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What is Brazilian Cuisine?

Posted on 14 December 2016

Chef Leticia Sambatribe

Guest post by Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz

What is Brazilian food? This is a question I get very frequently as the author of two cookbooks about Brazil and a cooking instructor.

It’s a big question and it’s hard to find a single answer. I usually start by saying that Brazilian cuisine has a pact with culture and it’s a mixture of three different influences that meet in the same pan: the Portuguese, the African and the native Indian. Some of our most famous dishes are Feijoada, Vatapá, Bobó de Camarão, Moqueca de Peixe, Pão de Queijo and Brigadeiro, just to name a few.

While we can say that Brazil has many different influences, in different parts of the country you will see stronger influences than others, and each Brazilian region has developed a culinary identity of its own.

Travel to the northeast and it smells like Africa! The flavors of Bahian cooking are extra large and luscious. Palm oil, coconut, malaguetta pepper, cilantro and lime are essential to the Bahian diet. Moqueca for example, is a fish stew that is hard to resist. Originally from this region, it belongs to the pantheon of iconic dishes from Brazil.

Turn west and merge with the flavors of the Amazon, where yucca is an important vegetable yielding a variety of derivatives such as tapioca (yucca starch), tucupi (tapioca juice), and farinha de rosca (toasted yucca flour).

Head south and you’ll taste Barreado. It consists of meat delicately cooked with bacon, onion and spices at low temperature for about 12 hours in a clay pot that is hermetically sealed with manioc flour. The name of the dish comes from the term barrear a panela, meaning to seal the pot with this manioc paste.

Also in the south of Brazil, you can taste another classic symbol of our cuisine: the Brazilian Barbecue. Although it is characteristic of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, anyone can taste different cuts of grilled beef seasoned with rock salt in churrascarias spread all over the country.

If you travel to the heart of Brazil, near Mato Grosso do Sul, you will find a whole new cuisine, with flavor profiles such as maracajú sausage, pamonha, and green papaya preserves.

In Rio de Janeiro, my hometown, you will find a more Portuguese influence with dishes such as Bacalhau Gomes Sá (prepared with salt cod, potatoes, onions, olives and eggs) and Acorda de Bacalhau (a soup of cilantro, bread, garlic, and eggs).

One of the most famous dishes of Brazil was born in Rio—the Feijoada, a bean stew with lots of different meats cooked inside. Of course, to accompany, you must enjoy Feijoada with a cocktail called Caipirinha. It is refreshing, cool, sweet, and relaxing. Caipirinha is Brazil! This cocktail is a simple mixture of mashed lime and sugar, mixed with ice and cachaça. 

In the state of Minas Gerais, you can find some of the best cheese and sweets. Pão de Queijo, or cheese bread, is a golf-sized little roll that is chewy, cheese, steamy, almost succulent, and extremely satisfying. This savory snack is another one of our greatest inventions. Born in Minas!

Each year, I try to explore a different region of Brazil, and along the way I meet disarming chefs, creative home cooks, and hard working street vendors who prove to me that Brazilian cuisine offers an endless reason to explore, and continue to travel to this vast gorgeous land!

Check out Chef Leticia's The Brazilian Kitchen and My Rio de Janeiro: a Cookbook.


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