cap).
- Vignoli: Vignoli was voted the best pizzeria in the northeastern city of Fortaleza an impressive nine times. It serves both traditional Brazilian pizzas like shrimp+cream cheese and more innovative ones like Canadian bacon+mango chutney, with no shortage of sweet options either.
I guess I’m lucky to have grown up in a country with such a rich pizza culture… loving pizza in Brazil is incredibly easy! That said, I have a really hard time trusting people who aren’t fans of pizza; what’s not to love here?
I won’t judge you, though, if you need to wash it all down after reading through this post. So go ahead and check out our post about the yummiest Brazilian fruits. You’ll immediately feel lighter!