Colorful Brazil is known for its lively music and culture, and for good reason. You can’t talk about the culture without thinking about Brazilian food!
There’s so much to explore in the northern South American country, especially once you reach the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Portuguese and Japanese influences meld to create mouthwatering recipes to satiate the appetites of natives and tourists alike.
Not only a feast for the ears and eyes but the region is also known for its delicious cuisine. Meats, vegetables, and grains combine for a dinner plate that’s well worth planning a vacation to sample it all.
Fortunately, if a trip isn’t in your budget, there are plenty of places right here in the U.S. that specialize in authentic Brazilian cuisine.
Popular Brazilian Food
Check out our list of the most popular Brazilian foods and get a sample of Rio here in the States or even in your own kitchen! I’m ranking these dishes based on typical servings, local ingredients, and of course, how they taste.
Sometimes spelled akara, this dish is a conflation of Brazilian, West African, and Caribbean flavors.
You can’t go wrong with a classic protein, greens, and black beans combo. Traditional meat is salted pork or beef but may include less-choice cuts like pig’s feet or cow tongue.
It makes a hot and hearty stew that’s gratifying year-round.
Acaraje is typical street food sold by many vendors around the area. But it’s also a sanctified offering to the gods in the 19th-century Candomble religion.
This interesting juxtaposition of cultures makes it an intriguing culinary phenomenon.
With one foot in lowbrow cuisine and the other in the church, many different demographics enjoy acaraje on a regular basis all around the country.
However, to find it in Brazil, you’ll want to visit Salvador, where it’s most prominent.
Don’t let the fancy name fool you: a Cachorro Quente is a hot dog!
Though it may look slightly different in each region of Brazil, the concept is that the meat (usually sausage and/or ground beef) cooks in tomato sauce before nestling into a bun.
This gives it a tangy, sometimes spicy edge over its Western cousin.
This is a snack-type meal you can buy from a vendor on a street corner or in traditional family kitchens. It may seem basic, but the toppings for a Brazilian hot dog go crazy.
You might choose from pico de gallo, green peppers and onions, fries, mashed potatoes, corn, or other fresh veggies. Virtually anything goes when decorating this prized national food.
This traditional holiday recipe translates to “crumbs.” Essentially a grain side with additives; it’s similar to Thanksgiving stuffing.
You can prepare it sweet with raisins, hearty with almonds, or savory with garlic. Add fresh herbs like parsley and chives on top for an extra twist.
Another name for farofa is farinha de mandioca. The flour is cassava or yuca, then toasted and sometimes mixed with corn flour.
When it emerges from the oven, farofa has a delightfully crispy texture and a scent that will make your mouth water.
Versatile and delicious, it’s no surprise this food makes it high up on our list. Try this national side dish along with a famous entree such as feijoada (which I’ll describe below).
A wrap comparable to tamales, this Brazilian equivalent can be prepared sweet or savory.
It will typically be filled with ground coconut pulp if prepared sweet. If prepared savory, the filling can include cheese, minced chicken, sausage, or peppers.
The chef whisks sweet corn and coconut milk together to form a paste, which may be cold, warm, or hot, depending on the time of year.
The appeal of this snack lies in its presentation: Pamonha is served wrapped in corn husks and often tied with a string for a festive touch.
Like acaraje, it’s a taste that all kinds of people enjoy for many different reasons. It sometimes commemorates special events but also announces its presence on everyday Brazilian dinner tables.
Black beans are the star here, as noted by the name, a twist on the Portuguese word for “bean.” Feijoada is a thick mix of meat, beans, tomatoes, and garlic.
Many Brazilians consider it the country’s national dish, and all appreciate its popularity among meals in their country.
It has also been adopted in faraway countries like Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, with each country having its own variation.
Feijoada’s origins run deep in Brazilian history. It is believed that the dish was created by Brazilian slaves who would put together scraps of meat and leftover beans to create a stew.
Feijoada is heavy on umami as it’s slow-cooked to let all the brilliant flavors play together.
You’ll often see it served with a grain dish such as farofa, and many eaters love to follow it up with a light dessert.
Feijoada is a decadent treat for natives and out-of-towners; best of all, you can make it at home.
Bolo De Rolo
Time for dessert! As playful on the plate as it is on the tongue, bolo de rolo looks and tastes a bit like a Swiss roll.
Thin layers of dough alternate with guava paste for a swirled pattern that serves aesthetic as well as flavor. It’s like a Brazilian Little Debbie snack cake with South American ingredients.
Originating in the state of Pernambuco, this sweet treat has all the classic elements of North American cake.
Flour, eggs, butter, and sugar make an appearance, as well as the optional use of port wine for elevated style, while the guava gives it a fruity twist.
It is usually served sliced to showcase the number of meticulously crafted spirals. Brazilians usually top it with unsweetened whipped cream to cut the sweetness.
Pair it with coffee or another national beverage to finish your meal style.
If bolo de rolo doesn’t strike your fancy, a brigadeiro might be more enticing.
Chocoholics surely will love them! Cute and irresistible, you can find them at a chocolatier or perhaps in the home of someone who knows how to make them according to a Brazilian family recipe.
Brigadeiros were named after a handsome military man, Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, during his campaign for presidency in 1946.
A confectioner with a particular sweet spot for the attractive presidential candidate who supported his campaign created this Brazilian sweet treat in his honor.
Though he lost the campaign, his name sure lives on in Brazil with this iconic dessert.
This bonbon-like bite mingles sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder for just the right bittersweet flavor.
Like fudge balls or truffles, you can pop them into your mouth with your fingers, but Brazilians also sometimes use a spoon.
The texture of sprinkles on top makes for an appealing little delicacy you won’t want to miss.
The trifecta of traditional Brazilian desserts is complete with quindim.
Its custard texture glows with a deep golden color and shiny surface due to multiple egg yolks involved in the process.
The shape, similar to an upside-down cake, requires the diner to cut into the form with a spoon and eat it like pudding.
A quindim recipe calls for the customary blend of egg, butter, and sugar found in similar dishes worldwide.
But its uniqueness lies in the addition of coconut, which can be either in the form of milk or shredded meat.
Regardless of the preparation, quindim is an exotic and sweet follow-up to any meal and is accessible to most travelers.
Carne De Sol
Salted, roasted, or incorporated into a stew, animal proteins are a common feature in many dishes.
Carne de sol, also called jaba, is a delicious cured beef. Usually made from rump heart, it’s left out in the sun for two days before consumption.
The traditional process comes to the modern world from sertanejos, or Brazilian cowboys, who used it as a form of food preservation.
Today, carne de sol pairs well with cabbage, cheese, and a nice mellow red wine to balance the salt. Many natives eat it alone as a full-bodied, midday snack, like jerky.
Pão De Queijo
The nation’s version of cheesy bread, you can often see pao de queijo at Brazilian restaurants as an appetizer or side dish for a main course of meat.
The baking process starts on the stovetop, marrying dough with butter, egg, and/or milk then transfers to the oven.
Crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle make for the prefecture texture and a full sensory experience.
Tapioca flour instead of wheat flour means these tasty bites are gluten-free. Try baking them in your kitchen at home and watch kids and pets come running to inhale the warm scents of cheesy goodness.
Along with black beans, tropeiro beans are a South American favorite.
This delightful dish is a treat for any palate and includes a little bit of everything.
There’s bacon and sausage for the carnivores, collard greens for a healthy kick, and eggs and beans for a well-rounded flavor.
Feijao tropeiro usually includes manioc, the indigenous plant where cassava and tapioca flour come from.
Enjoy in a bowl as a standalone meal or as part of a bigger supper with other native flavors.
Fiber-rich and hearty, feijao is a common inclusion on many Brazilian dining tables.
Pato no Tucupi
Along with beef and salted pork, duck is also a favorite meat source in Brazil.
It’s a somewhat decadent meal that takes significant time to prepare. This one’s best experienced in a restaurant with a capable chef, preferably right in its home country, where you know it’s done right.
A roasted duck nestles in manioc extract, which begins yellowish but appears green in this dish due to its combination with other ingredients.
Tomatoes, onions, and basil create a fragrant soup under the duck, creating an alluring meld of jungle flavors and upscale dining.
Açaí na tigela
This Brazilian take on an acai bowl is not so different than what you might find in an American health-food cafe.
The main features are berries, bananas, coconut milk, and honey or guarana syrup, though it may also include interesting toppings such as tapioca pearls.
Depending on the region, an acai bowl can be a dessert or breakfast food (usually accompanied by black coffee and cheese bread).
Some beach kiosks serve a savory version with shrimp and farofa as a dinner entree.
But it’s most popular as a sweet treat for those who want to stay on the healthy side and not indulge in saccharine decadence.
Cocada (Coconut Candy)
This tidbit originates in Brazil, though there is a similarity to a drink popular in Venezuela.
Cocada is a coconut bonbon, baked in preparation but served at room temperature to let the coconut texture become chewy and appealing.
There are many variations, with the main ingredient being, of course, shredded coconut meat.
Bakers may also include coconut milk or almond if they want a heartier, nutty flavor.
Cornstarch, egg yolks, sugar, and cinnamon round out this Latin American confectionary for a tiny and delectable after-dinner treat.
Escondidinho de Carne
This casserole or shepherd’s pie is a popular dinner item in South America.
Mashed cassava, jerk beef, cheese, and vegetables combine for the ultimate oven-baked comfort food. Fortunately, there doesn’t need to be cold weather for you to enjoy it!
Escondidinho translates to “little hidden one,” which is fitting as the mix may include surprise flavors once you dip a spoon or fork into the middle.
The Western versions of this might incorporate potatoes for cassava and celery and carrots instead of yucca. It all depends on where and from whom you order this dish.
Once you’ve found the perfect meal entree, sides, and dessert, the only thing left is a sensational drink.
Quentao is a fitting accompaniment to any meal, with its tangy flavors of ginger and lime.
Similar to mulled wine, it’s often prepared in Brazil as a holiday sipper, especially around Christmas, and sometimes includes raisins or additional citrus fruit.
Cachaca might be the way to go if quentao is too strong a flavor for your tastebuds.
Natives distill sugarcane into liquor but omit molasses, which separates it from rum. By law, cachaca must be produced in Brazil to hold its name.
The taste is spicy and fruity and awakens all the senses of the imbiber. Enjoy with a lime wedge garnish for the full exotic effect.
Barreado is a Brazilian carnival dish that prepares slow-cooked beef. Bacon, spices, and sometimes chopped vegetables create a mouthwatering supper entree.
The dish simmers all day long before serving to allow the ingredients to mingle.
The chef scoops it into a bowl, then tops the mixture with small pats of manioc, which looks a bit like mashed banana) to stir in for added thickness.
Garlic and red wine are common additives for succulent complementary flavors to the beef.
A traditional dessert item, canjica is hominy or porridge made from corn kernels.
Another name for it is mugunza or mungunza. The result presents a bit like rice pudding with added coconut milk, cinnamon, honey, or other indigenous sweeteners.
Canjica is popular to order in June, the season of Brazilian winter festivals.
There’s a lot of discrepancy on its origins, as it compares to Latin America’s arroz con leche and also resembles some African traditions. Nevertheless, Brazilians enjoy it quite often.
Beef and pork are very common features of main dishes in South America.
However, fish deserves a place on our list as well. Sea bass is the most popular choice for this dish, though it can incorporate shrimp instead or in addition to fish.
The palate of this stew is appealing to everyone for its intriguing flavors.
Chefs use tomatoes and peppers for vegetable nourishment, while coconut milk usually provides the base.
Garlic, onions, and cilantro give it an herbal kick before serving.
Churrasco de Picanha
Brazilians love their barbecue! Churrasco is the general term for grilled meat, and picanha is a specific Brazilian cut of beef taken from the rump.
The juicy and succulent bite is a favorite of natives as well as tourists.
Though this dish originated in Brazil, it has also been adopted in Portugal.
Popular toppings include salsa, mushrooms, and white wine/vinegar sauce.
Popular Brazilian Food
- Cachorro Quente
- Bolo De Rolo
- Carne De Sol
- Pão De Queijo
- Feijão Tropeiro
- Pato no Tucupi
- Açaí na tigela
- Escondidinho de Carne
- Churrasco de Picanha
The region of Brazil is ripe with a plethora of natural ingredients. Though meat, fish, and barbecue reign king, fruit is a close second, and the tropical appeal of coconut seems to sneak up everywhere in this cuisine.
Whether you’re on vacation or attempting a Brazilian recipe right in your own kitchen, I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know these dishes. The many offerings of healthy, indulgent, savory, spicy, and creamy means there’s something for everyone.
Make sure you know how to bid your guests enjoy your meal in Portuguese: Bom apetite!
Check out other food from around the world, like iconic British dishes!
This page may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we'll earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you.