Due to its huge, diverse population and a long history of slavery and immigration, Brazil's cuisine is an eclectic mix of flavors and traditions. Reflecting a mix of Italian, African, Portuguese and Japanese influences, the typical food of Brazil varies greatly depending on the region.
Starting Out in Rio de Janeiro
While staying in Rio de Janeiro, you've likely already tried the city's best places to eat. Feijoada is one of the most typical Brazilian dishes, one that's typically enjoyed by Cariocas on Saturdays and sometimes Wednesdays. If you want to eat like a local in Brazil, you must try a feast of feijoada, preferably with a caipirinha while watching live samba music. Rooted in Afro-Brazilian culture during slavery in Brazil, this traditional dish consists of black beans stewed with meat, typically sausage and dried pork, and is served with white rice, collard greens, farofa (ground manioc with herbs and small pieces of dried meat), orange slices, and fried bananas.
Another meal you should not miss in Rio de Janeiro is lunch at a churrascaria, and the city has some of the finest establishments in the country. Recommended churrascarias include Churrascaria Palace, and Fogo do Chāo.
Besides feijoada and the enormous barbecue buffet of a churrascaria, Rio offers plenty of quick food choices at beachside street food vendors and juice bars.
International Tastes in São Paulo
São Paulo is the country's largest city and is often considered the best city for food in Brazil. São Paulo's food culture stems partly from its huge immigrant population; the city boasts the largest number of Italians outside Italy and Japanese outside Japan, but the city's culture has also been strongly influenced by its Lebanese population. Here you will find both some of the country's best high-end food options as well as some of Brazil's tastiest everyday food.
Any foodie tour of Brazil should include a meal at the country's best-known restaurant, D.O.M. Chef Alex Atala's innovative take on Brazilian ingredients has resulted in its being considered one of the best restaurants in the world; however, reservations generally need to be made months in advance.
To get a real taste of the city's diverse population, try the beloved Italian restaurants in the Italian neighborhood of Bixiga, the Japanese cuisine offered in Liberdade, and high-end Lebanese cuisine at Arabia.
A treat for the senses can be had at one of the city's vibrant markets, including the showy Mercado Municipal and the enormous CEASA, two of the best food markets in Brazil.
São Paulo can be reached by a short flight or several-hour bus ride from Rio de Janeiro.
Flavorful Traditions in Bahia
The northeast of Brazil features rich, flavorful cuisine that is completely different from that of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and the state of Bahia is the best place to give this food a try. Fly from São Paulo or Rio to Salvador, the northeast's most vibrant city. This seaside city and its historic colonial architecture provide a beautiful backdrop for this heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. Here spices like coriander mix with dendê (palm oil) and coconut milk to create this region's traditional cuisine.
While in Bahia, try these typical dishes:
moqueca: white fish or prawns in a stew of coconut milk, coriander, tomatoes, and onions, and dendê
vatapá: a thick stew made from bread, shrimp, finely ground nuts, coconut milk, herbs, and dendê, served with white rice or acarajé
acarajé: a typical dish often served as street food in Bahia, this dish is made with black-eyed pea fritters served with prawns and a spicy paste or vatapá
Fruit, Fruit, Fruit
Any trip to Brazil would not be complete without trying some of the hundreds of varieties of fruit that can be found there. Many of the fruits come from the Amazon; they are transported as frozen pulp, therefore, are served as the basis of juice. Try fresh fruits from the markets or experiment with the enormous variety of juices offered at the ubiquitous juice bars. Brazilians love freshly-squeezed orange juice, but other popular juices include pineapple with mint, orange with acerola, cashew fruit, sugarcane juice, and healthy juice mixes called "vitamins." To help you navigate the options, see how to order juice in Brazil.