12 must try Brazilian foods & 3 tasty Brazilian drinks
Updated: Jun 9
Firstly, sorry vegans & veggies, Brazil is not going to be a food mecca for you. Brazil is all about the meat! There are some great vegan places in the cities like Rio de Janeiro & São Paulo but in smaller towns you may struggle a bit. There is usually a vegetarian section of the menu and whilst not a huge variety you will have some options, vegan food is slightly harder to find in local restaurants.
It's worth noting that a lot of the dishes on the menu will be for two people. I'm not sure why this is other than dining is a very social affair in Brazilian culture, where families, co-workers and friends gather together to enjoy a large, hearty lunch or dinner. I appreciate this is a bit annoying if you are travelling solo but don't worry, most menus also have an individual section or offer the meals for two at 60% of the price for one.
Table of contents
The must try Brazilian food
Churrascarias are all you can eat meat BBQ restaurants and one of our absolute favourite nights out! You pay a set price which gives you access to a delicious buffet bar containing all kinds of salads, veggies, potatoes and fries, which are all so tasty and tempting but I warn you, do not fill up on potato salad!! Upon arrival you are also given a round token which is red on one side and green on the other, this is your signal to the roving waiters that you are either ready for meat (green) or that you would like a break (red). The waiters will bring round swords of meat, from chicken wings to sausages, lamb chops to sirloin steak, chicken hearts to gammon & the absolute jewel in the crown, picanha! Probably more commonly known in the UK as rump cap. Tender and juicy and coated in rock salt it is Brazil's finest meat. There is also delicious BBQ pineapple which does wonders for cleansing the pallet and helping you make room for just a little bit more steak!
When you finally concede defeat and turn your token to red.. If you have an ounce of room left, in some restaurants you can return to the buffet table and sample one or two of the delightful deserts, in others there will be deserts on offer but they come at an additional cost.
2. Weight and Pay or Kilo restaurants
These are buffet style restaurants with a wide selection of meats, fish, veggies, potatoes, pasta, salad, beans etc. where you load up your plate, take it to the till where it is weighed and you pay by weight, regardless of what you have chosen. There will be a set price per kg advertised but unless you happen to know how much a chicken leg, 10 chips and some salad weighs it's not overly helpful. They are a cheap eat though so I wouldn't expect to pay more than 40R$ for a decent sized meal. If you are on a really strict budget load up on salad and boneless meat and leave the heavy potatoes and pasta on the buffet 😂
We paid 60R$ for two large plates of food, including salad, chicken, rice and veggies & a large orange juice. They are generally a good way to get your fill of greens too as a lot of the standard meals are mostly meat and carbs and I found I was missing salad and vegetables.
The Brazilians love them and you'll find you'll often get a side dish of black beans when ordering a grilled meat dish.
Feijoada is a hearty black bean stew traditionally cooked with different cuts of pork but salted beef is also a common ingredient.
Moqueca is a tomato and onion based seafood stew. Typically made with shrimp but other fish versions exist and we have even seen vegetarian versions too, We had the fish moqueca and it was delicious, light but flavoursome with two big fillets of a swordfish type fish and served with rice. We had a go at making this dish on a fabulous cooking class in Paraty.
Jambu is a herb from the Amazonian region of Brazil but you may come across it either in the Brazilian soup, tacacá, or in some artisan cachaças cocktails. It has quite a pleasant taste but evokes a numbness and tingling of the mouth which can be quite unnerving the first time you try it!
6. Cassava or Manioc
This South American native plant is used widely across Brazil and seems to be the basis for a lot of meals. The woody, root tuber can be cooked and eaten or also used to produce flour. The flour is then used to make Farofa, the crumb like side you often get when ordering a main meat dish in restaurants. Tapioca also comes from the cassava root.
7. Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese balls)
These small, cheese filled bread balls are delicious. Eaten for breakfast, served as snacks at a party or generally munched on during the day, you will see these little delights everywhere.
8. Coxinha de Frango
These are the teardrop shaped deep-fried snacks you will see all over. They are made of mash potato and shredded chicken and some have a sort of cream cheese inside. The best ones we tried were in a bakery in Rio called Confeitaria Colombo. They were on the pricey side and can be found elsewhere for much cheaper but definitely the best we tasted.
9. Coxa Creme de Frango
A whole chicken drumstick coated in mash potato and then deep-fried in breadcrumbs. Personally I prefer the Coxinha de Frango but give them both a try and see what you think.
10. Bolinhos de Bacalhau
We actually had these delicious cod fritters first in Portugal and are widely found there. I was surprised when I saw these in Brazil but given Portugal and Brazil's history I suppose it isn't that surprising really! They taste like a mild fish cake, shredded cod mixed with mashed potato and then fried.
11. Mortadella Sandwich
Made with mortadella meat, originally hailed from Italy this scrumptious sandwich has become famous in the halls of São Paulo's Municipal market. I was dubious but it actually tasted delicious.
The small blue berries taken from the açaí palm are frozen and blended into a sort of sorbet consistency. The Brazilians go wild for it and it is even more popular than ice cream. You will find açaí cafes and carts all over the country where you can choose the original açaí or from a number of flavoured alternatives, along with an array of toppings from dried fruit, sweeties, chocolate and granola.
We tried the original açaí. I can't tell you what it tasted like as the flavour isn't like anything I have tasted before. I would say it is definitely an acquired taste but you may find you love it so you should definitely give it a go.
1. Cerveja (beer)
Brazilians love a bem gelada cerveja (ice cold beer) and you will find both Brazilian and European beers in all bars. The local way is to order a large (600ml) bottle, which will be served in a 'camisinha de cerveja' which literally translates as beer condom to keep it nice and cold! You then share it with whoever you are with, drinking out of small glasses to keep the beer cool. When that one is empty, order another, top up the glasses and carry on the cycle. The result is you have no idea how much beer you've had but it was never warm!
You cannot come to Brazil and not sample the local Caipirinhas cocktails. Made with Cachaça which is a spirit made from sugarcane, known as Brazilian rum. They mix it up with ice, lime and sugar and ta dah! You can sometimes get different flavours, like strawberry, rather than the traditional lime, and there is also a vodka version which is also delicious, just usually a little more expensive.
If you visit the colonial town of Paraty, you must try the Jorge Amado cocktail. It is made using a local cachaça called Gabriela which is infused with cinnamon and cloves and it is delicious. Like Christmas in a glass 😋
3. Café (coffee)
Whilst Brazil farms some of the best coffee beans in the world, sadly they export most of it. We found it actually quite difficult to find a good coffee, with lots of cafes using instant, dried coffee and demonstrating no barista skills when making it. If you are a coffee lover make sure to ask in your hostel or on the free walking tours as to where to find the best coffee shops in the area. We found a great one in Paraty and a couple in Sao Paulo.