It’s been a while since I did a blog post as I had a hectic trip back to the UK for a friend’s wedding. Whilst there I found myself craving pão de queijo so what better way to start things off again than talking about food 🙂
One of the questions I am most often asked about Brazil by people back in the UK is “what’s the food like?”.
I find this a really difficult one to answer!
Brazilian food on the whole is not very sophisticated. Whilst Brazil certainly has diversity in the plethora of tropical fruits freshly available, immigration has not broadened Brazilian cuisine as it has done in Europe. Back in the UK, my husband and I would cook Thai food one day, Japanese the next, Italian and sometimes Indian food. In Brazil, you eat Brazilian food!
When I describe the day-to-day food that we eat in my in-laws’ household (rice, beans, beef, salad) it sounds dull, but I have come to love this simple style of food, not least because it is fairly healthy. And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the odd more advanced dish to enjoy from time to time, the recipes for which I am hoping to get from my mother in law over time.
Healthy, however, isn’t how I would describe the popular savoury snacks (salgados). These are almost all deep fried: coxinha, pastel, bolinho de bacalhau… Savoury food in general here can be heavily salted, and sweet food is SWEET!!
There are a number of foods that every visitor to Brazil should try. Below are my top picks.
Pão de queijo
This yummy snack originated in Minas Gerais, although it can be found further afield, particularly at breakfast time in hotels or pousadas. In short it is a small ball of deliciously cheesey, doughy bread. If you like cheese, it’s a must. Personally I am addicted, but you have to eat them hot!
When I see these distinctive-shaped deep-fried goodies, I get hungry! Usually they’re filled with shredded chicken and a soft cheese called catupiry, surrounded by a mushy layer made of mandioca (see below) and deep-fried. As with everything, some are better than others so don’t be put off if you try a soggy greasy one.
This is a staple food in Brazil, a bit like potato in the UK. The texture and flavour are slightly similar to potato. It is a root vegetable and the flour made from it is used to make virtually every culinary delight in Brazil, such as pão de queijo, coxinhas and cakes. Fried manioc (mandioca frita) is my favourite, it tastes like a very mild chip (or fries for you US folks!).
This is a national dish made of black beans stewed with various cuts of pork. It was originally a dish for the poor, made with the leftover scraps of the pig such as the ears and snout. Thankfully times have progressed, and these days it is made with better cuts of pork. I find it very heavy going and rarely like to eat it (it isn’t often that you fancy really heart-warming food when it’s 30 degrees!) but it is different to any dish I’ve eaten before, and is definitely worth a try.
I don’t know what it is about beef in Brazil, and this cut in particular, but the flavour is like nothing I have tasted from beef elsewhere (except perhaps Argentina, please don’t shoot me!). My advice to anyone visiting Brazil is to get yourself to a BBQ restaurant and try the picanha. You won’t regret it (unless you are a vegetarian. Sorry, terrible attempt at a joke).
This is a mixture of mandioca flour with other things such as sausage or egg. Essentially you are putting flour on your plate, but when you eat it together with your beans or meat it adds an interesting texture (sometimes a bit like sand, other times better). I am not quite sure why this is so popular, but it is, and when in Brazil, eat like a Brazilian you must.
As with all Brazilian sweets, these are very sweet! The first time I tried them I wasn’t sure, but now I’m in love. They look like a chocolate truffle, but they are gooey, like a soft toffee, made with doce de leite. It’s no wonder they are popular at kid’s parties!
In the UK we call this papaya. It is one of my favourite fruits and I eat it every day. Kept in the fridge, it is refreshing, high in vitamin C and so easy to eat. However, you’d be mad not to try all of the Brazilian fruits you come across.
It is difficult to pick just a few things but I have to stop myself there. Let me know if I have missed something obvious!
I do miss being able to eat good Thai food, you just can’t find a good Thai restaurant in Belo Horizonte (I did find one, but it’s not good). Although I confess I haven’t yet tried to find the raw ingredients in a supermarket. I will update you on that another time!