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Brazilian Cuisine

Each people has a type of cuisine – a particular way of preparing their food. Brazil has an original and expressive cuisine.

Brazilian Cuisine

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 16/06/2023

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Master in Psychology

Each people has a type of cuisine – a particular way of preparing their food. From the point of view of folk culture, it can be seen that through different forms, mixtures, temperatures, odours and colours, people transform food into an attraction. Eating is knowing, says an old saying. In this way, all the cuisines of the world represent forms of knowledge. They are cultural signals transmitted through the palate, vision, smell. They are the tastes, sensations, textures, or touches that sharpen the desires.

Brazil has an original and expressive cuisine. Over 500 years, Brazilians have assimilated and transformed European (mainly Portuguese) cuisine, from the spices that the coloniser brought from the East (China and India) and adding ingredients from African and Indian (Amazon and Mato-Grosso Pantanal) cuisines. The latter, a permanent festival of fish stews, game and seasonal fruits, was already in existence when the country was discovered. All this without ever harming or endangering the stability of the environment. It was therefore the exchanges of food, the union of different paths and life experiences, ethnicities and cultures, the miscegenation of tastes, forms and aromas, which generated a new and rich cuisine: Brazilian.

This cuisine brought together cassava flour, foods cooked or baked in banana leaves, foods made with corn, and paçoca (grounded fish or meat mixed with flour) from the Indians. Also inherited from the natives was moderation in the use of salt and condiments, the kitchen with an oven and stove, the use of ceramic utensils, the virtues of consuming fresh food, and foods seasoned by the hands of the native Indians. Without this, the national cuisine would today be very poor.

Besides refinement, the Portuguese colonisers introduced some important ingredients in Brazilian cuisine: the coconut (brought from India), salt and cinnamon powder mixed with sugar. Sarapatel [a traditional Pernambuco dish made with stewed pork entrails], sarrabulho [stew made with pork and goat entrails and blood], panelada [stew made with beef dressed tripe], buchada [a traditional Pernambuco dish made with stewed goat entrails], and cozido [meat, vegetables and sausage stew] are not part of African cuisine, but in fact Portuguese. The first two also came from India through the settlers. Portuguese confectionery brought iaia pudding [popular Brazilian baked dessert, made chiefly from sugar, egg yolks, and ground coconut], arrufos de sinhá [type of scones made with sugar, coconut and egg yolks], wedding cakes and velvet pudding. There were also many Moorish and African garnishes, such as alfenim [a hardened sugar paste] and couscous, and fruits such as mango, jackfruit, breadfruit and star fruit, which were brought from the East. From the already famous Portuguese stew came the idea of including black or pinto beans, meats and many greens in order to make a unique dish: feijoada.

Feijoada is a dish that can be prepared in the fashion of Rio, Bahia and Northern Brazil. The typical Brazilian feijoada, however, contains many delicacies: black beans, smoked bacon, paio [a type of smoked pork sausage], Portuguese and/or Calabrian sausage, other salted and/or smoked pork (ears, tail, feet, ribs) and dried meat [charque], fresh and dry seasonings. Feijoada is accompanied by white rice, manioc flour, orange slices, crackling, cabbage leaves (finely chopped) fried in garlic and oil, and a good craft cachaça.

The African presence at the Brazilian table is greatly represented by dendê [West African palm] and pepper (not the native ones used by the Indians, but the chilli brought over by black Africans). The palm tree from which the oil is extracted came from Africa to Brazil in the first decades of the 16th century. All the dishes brought from the African continent were then reworked and recreated by the Brazilians, who began to use palm oil and local elements.

Although African, the yam was known in Portugal. Caruru, as it is known, is an African dish that retained its Indian name, but acquired another ingredient: chicken, fish, beef, or crustacean. Upon arriving in the country, black slaves were already cooks. Learning the Portuguese dishes and supplementing them with the diversity of spices that they already knew how to handle, the Africans competed with the natives for the secret of good cooking.

Today, each Brazilian region has its traditional dishes. In the North, due to the presence of forests, the indigenous influence and plentiful river basins (the Amazon River and its tributaries in particular), what predominates consumption is freshwater fish (acari, auanã, cascudo, surubim, pirapitinga, piranambu , tucunare, tambaqui, pirarucu, mullet, camurupim, itui, jandiá, xaréu, curimatá, cangati, piranha and others), manioc and fruit (açaí, bacaca, buriti, taperebá, cherry, pupunha, murici, uamari, cupuaçu, bacuri, camapu, uxi, angá, piquiá, camutim, cutitiribá, grumixama, cubiu, guarana).

The northern tropical and ecological cuisine is accompanied by a great variety of local peppers: cajurana, black basil pepper, murupi, camapu, murici, olho-de-peixe, ova de aruana, chili pepper and olho-de-pomba. In this region, many other delicacies are consumed: maniçoba [traditional stew made with manioc leves], caldeirada de jaraqui [a type of fish stew], duck in tucupi [liquid obtained from processing the manioc for starch], grilled tambaqui [a local fish], tacacá [a soup made with tucupi broth], mujanguê (the famous turtle egg farofa), several types of turtles (juruá-açu, Capitari, tracajá, matamatá, cabeçudo, pitiú), and cupuaçu [a tropical rainforest fruit related to cacao] and bacuri [an Amazonian native fruit] creams.

In the Northeast, there are the dishes based on beans, yam, cassava (called macaxeira in Northeast Brazil, aipim in the south of the country), coconut milk, palm oil, fish, crustaceans and native fruits. In the region, one can highlight innumerable delicacies: buchada, sarapatel, rice pudding, tapioca, sugarcane juice, as well as sweets and/or ice cream of regional fruit: papaya, guava, custard apple, tangerine, mangaba, coconut, mango, imbu, jackfruit, pineapple, strawberry guava.

Northeastern cuisine also includes the following dishes: dobradinha (white beans cooked with tripe), cabidela chicken, cow leg, quibebe (mashed pupkin), sundried meat (served with farofa and green beans), fish and crustaceans with coconut milk, beans and coconut rice, roasted and cooked peanuts, canjica [corn cream with sugar and coconut milk], munguzá [corn stew with sugar, milk and coconut milk], couscous, cooked and roasted corn, acarajé, abará, caruru, vatapá, cassava cakes, pé-de-moleque [a traditional northeast cake made with manioc gum, cashew nuts and coconut milk], Souza Leão cake, umbuzada (made with imbu, milk and sugar) and others.

In the South and Southeast, where there are large herds of cattle and sheep, the population consumes barbecued meat and sausages roasted in embers, accompanied by white rice, mayonnaise salad, roasted manioc flour, cooked pasta, green salads and bread. Other traditional dishes are: guisado no pau [mince kebabs], boi atascado [ox ribs stew with cassava], lamb shank, spare ribs, barbecued sheep, thick tripe and others. The gauchos [from Rio Grande do Sul] in particular consume a lot of chimarrão – a hot tea made with the crushed leaves of bitter mate.

Some traditional dishes of the other states are: feijoada carioca (with black beans) in Rio de Janeiro; salty couscous, known as cuscuz paulista in São Paulo; a wide variety of products derived from milk (such as the famous Minas cheese, curd cheese, yoghurt, butters and milk candy), as well as cheese breads, tapioca flour cookies and guava jam in Minas Gerais. There, the tutu à mineira [thick porridge made with black beans and manioc flour] and tropeiro bean (a tribute to the pioneers of the semi-arid region, including beans, bacon and dried meat, accompanied by manioc flour) are appreciated. And, in Espírito Santo, fish dishes prepared with urucum, as well as the moqueca capixaba [the local fish stew], are popular.

Due to the cosmopolitan characteristics of the South and Southeast, it is possible to find a wide variety of cuisines in these regions: Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, German, Hungarian, French, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian. Pizza and pasta, for example, are inheritances of Italians who have already been incorporated into the diet of many Brazilians. The Italians even invented the sausage and the skewer.

In the Central-west, meat dishes predominate due to the large herds. Common is the consumption of the freshwater fish, birds and game of the Pantanal, fruits of the cerrado (such as pequi) and yerba mate.
Nowadays there are many dishes that use the coconut milk, palm oil, manioc flour, salt, peppers, fruits, fish stews, roasts, stews, sweets and the juices in Brazilian cuisine. In other words, dozens of ingredients and ways of combining them that shaped the so-called traditional cuisine of the Country.

(serves six)

500 g black beans,
300 g beef jerky,
80 g bacon,
200 g beef,
120 g pork tails,
120 g pig ears,
200 g pork,
240 g pig trotters,
200 g smoked pork rib,
240 g sausage or paio,
250 g onion (diced),
4 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 spring onions (diced),
2 bay leaves,
4 tablespoons olive oil,
Salt and pepper (ground) to taste.

Preparation: Rinse all salted meats well and boil them to remove the salt. Cook the pig trotters in a pan with only water and bay leaves for about 30 minutes. Add the beans (previously rinsed) and the remaining meats. Leave on the heat until all soften, adding water as needed. In a frying pan, fry the onion and the spring onion in the olive oil. When they are browning, add garlic and black pepper. Leave a few seconds on the heat to cook the mixture well. Add to the beans and meat, letting it boil for 5 minutes. Taste a little of the broth to check the salt content. If it is lacking, add a little more (constantly tasting). If it has become salty, put some (large) potatoes to cook inside the feijoada: they will retain all excess salt. With the aid of a skimmer, separate the meat from the beans, placing each in different containers. Serve with manioc flour, white rice, braised collard greens, orange slices, pepper sauce and a good craft cachaça.

Cooking time: 2 ½ hours.



Recife, 13 August 2003.

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how to quote this text

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Culinária brasileira. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available at: Accessed: month day year. (Exemple.: Aug. 6, 2009.)