Brazilian Food: 20 Popular & Traditional Dishes to Try

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Consumed in a country defined by its flair, passion, and heat, Brazilian food is full of striking combinations and magical flavors.

Latin American, European, and African influence on native indigenous cooking has over time created a cuisine full of vibrance, spice, and mouthwatering fusions.

Let the rhythm guide you through our culinary tour of Brazil, as a native writer gives us expert insight into 20 traditional Brazilian foods you simply have to try.

20 Popular & Traditional Brazilian Foods

1 – Baião de Dois (Beans and Rice)

We start our Brazilian culinary tour with baião de dois, a typical dish of the Northeastern cuisine.

This wholesome food consists of green beans, string beans, or black-eyed beans cooked with white or brown rice.

Many spices are added to give the dish some kick, such as onion, garlic, coriander, parsley, chili pepper, cumin, and peppers.

To finish, some Brazilians like to add diced meat or cured cheese on top.

The word baião is a particular musical rhythm in Brazil. Brazilians love eating this classic dish to music by artists like Luiz Gonzaga, who became known as Rei do Baião (King of Baião), in the 1940s in Brazil.

2 – Quibebe (Steamed Pumpkin)

Quibebe is a Brazilian dish widely consumed across the country. It originates from Africa.

Essentially, quibebe is a seasoned pumpkin purée. It’s cooked with garlic, onion, black pepper, and chopped parsley. Coconut milk is added at the end for extra creaminess.

The sweet flavor of the pumpkin works very well as a side dish to a savory main dish. People also sometimes add cauliflower, peanuts, and honey, to enhance the flavor of the purée.

In addition to the beautiful orange color, this dish is very nutritious. It’s a beloved Brazilian food, prepared all over the country.

3 – Arroz com Pequi (Rice with Pequi) 

Pequi is a yellow fruit originating from the Brazilian Cerrado, with strong, fruity, and cheesy notes in its aroma and flavor.

Incredibly, for generations, the fruit was used only for making soap to wash clothes, skin, and hair.

At the beginning of the 18th century, it began to integrate the cuisine of the state of Goias.

Many Brazilians eat it raw. However, the core has a lot of thorns, so people must be very careful when peeling and eating it.

In arroz com pequi, the fruit is cooked either whole, or just as pulp, with rice and spices such as garlic, onion, and chili. It’s finished with parsley and chopped fresh chives.

4 – Sagu (Sago)

Sago is a flavorful dessert originating in the Serra (Mountain Range) of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, but it is very popular throughout the southern region of Brazil.

It is made with cassava starch balls, cooked with red wine, cloves, and cinnamon. It can be served hot or cold, and it’s sometimes served with cream.

Although the most popular recipe uses red wine, it can also be cooked with coconut milk, grape juice, or other fruit juices such as pineapple and orange.

This Brazilian food is always prepared for the June festivities, especially during multicultural celebrations in honor of Saint John.

5 – Cuscuz Paulista (Couscous Paulista, traditional of the state of São Paulo)

Couscous has its roots in the Maghreb region of Africa. There, it was originally made from cereal semolina, mainly wheat.

In Brazil, it was adapted by indigenous people, who replaced wheat with corn to create a wholesome alternative-style couscous dish.

The cuscuz paulista is made with cornmeal, tomato sauce, tomatoes, peas, corn, olives, spices, parsley, and chives. Some variations include boiled eggs and sardines.

The couscous mixture is molded into a cake-like shape, with a hole in the middle. This makes for a beautiful looking dish.

Cuscuz paulista is prepared for a number of festivities and celebrations, like Christmas and New Year.

6 – Moqueca (Seafood Stew)

Moqueca is a rich, flavorful seafood stew, made with a variety of ingredients. It’s popular across the country, and each region has its own take on the dish.

The name comes from moquém, which is an indigenous roasting technique. However, one of the most popular moqueca recipes is from the state of Bahia.

Bahia moqueca is heavily influenced by Angolan cuisine. It consists of various seafood, like snapper, cod, and crab.

This tender seafood is cooked in a stew of ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, coconut milk, chili peppers, peppers, dendê oil, and lots of fresh cilantro.

For a vegetarian version, plantain or cashew pulp can be used instead of seafood.

Once ready, moqueca is served with rice and pirão, which is a meal made from manioc flour.

7 – Tapioca (Cassava Flour Pancake)

Tapioca is much-loved Brazilian street food. It can be found today throughout the country, although it is traditionally more common in the North and Northeast.

This simple but delicious pancake-like snack is made from starch extracted from cassava, most commonly prepared in granulated form.

It is spread on a heated plate or frying pan, thus coagulating and turning into a type of pancake or dry crepe.

Its most traditional fillings are coconut or sour-milk-cheese. Today, you can find them with many different fillings, ranging from banana with cinnamon to salty fillings with meat.

It is consumed as a snack, and also for breakfast. Tapioca has indigenous roots, as does cassava, and was a staple of indigenous Brazilians.

8 – Doce de Abóbora com Coco (Pumpkin Dessert with Coconut)

This simple, delightful dish is one of Brazil’s favorite desserts. It is very popular in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, but Minas Gerais also claims its authorship.

Doce de abóbora com coco is made with pumpkin, sugar, grated coconut, cinnamon, cloves, and, sometimes, lemon zest to give it a little zing.

Pumpkin is a fruit native to the Americas, and it has been widely consumed since pre-Columbian periods.

This dessert is made in countless ways. You can get it as jam, as cubes covered in syrup, or as cubes wrapped in crystal sugar.

It is traditionally made in an iron pot, and very popular during the June festival period, and traditional holidays.

In addition to its sweet and slightly spiced taste, this food also has a variety of health benefits. This is eespecially true when made with demerara sugar.

9 – Pamonha (Sweet Corn Mush)

Corn is the main ingredient of this Brazilian delicacy, which is native to the indigenous people.

Its name comes from the word pa’muñã in the Tupi language, which means sticky. This typical delight of the Midwest region can be found throughout Brazil, at fairs, markets, restaurants, and street vendors.

Its preparation consists of mixing dough made from grated corn with coconut milk, sugar, cinnamon, and fennel.

The mixture is placed inside corn husk, with the ends tied. It’s then cooked in boiling water until it’s soft and melts in the mouth.

In Brazil, the sound of street vendors selling pamonha through loudspeakers has become a big part of city life. This dessert is deep-rooted in Brazilian heritage.

10 – Vinagrete (Vinaigrette)

Brazilian vinagrete is a rich, acidic sauce, influenced by French vinaigrette. It is made with tomatoes, onions, peppers, parsley, and chives.

This sauce can accompany barbecues, snacks, pastries, and several other dishes. It’s a great way to add a little sharpness and kick to many foods.

In some places, it is also known as molho de campanha (campaign dressing), and it is enjoyed throughout the country.

In some regions, vinagrete is given a fruity quality by adding lemon, passion fruit, pineapple, or green apple.

11 – Polenta Frita (Fried Polenta)

Polenta frita is one of Brazil’s most loved street and takeaway foods. You’ll see plenty of people in Brazilian cities enjoying polenta frita while out drinking or at festivals.

Polenta arrived in Brazil in the 19th century via Italy. Due to its inexpensive cost, polenta traditionally was considered peasant food.

But in modern times, as street food became more popular with the younger generation, polenta frita become one of the most popular takeaway snacks.

As with many Brazilian foods, corn is the key ingredient in making hearty, wholesome polenta.

Once the polenta is made, it is cut into thin wedges, fried, and seasoned generously with salt and other garnishes.

It’s a simple but utterly delicious Brazilian dish, and it’s one you’ll easily find when visiting Brazil.

12 – Paçoquinha (Peanut Candy)

Paçoquinha is a wildly popular Brazilian candy. It is made from peanuts, cassava flour, and sugar.

Indigenous Brazilians have carried this traditional food through the ages. Even its name comes from ‘tupi po-çoc,’ which means ‘to crumble or crush’ with your hands.

Originally paçocas were salted and made with peanuts, manioc flour, and dried meat.

Today, paçoquinha has evolved to become a beloved Brazilian dessert. It’s sweet, delicate, and deliciously crumbly.

You can find this candy in any street sale, markets, fairs, and street vendors. There are even annual festivals in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais to celebrate paçoquinha.

13 – Açaí (Brazilian Purple Fruit Cream)

Açaí is a small purple fruit, native to the banks of the Amazon. You can find it all over the world in juices, creams, açaí bowls, and ice cream.

In Brazil, açaí as a cream is a mixture of açaí extract, guaraná syrup, and other ingredients that help give it the consistency and creaminess of ice cream.

This food has high doses of iron, potassium, vitamins, and it is rich in anthocyanins.

Hence, it is very popular globally as a health food. Professional athletes and those on a natural diet enjoy this food in a variety of forms.

14 – Abacaxi Assado (Barbecued Pineapple)

While the origins are pineapple are not clear, it’s believed this juicy fruit found its way into Brazil via Central America and the Caribbean Sea.

Barbecued pineapple is a beloved staple of Brazilian street food. You can find it at street vendors and restaurants throughout the country.

It’s commonly cooked with sugar and powdered cinnamon to enhance the flavor. Barbecued pineapple is a filling food, and can be eaten as either a snack or a dessert.

Pineapple is full of healthy vitamins, and is helps with digestion. Attend any local barbecue with rich, delicious meat, and you’ll almost certainly see pineapple on the grill too!

Abacaxi assado is a simple yet sumptuous slice of Brazilian food, and it’s one you should definitely try in the country.

15 – Vatapá Nordestino (Vatapa Nordestina)

Vatapá is an Afro-Brazilian dish, introduced to the country in the 16th century. Through the centuries, it was adapted to utilize Brazilian ingredients.

Vatapá has a thick, creamy texture, and a bright green color. It’s made by mixing breadcrumbs, cornmeal, ginger, chili peppers, peanuts, cloves, cashews, coconut milk, dendê oil, onions, garlic, tomato, and fresh coriander.

Once thick and ready to eat, many Brazilians top it with shrimp or seafood. It’s served with rice, or as a side dish to acarajé (a fried dumpling of black-eyed peas).

Vatapá Nordestino has African origins, but it is one of Brazil’s most unique dishes.

16 – Bolo de Puba (Cassava Flour Cake)

Puba is a dough made from fermented cassava. Fermenting cassava is a long process, which involves leaving it to soak in water for 5-7 days until it softens and ferments.

This dough forms the basis of several typical recipes from the North and Northeast of Brazil. However, the puba cake is perhaps the most beloved recipe.

This delicious cake is made with puba dough, coconut milk, grated coconut, and sugar. It has a spongy texture, and it is rich and filling.

Some modern variations can include goiabada, another Brazilian sweet that many Brazilians adore, made from guava and sugar.

Puba comes from the Tupi language, which means fermented, or pub, which means soft.

17 – Pinhão na Chapa ou Cozinho (Roastted Pine Nuts)

Pine cones come from the fruit of Araucária Angustifolia trees, and it is a popular food in the south of Brazil.

The tradition of eating pinhão comes from indigenous natives, who would eat the edible parts of the pine cone, then feed their animals with the rest.

Pine cones are very tasty, and they are used frequently in Brazilian cooking. The most common way to prepare them is to cook them in a pressure cooker or roast them.

Pinhão are a very nutritious food, rich in proteins, B vitamins, calcium, and phosphorus.

18 – Pastel de Palmito de Jaca (Jackfruit Pastry)

Jackfruit originates from India. Since its introduction to Brazilian cuisine, it has become a very popular fruit across the country.

Jackfruit is used in many juices, desserts, and jams. Its texture is very similar to chicken meat, and it is a popular food among Brazilian vegetarians and vegans.

One of the must-try Brazilian snacks is jackfruit palm heart pastry. It originated in Chapada Diamantina, but it very quickly spread to all areas of Brazil.

These fried pastry bites, filled with jackfruit, can be bought from plenty of street vendors.

19 – Pudim de Tapioca Granulada (Granulated Tapioca Pudding)

Pudim de tapioca granulada is a delicious Brazilian dessert. It is a pudding prepared with granulated tapioca, a cassava flour.

Cassava has popped up a few times on our list already. This food of indigenous origin is so versatile, and it is loved by many Brazilians.

Pudim de tapioca granulada is easy to make. You simply mix granulated tapioca with coconut milk, grated coconut, and sugar, then refrigerate the mixture for a couple of hours.

This delicious pudding does not need to be baked or cooked, and it is served cold. Some people also like to add condensed milk to the mixture.

20 – Banana-da-Terra Frita (Fried Plantain)

Plantain is a widely popular food throughout Latin America. In Brazil it’s eaten in many different forms and as part of a number of dishes.

A popular street food, fried plantain is simple to prepare. Many vendors simply slice it and fry it in oil until golden brown in color.

Such is the intensity of the flavor, often seasoning is not needed. You should definitely try fried plantain from street vendors in Brazil. It’s utterly delicious.

Brazilian Food Summary

Brazil is a vast, beautiful country, populated by a vibrant mix of Latin American, European, African, and Asian populations.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Brazilian food is so diverse, vibrant, and packed with flavor.

Remarkably, the indigenous people’s innovation and cooking methods still to this day form the foundation on which Brazilian cuisine is built on.

Atop of this, a range of recipes from all over the globe have been adapted to include luscious Brazilian ingredients.

This has led to a national cuisine that bursts with flavor and burns with Latin American flair. It’s a culinary adventure you have to experience.

So, one last time, before we go, here’s the full list of all the foods covered in this article.

Be sure to have this list of Brazilian food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.

  1. Baião de Dois (Beans and Rice)
  2. Quibebe (Steamed Pumpkin)
  3. Arroz com Pequi (Rice with Pequi) 
  4. Sagu (Sago)
  5. Cuscuz Paulista (Couscous Paulista)
  6. Moqueca (Seafood Stew)
  7. Tapioca (Cassava Flour Pancake)
  8. Doce de Abóbora com Coco (Pumpkin Dessert with Coconut)
  9. Pamonha (Sweet Corn Mush)
  10. Vinagrete (Vinaigrette)
  11. Polenta Frita (Fried Polenta)
  12. Paçoquinha (Peanut Candy)
  13. Açaí (Brazilian Purple Fruit Cream)
  14. Abacaxi Assado (Barbecued Pineapple)
  15. Vatapá Nordestino (Vatapa Nordestina)
  16. Bolo de Puba (Cassava Flour Cake)
  17. Pinhão na Chapa ou Cozinho (Roastted Pine Nuts)
  18. Pastel de Palmito de Jaca (Jackfruit Pastry)
  19. Pudim de Tapioca Granulada (Granulated Tapioca Pudding)
  20. Banana-da-Terra Frita (Fried Plantain)

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Contributor: Kalislei Rosinski is a creative writer and journalist from Barao de Cotegipe. She writes passionately about current affairs and culture in Brazil, and is involved with a number of environmental sustainability projects.

Images licensed via Shutterstock

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