Though Brazil has some of the best fine-dining restaurants in Latin America, everyday Brazilian cuisine, particularly in the southeast, can be stolid. In Rio, a heady mix of international immigrants has resulted in some unusual fusion cooking and exquisite variations on French, Japanese, Portuguese, Arabic and Italian traditional techniques and dishes, and the regional cooking can be a delight. The Brazilian staple meal generally consists of a cut of fried or barbecued meat, chicken or fish accompanied by rice, black or South American broad beans and an unseasoned salad of lettuce, grated carrot, tomato and beetroot. Condiments consist of mild chilli sauce, olive oil, salt and pepper and vinegar.
The national dish is a heavy campfire stew called feijoada, made by throwing jerked beef, smoked sausage, tongue and salt pork into a pot with lots of fat and beans and stewing it for hours. The resulting stew is washed down with cachaça (sugarcane rum). Most restaurants serve the feijoada completa for Saturday lunch.
Brazil’s other national dish is mixed grilled meat, or churrasco, served in vast portions off the spit, and accompanied by a buffet of salads, beans and mashed vegetables. Churrascos are served in churrascarias or rodízios. The meat is generally excellent, especially in the best churascarias, and the portions are unlimited, offering good value.
In remembrance of Portugal, but bizarrely for a tropical country replete with fish, Brazil is also the world’s largest consumer of cod, pulled from the cold north Atlantic, salted and served in watery slabs as bacalhao (an appetizer/bar snack) or petisco.
The national liquor is cachaça (also known as pinga), which is made from sugar-cane. Mixed with fruit juice, sugar and crushed ice, cachaça becomes the principal element in a batida, a refreshing but deceptively powerful drink. Served with pulped lime or other fruit, mountains of sugar and smashed ice it becomes the world’s favourite party cocktail, caipirinha.
Wine is becoming increasingly popular; and Brazil is the third most important wine producer in South America. The wine industry is mainly in the south of the country, with more than 90 percent of wine produced in Rio Grande do Sul. There are some interesting sparkling wines in the Italian spumante style, and Brazil produces still wines using many international and imported varieties.
Brazilian beer is generally lager, served ice-cold. Draught beer is called chope or chopp (after the German Schoppen, and pronounced ‘shoppi’). There are various national brands of bottled beers, which include Brahma, Itaipava and Bohemia. There are black beers too, notably Xingu.
Brazil’s myriad fruits are used to make fruit juices or sucos, which come in a delicious variety. Caldo de cana is sugar-cane juice, sometimes mixed with ice. Água de côco or côco verde is coconut water served straight from a chilled, fresh, green coconut. The best known of many local soft drinks is guaraná, which is a very popular carbonated fruit drink, completely unrelated to the Amazon nut. The best variety is guaraná Antarctica. Coffee is ubiquitous and good tea entirely absent.