It’s generally agreed that Brazil, for all its awesomeness, is not one of the world’s gastronomic heavyweights. Many find the day to day cuisine monotonously devoid of flavour. Brazil is a huge and diverse country, and this diversity is reflected in the cuisine to an extent, but it’s less a rainbow than different shades of beige.
Brazilian cuisine has been heavily influenced by its colonial history but overtime most dishes have been adapted to local tastes, sometimes to the point of unrecognisability.
The national dish is called feijoada, a type of rich stew consisting of black beans, dried beef and pig ears and knuckles, served with sliced orange and rice. Prato feito is the typical Brazilian lunch, a veritable smorgasbord of rice, brown beans, French fries and a lump of beef. In terms of snacks expect plenty of pie, and also look out for misto quente (a ham and cheese toasty).
All that said, if you know where to look and what to look for you can discover some gems and escape the tedium of pizza, chips and pies…
You’ll find the best food on the coast, especially in the way of seafood, which is abundant and delicious. The best fare is in Bahia, in the northeast, and Fortaleza, also in the northeast and where thousands of locals descend each weekend to enjoy it. Scour the menus for moqueca, a mouth-watering seafood stew with a tomato base which is cooked in a special clay pot.
In the south it’s all about the ‘churrasco’, a Brazilian-style BBQ characterised by huge hunks of meat on steel spits which waiters duly carve onto your plate. The price is usually fixed, meaning you can eat as much as you want. Typically you’ll be given a wooden block which is painted red on one side, green on the other. When you’re still hungry make sure the green side is displayed; when you’ve had your fill turn it over to reveal the red.
Every restaurant in the country will add a 10% service charge to your bill. Keep in mind two things: firstly, you are expected to pay this and if you don’t it will cause enormous offence; secondly, you are not expected to pay any more than this. People who leave excessively generous tips will be treated with equal disdain to those who don’t tip at all.
Know your rights...
…and be sure to ignore them. In Brazil patrons of a restaurant are allowed by law to enter the chef’s domain to observe how the food is being handled. However, no one does this. Ever. And if you do, it will naturally be considered a fairly rude act. If you don’t like the look of somewhere the best thing is to just move on.