Brazil is a nation famous for its unique mixture of African and European traditions, which is the especially the case in its capital city – and even moreso when it comes to its countless delicious dishes.
Brazilian food in Rio de Janeiro is essentially a melting pot of influences from all over the world, ranging from main dishes which originated from as far as Africa, to classic snacks which are often used in Japanese and Portuguese dishes. Because Brazilian cuisine comes from so many different countries, some state that Brazilian food is the best in the world, given that its classic dishes feature an eclectic mix of some of the most mouth-watering ingredients from places like Portugal, West Africa or even Japan.
Although visitors are bound to discover at least a handful of hearty, rich Brazilian dishes that delight all the senses, these are the five classic dishes every first-time visitor should try as soon as they arrive in Rio de Janeiro:
If you were to ask a local Brazilian what the “número um” classic Brazilian dish would be, their first response would be “Feijoada.” As a matter of fact, there are so many places where you can find Feijoada in Rio, (which is often coined as the Brazilian national dish), you want have to stroll very far in order to find it.
Feijoada was originally adapted from “the food of slaves” and is often associated with the colonial population in Rio. It is typically eaten for lunch on a Saturday or Wednesday in the Brazilian capital.
Feijoada is basically stewed beans in a pork of beef gravy, often accompanied with potatoes, crunchy pork cracklings, kale, fluffy farofa (or toasted cassava flour) and orange slices (which supposedly help with digestion). Depending on where you are in Brazil, the dish can be mixed with various parts of the pig, although the most common tend to be with rib meat and sausages. It also takes up to 24 hours to make, as the beans need to soak for some time in order to achieve the ultimate flavour, (and this is why most locals head out to restaurants or bars to eat it, rather than make it at home).
Where to find the best Feijoada in Rio: Cantinho do Senado, Feira do Lavradio, or anywhere in Ipanema.
In a nutshell, Churrascaria is basically an all-you-can-eat steakhouse or restaurant, where diners can pick and choose what type of meats to chow down on. Apparently the dish was inspired by the “cowboy cuisine” which originated from the natives of Rio Grande do Sul, in the southern parts of Brazil.
Depending on where you head to, you can choose between over 100 different hot and cold items in the restaurant’s buffet, although the favourites tend to be chicken hearts, beef, or pork loins. The ultimate delicacies-version of Churrascaria however, tends to include lamb chops, Argentine shoulder steak, beef rips or butterfried top sirloin.
Although Churrascaria is becoming more and more popular in America, it’s hard to beat the true-blue Churrascaria which can be found in countless places around Rio de Janeiro.
Where to find the best Churrascaria in Rio: Verne Provenzano, Gaúcha Churrascaria, Churrascaria Palace, Carretão Ipanema Classic Grill, Fogo de Chao.
This delightfully cheesy snack (which is literally translated as “cheese bread”) are little balls of cheesy heaven that are said to be highly addictive. (Consider yourself warned…)
The snack is originally from the southern region of Minas Gerais, but can now be found in nearly every corner of Brazil. You can also get vegetarian versions of the classic dish, and even find them in the local subway stations (although these tend to be of lower quality).
Pão de queijo is typically crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and the bread often contains tapioca, flour, eggs and grated quijo minas (or cow’s milk cheese from the state of Minas Gerais), with all ingredients rolled up into one tiny and delicious little ball. It’s also typically eaten at breakfast, and served warm or sometimes spread with jam. Depending on where you are, you could even find these balls the size of a cake, or stuffed with everything from meat to cream cheese.
Where to find Pão de Queijo in Rio: Cafe Cultivar, Casa do Pao de Queijo, Cafe Do Alto, Restaurante Glouton.
The most famous Brazilian snack known as Coxinha is basically a teardrop-shaped chicken drumstick fritter which is first wrapped in dough, and then battered before being deep-fried. The dish is based on a dough made with flour and chicken broth, and sometimes even includes mashed potatoes.
It is typically filled with shredded chicken meat as well as onions, parsley, scallions and a ton of spices, and locals often accompany the classic dish with ketchup, rosé sauce, lime wedges, or even chimichurri sauce. Sometimes the filling can even include tomato sauce, turmeric or catupiry cheese, which are then coated in eggs and breadcrumbs before being deep-fried.
The word “coxinha” actually comes from the snack’s shape (which looks like a chicken drumstick) as in Portuguese “coxa” means “thigh” (but only when referring to chicken). Originally, Coxinhas were made with actual chicken thigh, although this doesn’t tend to be the case anymore.
Apparently the original version of this mouth-watering snack was created in Limeria, a small city close to Sao Paulo during the 19th century. The dish was originally invented because of a Brazilian prince who refused to eat anything other than chicken thighs, but one day when his cook realized that she didn’t have any chicken thighs left in the kitchen, she used leftover chicken meat from the day before and formed it into the shape of a chicken thigh, ultimately fooling the prince. Soon the success of the dish spread throughout the city of Limeria, before eventually travelling through the rest of the country and into Rio.
Where to find the best Coxinha de Galinha in Rio: Bar Bracarense, Botequim Informal, Fornalha, Bar Teto Solar, Portella.
If you’re going to pick one dessert to have in Rio, then make it Brigadeiro; (pronounced as “bree-gah-DAY-rows”). Although the exact origin of the Brigadeiro is unknown, some believe it’s derived from the name of Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, a famous politician from Rio.
Basically a hot chocolate cake, this classic Brazilian dessert can be found at nearly every birthday party, family dinner or event, and is a staple in the Brazilian dining experience. Although the dish is especially popular in São Paulo, you can still find it in countless sweet shops, restaurants and bakeries scattered around Rio de Janeiro, and they are often supplied by the thousands because of their immense popularity.
These tiny ball-shaped chocolates with butter and condensed milk are often called “Brazilian truffles” due to their delicate texture which is similar to French truffles. (Oh and just so you’re aware: 30 grams of one brigadeiro contains 100 calories!)
Where to find the best Brigadeiro in Rio: Capim Santo, Las Chicas Gourmet-Garage, Praça São Lourenço, Brigadeiro Doceria & Cafe.
Hungry to learn more about Rio? Join us on any of our free walking tours around Rio de Janeiro; (for more information click here).