This weekend, the eyes of the world turn south as the 2016 Summer Games kick off in Rio—a vibrant city that pulses with culture, history and—of course—great food. Get to know your salgados from your bacalhau with help from travel writer Jenna Francisco.

Brazilian culture is a diverse mix that reflects the country’s history of colonization, slavery, and immigration. With roots in indigenous peoples and Portuguese colonization, to influences from African slaves and later waves of immigrants from Italy, Japan, and the Middle East, Brazil’s culture and food reflect all these groups.

Here’s a selection of traditional foods that are at the heart of typical Brazilian cuisine, but because the country is so huge and diverse, a traveller should expect variation from region to region.

1. Feijoada

Feijoada is perhaps Brazil’s best-known meal. It’s a feast that’s traditionally served on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Meant to be eaten with family and possibly over a caipirinha while listening to samba, feijoada is a filling meal with many parts.

Photo courtesy Jenna Francisco.

The main component of feijoada is beans and rice, but these are no ordinary beans. Traditional feijoada is made of black beans cooked in a thick sauce with meat, such as sausage, ribs, and dried pork or beef. Feijoada is typically served with the following four items: collard greens that have been lightly cooked, orange slices, fried bananas, and farofa, or toasted cassava flour that adds a crunchy texture to the meal.

2. Bacalhau

Bacalhau or salted codfish, is a traditional food that came to Brazil through the Portuguese. Today this fish is preserved in salt just as it was in the past. Nowadays it’s common to see large pieces of salted cod in the markets.

Photo courtesy Jenna Francisco.

Brazilians purchase the fish for special occasions and often serve it baked with potatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and olives.

3. Churrasco

Brazilians love to relax on the weekends with a family churrasco, or barbecue. In fact, many Brazilians even have a barbecue area in their yard or apartment building for this specific purpose.

You'll find most Brazilians having a weekend churrasco.

The Brazilian barbecue often consists of barbecued steak and sausage plus the common Brazilian condiment, vinagrete, a mix of finely chopped tomatoes, onions and herbs in olive oil, vinegar, salt, and lime juice. It’s then eaten with mini baguettes. Of course, freshly prepared caipirinhas, or drinks made with alcohol, lime juice, and sugar, are usually served at any barbecue.

4. Salgados

One of the best things about Brazilian food is the salgados (salty snacks) that are available at just about every café and even some gas stations. Brazilians love to grab a couple of these with a cup of sugar cane or cashew fruit juice.

Photo courtesy Jenna Francisco.

Four of the most common salgados are pão de queijo, esfiha, coxinha, and empadinhas, but Brazil has a complex food scene, so a visit to the country’s various regions will leave you with many more options. You can find these tasty snacks at botecos (cafés where coffee, beer, and snacks are served) or at outdoor markets.

Pão de queijo (cheese bread) is warm balls of bread filled with soft cheese. Esfiha is a bread pocket filled with ground beef, herbs, onions, and tomato; sometimes a vegetarian version with collard greens and cheese is available. Esfihas are often served open-faced like a small pizza. Coxinha is a triangle-shaped snack of savory shredded chicken covered in dough and deep-fried. Empadinhas are like small pot pies typically filled with hearts of palm and a savory sauce.

5. Pastel

Pastel is actually another type of salgado, but it really deserves its own separate mention. A pastel is dough topped with your choice of filling, then folded and deep-fried.

Photo courtesy Jenna Francisco.

Common fillings are “pizza” (mozzarella cheese, tomato, and basil), bacalhau (salted cod with herbs and onion), and carne (ground beef and hard-boiled eggs). Pasteis can be purchased at a pastelaria or almost any outdoor market.

Brazilian cuisine has plenty to offer any traveller

Brazilian cuisine is hard to pin down; unlike that of any Latin American country, it contains influences from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, and Asia. From the meals served with family and long conversation to the delicious snacks one can pick up from street vendors, Brazilian cuisine has plenty to offer any traveller.

Are you a fan of Brazilian cuisine? Do you agree with our selection or have we missed your favourite? Share your must-try dishes below!

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures in Brazil encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.