Thanks to a diverse population stemming from Portuguese colonization, a long history of slavery, and large groups of immigrants from Europe and Asia, Brazil has an interesting and rich food heritage. Because the country is large and diverse, regional dishes vary greatly from one area to another. The following seven typical dishes from Brazil will give any visitor an excellent start in experiencing typical Brazilian food.
Feijoada (pronounced fay-zhoh-AH-dah) is perhaps Brazil's most famous dish. This popular meal is the best known regional dish from Rio de Janeiro, but Brazilians in much of the country enjoy a version of feijoada, especially on weekends when family gathers for a slow meal, perhaps while enjoying music or a soccer match.
Several components make up feijoada. The main part is the bean stew, typically made from black beans that are cooked slowly with pork and/or beef. Salty dried meat and pork sausage are usual additions, but some feijoada includes pork trimmings or smoked ribs. The black bean stew is served with white rice, collard greens, farofa (toasted manioc flour, which provides a crunchy texture to the feijoada), fried bananas, and orange slices. Many Brazilians choose the country's traditional drink, caipirinha, to accompany the feijoada meal. In some Brazilian cities, you can enjoy Samba Saturday--a traditional feijoada meal with excellent live samba music.
Bacalhao (pronounced bah-kah-LYAU, with the last syllable rhyming with "how") is an important dish served in Brazilian homes. The main ingredient, salted cod fish, is a food that comes from Brazil's history as a Portuguese colony. When salt became available in Europe, drying and salting food was a practical way to preserve food (after all, there was no modern refrigeration then). Dried and salted cod became a popular choice in Portugal as well as other parts of Europe.
The Portuguese brought bacalhao to Brazil during colonization, and the Portuguese tradition of eating bacalhao with other Mediterranean ingredients became part of Brazilian culture. Bacalhao is typically baked with olives, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes and served with a drizzle of olive oil and white rice on the side. Because dried and salted cod needs to be rehydrated and desalinated over a period of at least one full day through a process of soaking the fish in water which is changed every few hours, bacalhao is typically served on special occasions, such as family reunions and holidays.
Moqueca (pronounced moh-KEH-kah) is a dish from the northeastern state of Bahia, although there is another popular version, moqueca capixaba, from Espírito Santo. This fish stew showcases how the ingredients vary from one region of Brazil to another. Instead of the Mediterranean ingredients found in the previous dish, bacalhao, in moqueca you find coconut milk, coriander, tomatoes, onions, and dendê, the palm oil that is so typical of the food of Bahia. The dish can be made with white fish or prawns.
Vatapá (pronounced vah-tah-PAH) is from the northern and northeastern regions of Brazil. This thick stew-like dish is made from bread, shrimp, finely ground nuts, coconut milk, and dendê (palm oil) and herbs. The dish is often served with white rice or, especially in Bahia, with the popular dish acarajé.
Acarajé (pronounced ah-kah-rah-ZHAY) is another very popular food from the Northeast of Brazil, specifically the state of Bahia. One part of the dish is the fritter made from black-eyed peas and deep fried in palm oil. The second part is the filling, typically a spicy mix of shrimp either in the form of vatapá (above) or dried shrimp. Acarajé is often served as a form of street food and can even be found in the street food stalls of outdoor markets in the southern city of São Paulo.
Smaller versions of the empadão (pronounced em-pah-DAOU, with the last syllable nasalized) are commonly found in botecos and street food stalls where empadinhas and other small snacks are served. With a crispy, flaky crust and savory inside, it is similar to a chicken pot pie. The empadão is basically a large savory torte that is filled with chicken and/or a mix of vegetables such as palm hearts, peas, and corn. Empadão is often served for family lunches or dinners on the weekends.
Quindim (pronounced keen-DZEEN with nasalized vowels) is one of the most typical Brazilian desserts. Made with egg yolks, grated coconut, butter and sugar, quindim is a very sweet dessert that is usually served as small circular custards. It has a gel-like consistency and a deep yellow color from the egg yolks.