Food & Drink in Brazil
Vegetarians may need to make a few explanations in restaurants that they don't eat ANY type of meat. 'Carne' is the word for beef in Portuguese, but also the general word for meat, so people may think that you just don't eat beef, and will still eat chicken and pork products. The concept of being vegetarian or vegan is still one that baffles many Brazilians. The range of vegetarian options in restaurants is not so large, with pizzas being the fallback vegetarian option. Many buffet and kilo places do have a large range of fresh salads, but creativity for vegetarian dishes is difficult to find.
There are so many different foods to try in Brazil, fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood as well as the ubiquitous dishes containing meat, meat and more meat. Brazil is heaven for meat-lovers, especially with the churrascarias. These are the All-You-Can-Meat barbeque places, where diners don't even have to get up from their seats, as waiters bring long skewers of dripping meats to the table with regularity. These places usually have a huge salad spread too, plus some pasta options. There are also All-You-Can-Pizza ideas too, called Rodizio de Pizza (you can also find Rodizios for soup, meat and seafood).
Food in Brazil comes in various ways, with a la carte menus, the one-price-eat-as-much-as-you-want idea (or eat-as-much-as-you-can if you prefer), and also the kilo idea. This is where you pay for the weight of food consumed, and the counter has a scale to weigh your plate. Some restaurants have a choice of all three just to confuse you. It is often the case that weighing food is worthwhile unless you are planning to eat a huge plateful or two.
For drinks, the ice generally comes from treated water and shouldn't be a concern. Most beers come in 600ml bottles in the bars, or cans on the beach and elsewhere, although draught beer (called 'chop' and pronounce roughly as 'shoppy') does exist in some bars. Brazil Adventure Tours finds that Skol or Bohemia are best for the beach or the bottle, while Devassa (still mostly in Rio) have some good draught options.
What to try in Brazil
Half the fun of travelling to different countries is to try as many different and unknown foods and drinks as you can. Brazil is such a large country, and with such diverse climates and ecosystems, that it has far more to try than most, and what you might find in the Amazon region can be completely unknown to people in the tropical North-East, the temperate South or the baking Mid-West. If in doubt, just ask if you can try something, Brazilians are hospitable people and enjoy helping visitors have new experiences.
Brazil Adventure Tours Essentials, a quick list of things that we highly recommend you try while in Brazil:
- Fruits - every single one of them. Even the ones that you know taste much better in Brazil, such as bananas, watermelon and especially pineapples. The ones that you might not know include acerola, pitanga, carambola, nona, caqui, jabuticaba and a million more.
- Coconut - one of life's simple pleasures is to buy a cool, green coconut, watch the vendor skilfully machete off the bottom and make a hole for you in the top, then put a straw in it for you. All you have to do is to find a nice spot to sip the coconut water, preferably in the shade of a palm tree, enjoy the view and be happy that you are in Brazil.
- Açai - a type of sorbet made from the açai palm-fruit of the Amazon. This purple superfruit is mixed with guarana syrup and perhaps bananas or strawberries and granola. A kind of adult ice-cream and the perfect thing to cool down on a hot afternoon.
- Caipirinha and cachaça - the national cocktail made from Brazil's sugarcane spirit. Caipirinha also contains fresh limes, crushed ice and sugar... often lots of sugar. You can also try with other fruits. Brazil Adventure Tours recommends the mixture of passion fruit and lime, although you may have to ask for this to be made especially for you. Only in Paraty does this 'caiçara' version appear regularly on menus. There are also many different types of cachaças and many liquers made from combining it with the fruits and spices of Brazil. There are also the even sweeter batidas, which are made with fruit juices or coconut milk, cachaça and condensed milk.
- Moqueca - possibly the finest regular dish in Brazil, a Bahian seafood stew made with coconut milk and spices.
- Breakfast - breakfast in most Brazilian places, even in simple pousadas, is a spread to behold. You won't go hungry at breakfast time in Brazil.
- Tapioca - traditional food made from the indigenous staple of manioc or cassava, the Amazon root that resembles a plain-looking sweet potato. It is cooked in various ways, including being ground into flour, then spread into a white pancake which can then be filled with various savoury or sweet treats like any other pancake.
- Feijoada - the closest thing that Brazil has to a national dish. A black bean stew with pork meat cuts perhaps including ears, tail and tongue, usually served with rice, collard greens, farofa and a slice of orange to aid digestion. You may need help too! The dish is traditionally served on Saturday lunchtime although many visitors may feel that it is too heavy to eat in the hot hours of the day.
- Farofa - this is something that may appear on your table and cause confusion. A small dish filled with what looks like sand, often with dark bits in it. Farofa is edible (although some may dispute this) and Brazilians do not eat meat and often seafood without it as an accompaniment. They won't start eating until it is on the table! Manioc flour is fried in butter to produce it.
- Pirão - a similar idea to farofa, with the stock from seafood cooking mixed with farinha (the flour) to produce a paste with the flavour of seafood.
- Pastel - small fried packages filled with meat, cheese, chicken or palm heart, found in every market of Brazil.
- Empada - small baked packages filled with meat, cheese, chicken or palm heart.
Guarana - this is a soft drink/soda made from guarana, an Amazon berry full of calories, a natural energetic. This is the most popular refrigerante in Brazil, with a variety of makes including Guarana Antarctica and Kuat. Some are sweet, others are even sweeter.