Brazilian cooking, while it has many similarities with that of its South American neighbors, is distinct and uniquely delicious. Stretching from the Amazon in the north, through the fertile plantations of the central coast and on to the southern pampas, the food of Brazil spans a unique mix of cultures and cuisines. The original population contributed popular ingredients like cassava and guaraná. African slaves influenced the cuisine of the coastal states, especially Bahía. And around the country, a Portuguese heritage is reflected in a variety of dishes.
Brazilian Cuisine: A Background
The area of South America now called Brazil has probably been inhabited for at least 15,000 years. It is still unclear where the first settlers came from, but their descendents developed a knowledge of the land and its bounty that is evident in Brazilian cooking today. This Indian influence is particularly strong in the north and is expressed in the presence of various fruits, nuts, greens and herbs. One legendary dish is pato no tukupi, duck with an herb sauce that numbs the tongue. Manioca, or cassava root, is a major starch in Brazil and the source of farofa, a breadcrumb-like condiment unique to the Brazilian table. Guaraná is an energizing rainforest berry that is used in popular Brazilian energy drinks.
Portuguese missionaries arrived in the 1500s and rapidly imposed not just their language but also their cuisine. Examples of Portuguese influence on Brazilian cooking include bacalhao (salt cod), and empadinhos, savory filled pastries.
The Portuguese brought with them shiploads of African slaves, and large plantations sprang up in the state of Bahia on the central coast. Bahia is in some ways reminiscent of the American South, and this is where Afro-Brazilian soul food is found. Vatapá, and moqueca are famous Bahian dishes. The use of coconut milk and dendê palm oil mirrors their prominence in the cuisine of the West African coast.
The great cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo have an international flavor. Italian influence is shown in milanesas, pasta, and cafezinho. Arab immigrants brought with them their recipes for Middle Eastern sweets. Germans fleeing the aftermath of World War II settled in Santa Catarina in the south and introduced a wide variety of sausages. The southern plains are a grand stage for the gauchos, Brazil's cowboys. Beef and barbeque rule on the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul.
Ingredients and Eating Habits
The most common ingredients in Brazilian cooking are black beans, rice, coconut milk, dendê (palm oil), manioca (cassava), chicken, beef, pork, sausages, shrimp, seafood, bacalao (salt cod), farofa (toasted cassava crumbs, a condiment), pasta, cheese, okra, squashes, and tomatoes.
Breakfast in Brazil is a simple, European-style affair. It consists mainly of coffee and bread, sometimes including cheese, fruit or even a slice of ham. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is usually large with two or more courses. Brazilians take their time with this meal. Dinner is eaten rather late and is either a light affair of bread, cheese and cold meats, or is eaten out at a restaurant with family or friends.
Brazil adopted a strong coffee culture from its Italian immigrants. Cafezinho, otherwise known as espresso, is drunk throughout the day.
Typical Brazilian Dishes