Each state in Brazil has its own typical dishes, ingredients and flavors. Find out in this article the main gastronomic characteristics of each region in Brazil.
It might be extremely inaccurate to mention “Brazilian Cuisine” as something singular.
Brazil is a vast country with continental dimensions. Geographically, it is divided into various regions and inside each one of them there are plenty of differences.
This is also valid for food. Not only do dishes vary a lot between the Northeastern and the Southern regions, but the way the food itself is prepared changes from place to place.
If the cuisine from the Brazilian Southern region could be defined in one word, this word would be churrasco, the Portuguese name for barbecue. Due to its proximity to the Argentine and Uruguayan pampas, where livestock is the dominant economic activity, the consumption of beef is very high. Meat is usually seasoned only with rock salt and then cooked on iron skewers directly over fire.
Rio Grande do Sul
In this state, one of the most popular dishes besides churrasco is arroz de carreteiro. It is basically a dish made of rice, cooked meat and some herbs. Pork salami is also widely consumed.
The cuisine from Paraná also has meat as the main dish, but there are variations. The most famous example is barreado, which is basically a dish made of meat cooked in a crock, served with manioc flour and, sometimes, bananas.
Of all the states in the South, Santa Catarina is the one where seafood is consumed the most. Oysters from the city of Florianópolis are known throughout the country, but shrimps and various fish are part of the regional cuisine as well. This state is also strongly influenced by German gastronomy, because of the immigration in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Some of the results of this influence are german pastries like apple pies.
The mid-western culinary is one of the most diverse in Brazil. There are influences from European and African countries as well as India. Cuisine in this region also uses a lot of meat, since livestock is one of the most important economic activities around.
Local fruits and vegetables are frequently used, like pequi. Some care needs to be taken when eating this fleshy fruit, since it has spines surrounding the pit, which can lodge in mouth causing considerable pain. Besides pequi, fish from the Pantanal ecosystem are also used in stews and roasts.
Pequi is the most popular typical ingredient in Goiás. Corn is also commonly used to make dishes like the local pie known as empadão goiano. Pork is used as well to make sausages and stews.
Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul
Although there are differences between dishes made in each of these states, their cuisine is very similar. Both use a lot of chicken and local vegetables, making dishes like frango com gabiroba, which is a wild fruit from the region. There is also influence from neighboring countries like Paraguay and Bolivia.
Fish from Pantanal, like dourado (gilded catfish) and piranha are also cooked in stews or even deep fried and served with manioc recipes.
Food from the Southeast is influenced by every other region in Brazil and also from other countries, since many people from Europe and Africa settled there. The only possible exception is the state of Minas Gerais, which has one of the most characteristic cuisines in the country.
The cuisine from São Paulo is definitely the most diverse in Brazil, so you will never have only one answer when asking someone what is the state’s typical dish. Some will say pizza and pasta, due to the Italian influence; others will mention rice, beans, meat and fried egg, a very popular dish; some others might even mention oriental food, due to the large amount of Japanese descendents.
A large part of Minas Gerais is sustained by agribusiness, so the state became known as a countryside area, or caipira, in Portuguese. Cuisine there follows several traditions, even in the way food is prepared, as some farms and houses still use wood burning stoves and iron cookware to prepare the meals.
Besides rice and beans, chicken and pork are widely consumed, along with vegetables like couve, which is a type of cabbage, okra and abóbora d’água, which is similar to winter melon. Cheese and milk is part of most meals, including Minas’ most famous snack, the pão de queijo, translated as cheese bread.
Another highlight of caipira cuisine are the desserts. Minas is particularly famous for its simple cakes made out of corn or corn meal and compotes made of fig, cider, orange or pumpkin.
Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo
Both states are located on the coast, so seafood naturally has an influence on their cuisine. Rio de Janeiro is also famous for feijoada, one of the national dishes of Brazil. It is basically a black bean and meat stew, similar to the French cassoulet.
Espírito Santo has one typical dish known nationwide, the moqueca capixaba. This fish and seafood stew is prepared in a crock with tomatoes, onion, coriander and annatto, then served with pirão, which is a puree made with the same ingredients, but using mainly the fish leftovers.
If you’re going to try any dish from the Northeast, be prepared to taste different spices. Lots of spices. This region’s cuisine is marked by the wide influence from African culture, seen in the use of peppers, herbs and two local ingredients: azeite de dendê, or palm oil, and manteiga de garrafa, or “butter-in-a-bottle”.
It is hard to divide the typical dishes per state in the Northeastern region since there are many similarities between them. The most relevant differences can be detected between cuisines from the Northeastern coast and from Sertão, the backwoods of the region.
In the coastal areas the consumption of fish and seafood is popular. Some of the highlights are crab, lobster and shrimp meat, used in dishes like casquinha de siri, a mash made of manioc flour and crab; bobó de camarão, made out of shrimp, manioc, coconut milk and spices; and acarajé, a dumpling deep-fried in azeite de dendê made of cowpea, onion, peppers, various spices and shrimp.
The Northeastern backwoods, or Sertão, is one of the poorest regions in Brazil. This affected the local cuisine historically as people adapted themselves to use the ingredients available when cooking, resulting in dishes with jerked beef and “less noble” parts of the cow or animal like guts and other organs.
Some of the most exotic, typical dishes are sarapatel, made from pigs’ or goats’ viscera and other organs, cooked with various spices and the animal’s blood; and buchada de bode, made from goats’ kidneys, viscera and livers cooked in the goat’s stomach.
The most exotic region in Brazil also has exotic cuisine. The Northern culinary makes an intense use of the local ingredients: fish and fruitsfound in the Amazon forest and its rivers. The Indian influence is also very present with the use of native ingredients that are not even known by some in other parts of the country.
Some of the most popular ingredients used in the Northern cuisine are açaí berry; fruits like cupuaçu and bacuri; castanha-do-pará, or Brazil nut; and fish from the Amazon river like tucunaré, pirarucu, filhote and biju-pirá.
The most typical dishes are tacacá, a soup made with wild manioc, dried shrimps, peppers and a variety of paracress, known as jambu;and also pato no tucupi, which is duck cooked in wild manioc broth.