Brazil´s cuisine reflects the richness of cultural and environmental diversity throughout this vast country.
Each region has its own unique flavour, and not just in terms of food but also in the traditions and origins of the people, the weather and the flora and fauna all coming together to create the character and colour of regional dishes.
The food in the Northeast, still heavily influenced by the African origins of the population, consists of mouthwatering meals achieved by using lots of hot peppers and spices, the distinctive dendê palm oil and coconut milk.
Moqueca is the classic dish from the state of Bahia – mixing all of these delicious flavours into a fish stew. Or try the acarajé served on street corners in Salvador, deep fried in dendê oil this tasty ball made of beans and shrimp is topped with hot sauce or other spicy local relishes.
Amazonian food is all about the fish and fresh vegetables, with manioc being the versatile staple ingredient due to the fact that it is incredibly easy to grow in the poor river washed soils. The local fish are huge and meaty, but beware you are not being served the pirarucu which is sadly so delicious it has been overfished and is now endangered.
Instead try the glorious tambaqui or tucunaré fish, served in tucupi, a sauce made from fermetened manioc juices! A surprisingly tasty street snack is the tacaca, traditionally served in a coconut bowl, this tangy prawn soup creates a tingling numbing effect in your mouth from the high acidity formed by the tucupi base combined with local green vegetable jambu.
Moving south to the state of Minas Gerais, another culinary capital, whose gastronomy heavily influences the food also served in the states of São Paulo and Rio. The food is wholesome and healthy country fare, more suitable to eat after a day on the farm than day in the city!
The classic dish, often eaten by Brazilian families at the weekend, is feijoada. A delicious slow cooked bean and pork stew served on rice, with kale and orange slices, and sprinkled with manioc flour for extra substance. Wash it down with a good quality cachaça (the national sugar cane spirit) and you will be sure to sleep all afternoon! In a truly traditional feijoada all the parts of the pig are thrown in including the ears, tail and trotter for extra flavour, but now this is less popular and in most restaurants the finer cuts of pork are selected.
Whilst further south the cuisine is European influenced by many German, Austrian and Italian immigrants. European sausages, cheeses and even fondues can be found. But this is also the cattle ranching region and it is not uncommon to throw a side of beef on the BBQ and invite over friends and neighbours for the churrasco. The meat is usually rubbed with coarse grained salt and served medium rare, with rice and a home-made vinaigrette of tomatoes, onions and green peppers to help digestion. Another favourite for the bbq are chicken hearts skewered and lightly grilled.
Although is very simple to draw borders and define regions in Brazil by the food you find there, just like any guide book divides and categorizes areas… the reality is much more interesting. One of the most fascinating things about Brazil (and its cuisine!) is discovering for yourself all of the gastronomic/cultural/ and natural blends and crossovers that occur in this massive, fascinating, flavorsome melting pot!