Word of advice: as portions tend to run large here, if you’ve got any leftovers, have them boxed and bagged to take with you. Poverty is rife throughout Rio and the needy will be grateful for any food donations. We had at least another whole meal’s worth of food to take home after lunch at Casa da Feijoada, and just moments after emerging from the restaurant were approached by someone asking for our food.
Brazil’s national dish, feijoada (pronounced fay-JWAH-da, feijao is Portuguese for “beans”) consists of a black bean and pork stew served with rice and other accompaniments like farofa (toasted manioc/cassava flour), orange slices, collard greens and plantains. Traditionally, all parts of the pork are used including the ears, tails and feet, but nowadays restaurants will often let you choose from a range of primer cuts and sausages too. Feijoada completa is typically served on only certain days of the week (Saturdays in Rio), but luckily Casa da Feijoada serves it daily.
The origin of the dish is still debated. Some point to the 16th century introduction of slaves, where this hearty energy-packed meal was devised in the slave quarters from the staple black bean stew and farofa mixed with meat scraps leftover from the master’s house. Others, like the historian Luis da Camara Cascudo, believe it was just a Brazilian adaptation of such popular European meat and bean stews like the Portuguese cozido and the French cassoulet.
Portuguese for “barbeque”, this gut-busting meal of a variety of wood-fired grilled meats originated with the cattlemen of the Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. Served in “churrascarias” (choo-ra-sca-REE-yah) or “rodizios”, waiters roam the dining room serving the freshly grilled meats straight off the giant cooking skewers (more like swords). They’ll keep on coming until you say “stop”, with everything from beef, lamb, pork, chicken and even fish. Ones to try: picanha (Brazilian speciality cut of beef which is the “rump cap/cover”, part of the greater US “top sirloin” cut), lombo (loin, of pork or lamb) and chicken hearts. There’s also typically an enormous buffet with anything from salads to even sushi.
Traditional Brazilian seafood stew, the two most distinct regional styles are Moqueca Capixaba from Espírito Santo in the southeast, and Moqueca Baiana from Bahia in the northeast.
The Capixaban stew is made with olive or soy oil, coloured with urucum (Tupi word for the achiote shrub, the source of the popular natural red pigment annatto) and always cooked in the traditional black clay and mangrove tree sap pot specific to the region.
The Bahian version is made with dendê (African palm oil) and coconut milk, and often includes shrimp (camarão) and crab (caranguejo).
Empadao (mini: Empadinha)
These (little) pies are made with a basic savoury crust and most often filled with shrimp, chicken (frango) or hearts of palm (palmito) and baked.
Pastel (plural: Pastéis)
A favourite Brazilian salgado (salty snack), this is similar to the empadao/empadinha but instead the dough is folded over into a rectangle or half-moon and then deep fried. Can also come with sweet fillings.
Meaning “little thigh”, which roughly describes the shape of this Brazilian speciality snack that was originally made with a chicken drumstick. Nowadays, the pyramidal-shaped croquette is made with wheat or manioc flour dough filled with minced chicken (or sometimes Catupiry cheese) and deep fried.
A wide array of exotic fruits are often served at breakfast but are also consumed throughout the day in many of the juice stands throughout the city. Popular varieties include goiaba (guava), maracuya (passionfruit), melonzilla (watermelon), atemoya (cross between the sugar apple and cherimoya, all custard apple family), mamão (papaya), abacaxi (pineapple), manga (mango) and uva (grape).
AND TO DRINK...
Brazil’s national spirit, also called pinga, is an aguardente (Portuguese for “burning water”) made from the fermented and distilled juice of unrefined sugar cane that can have anything from 29-60% alcohol content. While not well-known or widely drunk outside Brazil, there are thousands of varieties in Brazil, both artisanal and commercial, and, like rum, can come white (unaged) or gold (aged in a wide range of wood barrels). Sample it pure or in a variety of batidas (tropical fruit cocktails) at the veritable temple to this spirit: Academia da Cachaca.
No trip to Rio is complete without downing a few gallons of this potent, sweet and tangy drink. It all starts with cachaca and is then mixed with lime and lots of sugar. And if you don’t like cachaca, caipiroskas have vodka instead.
AmBev owns many of Brazil’s most popular brews: Brahma, Skol, Bohemia and our personal favourite, the light and refreshing pilsen Antarctica, instantly recognizable by the two penguins on the red and blue label.
This small, round dark black-purple “berry” grows in clusters on the açaí palm and has recently gained popularity for its alleged anti-oxidant properties and, despite its relatively high fat content for a fruit, promotion of weight loss. The juice and pulp is used in various juice blends and smoothies and is also popular eaten with granola for breakfast.
Sucos (fresh fruit juices)
There are juice stands all over the city and especially along the beach promenades of Ipanema and Copacabana. Popular varieties include caju (cashew), goiaba (guava), uva (grape), maracuya (passionfruit), melonzilla (watermelon), mamão (papaya), abacaxi (pineapple), laranja (orange) and pitanga (Surinam cherry, similar to acerola).
High in potassium and essentially fat free, this is a great, cheap pick-me-up while roaming the city and can be found everywhere - just look for the clusters of green coconuts.
Containing up to twice the amount of caffeine as coffee, the extract of the berries are found in numerous energy drinks popular throughout Brazil.
What to Eat: Rio
Feijoada completa, Casa da Feijoada
Churrasco at the city's finest: Porcao Rios
Avoid filling up on the enormous salad bar, a mainstay at all churrascarias, and save room for the huge selection of meats you are paying for :)
Dourado moqueca at Sobrenatural, Santa Theresa. This fish stew is made with coconut milk, dende (palm oil, coriander, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Underneath the stew is pirao, a polenta-like porridge made from farinha da mandioca (yucca/cassava flour)
Pasteis camarao (shrimp). Sobrenatural, Sta Theresa.
Our favorite Brazilian pilsen
Caiprinhas at the one and only Academia da Cachaca
One of many fruit juice stands along Copacabana beach, serving everything from coconut water to caipirinhas