The Portuguese weren't the only ones to leave their
mark on the cuisine of the country. The Spanish had some influence,
as did the Germans and Italians among
others. However, in Bahia, the influence is primarily African
as cassava, fish, and coconut milk tend to be the base for most dishes.
Despite adopting many local plants and animals for dishes, including the
European-inspired dishes, the Europeans also introduced some new plants
and animals. The most important animal introduced was the cattle, which provide
both meat and dairy products, two staples in the diet today. They also introduced
grapes, wheat, rice, pigs, and chicken. Others were also introduced and are now
common in Brazil, although they differ in terms of popularity and importance. Some
are commonly used, while others are not, but they include onions, cilantro, black
pepper, limes, garlic, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives, bananas, apples,
lemons, and oranges among others.
The cattle industry was, and still is, most prevalent in southern
Brazil, near the Argentine border. In this region
there is a strong Argentine influence as ranching is common and the churrasco
or barbeque is a way of life (known in South American Spanish speaking countries
as asado). Today churrasco is a national favorite, although it
remains more common in southern Brazil.
Since the late 1800s the diet has been constantly changing, but during this time
the changes have been primarily due to technological changes. Better transportation
and storage techniques allow the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods,
which are now easily accessible in large cities. This time has also altered cooking
techniques and the eating culture as fast food has been introduced, as have already
prepared frozen foods. However, these influences are rarely seen outside the capital
city and few people eat them on a regular basis.
Also in the past century new waves of immigrants have arrived to
Brazil, most notably from Japan. These immigrants
have made Japanese cooking common in many large cities and have also encouraged
the growth in popularity of "Asian" foods in general.
In the past couple decades there has been a growing trend as large cities are opening
more ethnic restaurants. Although these foods have rarely affected the local diet,
they are a growing trend as Japanese, Chinese,
Korean, Italian, Mexican,
Indian, and vegetarian restaurants are all easy to find in every large city.
When & Where to Eat
Breakfast in Brazil is often referred to just as "cafe-de-manha"
or "cafe," which means morning coffee. Obviously the focus of this meal
is on coffee, but from here what the people eat, if anything, varies. Fruit, bread
or pastries, and ham are all common in various areas. No matter what the food is
though, it tends to be light. Due to the small breakfast many Brazilians also have
a snack in the morning, generally consisting of crackers, cookies, or a small sandwich.
Little else is eaten at this time to save room for lunch.
Lunch, known in Brazil as almoco, tends to be the
largest meal of the day. This is often a multi-course meal consisting of rice or
pasta along with meats and vegetables. A starter like soup and dessert are also
fairly common. Today the length and complexity of this meal is very dependent on
jobs and lifestyle as many people can't have an extended lunch break so eat
a smaller lunch then a larger dinner, while for others the opposite is true. Most
Brazilians eat lunch at about 11:30 am or noon and don't tend to finish until
about 1:30 or even later if this is their largest meal of the day. For those in
the city most people eat in the office or at a restaurant, like a pizzeria or a
lanchonete, which is a quick service restaurant.
The afternoon is again usually interrupted by a snack and it is usually accompanied
by coffee or tea. Dinner is a bit bigger, but is generally smaller than lunch, but
again this depends on the person as many people working in the cities have little
time during the lunch break so dinner is the largest meal of the day. The time of
dinner also vastly varies as the urbanites tend to prefer eating late; usually eating
at about 10:00 pm, while in other parts of the country dinner is taken at about
7:00 pm. Although most meals are eaten at home, in the larger cities going out to
eat at a restaurant, or restaurantes, is a common occurrence.
Beans: usually served as a side or mixed with rice
Beef: perhaps not a true staple, but beef and other grilled meats
are so common they are the centerpiece of many meals
Pasta: pastas are a popular staple in some regions with Italian
influence, especially in the south
Pastries: pastries are commonly served for snacks, breakfast, or
dessert as they can be seen everywhere
Potatoes: not as common as some parts of South America, but potatoes
are a common side
Rice: often served as a side or mixed with beans; but due to Italian
influence the rice dish, risotto is also popular
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Arroz com pequi: this rice dish is made with chicken and
pequi (or souari nut) and is common in the Amazon
Bolos: the general term for a cake, all sorts of bolos
are extremely popular in Brazil
Churrasco: this refers to barbequing meats and vegetables
over a flame and is a favorite everywhere, most commonly in the south
Feijoada: the national dish is a stew of beans with a
meat like beef or pork and vegetables
Kibe/Quibe: inspired by the Middle East's
kibbeh, this dish is made with bulgur wheat, onions, and beef or lamb
The Brazilians aren't the most punctual people, but on
South American standards they are so try arriving
to meals about 15 minutes late. If invited to a local's home be sure to bring
a small gift like chocolates or wine.
No matter where you dine, be sure to wash your hands prior to sitting down and you
may also want to consider using the restroom as getting up during the meal is rude
and sometimes you can be at the table for a couple hours as conversation dominates
most meals. Once you have washed your hands let your host show you a seat as they
may have a seating arrangement; sometimes honored guests will be placed between
the hosting couple to spark conversation. If dining with a small group in a restaurant
you may be placed at a table with other people; politely ignore them although they
may engage you in conversation when they notice you're foreign.
Once seated the most important rule is to be social, but avoid sensitive subjects
such as politics, religion, money, and even business (if you're meeting local
business associates wait for them to bring up business first). Also be sure to keep
your hands within sight by resting your wrists on the edge of the table and place
your napkin in your lap.
The meal may begin with a drink, but before drinking let your host give a toast,
the most common toast is "saude," which means "to your health."
Eating should also begin with your host's invitation, but as a guest you may
be the first served. Eating is done in the continental style, meaning the knife
should remain in your right hand and the fork in your left; get used to this style
as everything but bread and sandwiches are eaten with utensils, including fruits
among others. The bread should be placed on your plate or on the table itself as
bread plates are rare.
You should try everything offered to you and if you enjoy something compliment the
host and you will quickly be offered more. If asked to pass a dish or a seasoning,
be sure to pass to your left. When you are finished eating, place the fork and knife
together across the plate from right to left. Don't get up from the table until
everyone is done and your host invites everyone to get up together. After the main
meal you may be offered dessert, such as cake, or a drink like coffee.
If eating in a restaurant the inviter is expected to pay for everyone, although
guests are expected to offer to assist. If you are the host or are just dining with
other foreigners call the server by holding up your right index finger and make
eye contact. Your server will not give you your check until you specifically request
it, but you can do this by saying "a conta, por favor." For good
service a tip of about 10% is standard.
Celebrations & Events
There are a number of foods tied to celebrations and events in Brazil,
but most of these foods are eaten at all celebrations as opposed to certain holidays
having very specific foods. Generally speaking, at celebratory meals the Brazilians
tend to replace their staple foods of rice and beans with pasta, polenta, lentils,
chickpeas, or black-eyed peas. This is true for most holidays, but especially with
Christmas and New Year's Eve. Another favorite celebratory food is salgadinhos,
which are salty snacks similar to Spanish tapas.
One holiday synonymous with Brazil is Carnaval,
which ends on the Tuesday prior to Lent (and beginning the Friday before); it usually
takes place in late February or early March. This festival, centered in Rio de Janeiro,
is a time to eat and drink in excess prior to Lent so the availability of drinks
and foods in Rio and throughout Brazil is plentiful as this is a great time to experience
the culture and try any local food (preferably unhealthy foods) that you can think
Brazil has nearly any common drinks one can think of including
tea and soft drinks, but the Brazilians tend to prefer coffee or fresh squeezed
juice. Coffee is extraordinarily popular and many people have at least one cup a
day. Likewise, juices are popular with mango, papaya, orange, passion fruit, pineapple,
and even cocoa being commonly used to make juices.
Brazil has nearly every kind of alcoholic beverage a person
can think of, but few are authentically Brazilian. The most original of the alcohols
in Brazil is cachaca, which is a liquor that is distilled from sugar cane
that is quite popular; it's easy to find in a mixed drink. Beer, wine, and other
liquors can also be found, with many beers being produced locally (although most
major international brands are also available), and much of the wine comes from
nearby countries like Argentina and Chile.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Brazil,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people
may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be
different from what your system is used to.