Brazilian cuisine has European, and African influences. It varies greatly by region, reflecting the country’s mix of native and immigrant populations, and its continental size as well. This has created a national cuisine marked by the preservation of regional differences. Ingredients first used by native peoples in Brazil include cassava, guaraná, açaí, cumaru and tacacá. From there, the many waves of immigrants brought some of their typical dishes, replacing missing ingredients with local equivalents. For instance, the European immigrants (primarily from Portugal, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and Switzerland) were accustomed to a wheat-based diet, and introduced wine, leaf vegetables, and dairy products into Brazilian cuisine. When potatoes were not available they discovered how to use the native sweet manioc as a replacement. The African slaves also had a role in developing Brazilian cuisine, especially in the coastal states. The foreign influence extended to later migratory waves – Japanese immigrants brought most of the food items that Brazilians would associate with Asian cuisine today, and introduced large-scale aviaries, well into the 20th century. Root vegetables such as cassava (locally known as mandioca, aipim or macaxeira, among other names), yams, and fruit like açaí, cupuaçu, mango, papaya, guava, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, and hog plum are among the local ingredients used in cooking. The national beverage is coffee, while cachaça is Brazil’s native liquor. Cachaça is distilled from sugar cane and is the main ingredient in the national cocktail, caipirinha.
There is not an exact single “national Brazilian cuisine”, but there is an assortment of various regional traditions and typical dishes. This diversity is linked to the origins of the people inhabiting each region. For instance, the culinary in Bahia is heavily influenced by a mix of African, Indigenous and Portuguese cuisines. Chili (including chili sauces) and palm oil are very common. But in the Northern states, due to the abundance of forest and freshwater rivers, fish and cassava are staple foods. In the deep south like Rio Grande do Sul, the influence shifts more towards gaúcho traditions shared with its neighbors Argentina and Uruguay, with many meat based products, due to this region livestock based economy – the churrasco, a kind of barbecue, is a local tradition.
Southeast Brazil’s cuisine
Brazilian pine nuts (pinhão) grow in a tree (Araucaria angustifolia) that is abundant in the southern part of Brazil, and are a popular national snack, as well as a lucrative export. Rice and beans are an extremely common dish, as are fish, beef and pork. In Rio, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, the feijoada (a black bean and meat stew rooted) is popular especially as a Wednesday or Saturday lunch. Also consumed frequently is picadinho (literally, minced meat), and/or rice and beans. In Rio de Janeiro, besides the feijoada, a popular plate is any variation of grilled bovine fillet, rice and beans, farofa and French fries, commonly called Filé à Osvaldo Aranha. Seafood is very popular in coastal areas, as is roasted chicken (galeto). In São Paulo, a typical dish is virado à paulista, made with rice, tutu de feijão, salted kale, and pork. São Paulo is also the home of pastel, a food consisting of thin pastry envelopes wrapped around assorted fillings, then deep fried in vegetable oil. It is popularly said to have originated when Japanese immigrants adapted Chinese fried wontons to sell as snacks at weekly street markets. In Minas Gerais, the regional dishes include corn, pork, beans, chicken (including the very typical dish frango com quiabo, or chicken with okra), tutu de feijão (paste of beans and cassava flour), and local soft ripened traditional cheeses. In Espírito Santo, there is significant Italian and German influence in local dishes, both savory and sweet. The state dish, though, is of Amerindian origin, called moqueca capixaba (a tomato and fish stew prepared in a clay pot). The cuisine of Minas Gerais is also strongly influential there, with many restaurants serving that fare.
North Brazil’s cuisine
The cuisine of this region, which includes the states of Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins, is heavily influenced by indigenous cuisine. In the state of Pará, there are several typical dishes including:
Pato no tucupi (duck in tucupi) – one of the most famous dishes from Pará. It is associated to the Círio de Nazaré, a great local Roman Catholic celebration. The dish is made with tucupi (yellow broth extracted from cassava, after the fermentation process of the broth remained after the starch had been taken off, from the raw ground manioc root, pressed by a cloth, with some water; if added maniva, the manioc ground up external part, that is poisonous because of the cianic acid, and so must be cooked for several days). The duck, after cooking, is cut into pieces and boiled in tucupi, where is the sauce for some time. The jambu is boiled in water with salt, drained and put on the duck. It is served with white rice and manioc flour.
The Brazilian Northeastern cuisine is heavily influenced by African cuisine from the coastal areas of Pernambuco to Bahia. The vatapá is a Brazilian dish made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk, finely ground peanuts and palm oil mashed into a creamy paste. The pt:Bobó de camarão is a dish made with cassava and shrimps (camarão). The acarajé is a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê (palm oil). Often sold as street food, it is served split in half and then stuffed with vatapá and caruru. Acarajé is typically available outside of the state of Bahia as well, including the markets of Rio de Janeiro. In other areas, more to the west or away from the coast, the plates are most reminiscent of the indigenous cuisine, with many vegetables being cultivated in the area since before the arrival of the Portuguese. Examples include baião de dois, made with rice and beans, dried meat, butter, queijo coalho and other ingredients. Jaggery is also heavily identified with the Northeast, as it is carne-de-sol, paçoca (sweetened, ground peanuts, often compressed in small blocks) and bolo de rolo.
Southern Brazil’s cuisine
In Southern Brazil, due to the long tradition in livestock production and the heavy German immigration, the red meat is the basis of the local cuisine. Besides many of the pasta, sausage and dessert dishes common to continental Europe, churrasco is the term for a barbecue (similar to the Argentine, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Chilean asado) which originated in southern Brazil. It contains a variety of meats which may be cooked on a purpose-built “churrasqueira”, a barbecue grill, often with supports for spits or skewers. Portable “churrasqueiras” are similar to those used to prepare the Argentine, Chilean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan asado, with a grill support, but many Brazilian “churrasqueiras” do not have grills. only the skewers above the embers. The meat may alternatively be cooked on large metal or wood skewers resting on a support or stuck into the ground and roasted with the embers of charcoal (wood may also be used, especially in the State of Rio Grande do Sul). The chimarrão is the regional beverage, often associated with the gaúcho image.