What to Eat From Northern Brazil
Açaí: A superfruit that can be consumed in a variety of ways, but is most often blended with banana and topped with granola to create a sorbet-like breakfast or snack.
Bombom de Cupuaçu: A milk chocolate–covered bonbon made from condensed milk and the creamy superfruit cupuaçu, which tastes like banana and pear.
Guarana: A berry used to produce the national soda of Brazil, also called Guaraná.
Pimenta: Pungent peppers bottled in oil; used to add a kick to native dishes.
Pudim de Tambaqui: A soufflé-like fish dish made with an egg mixture and topped with a light shrimp sauce.
Surubim: An Amazon-specific fish that can grow to 80 pounds, often grilled and served with rice and pirão.
Tacacá: A soup made from tucupi broth (the liquid that remains after processing manioc for starch); salted dry jumbo prawns; jambu (similar to watercress); and some tapioca gum.
Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Bahia
Because the northeastern region of Brazil became home to many of the sugarcane plantation slaves who were brought to the country in the 1500s, it's not surprising that the cuisine of this region is distinguished by its African influences. The slaves carried with them their African traditions, which eventually were woven into Brazilian culture as well. Many dishes from the northeast contain coconut milk, dendê (or palm) oil, or okra, all of which have their roots in African food cultures. Of the African-derived dishes from this region, the most widely known is probably the seafood dish moqueca, which means "stew," and is the Brazilian version of cioppino or bouillabaisse. Other commonly found ingredients in Bahian cuisine, according to Helena Gama Lobo's comprehensive book on Bahian cooking, Receitas da Bahia (1959), are beans, manioc, corn, potatoes, legumes, fish, and meat.
Northeastern Brazilian cuisine was at first disparaged and eventually embraced by Portuguese colonizers, and it continues to shine as one of Brazil's most important regional cuisines: Dishes from this part of the country are commonly found on menus at Brazilian restaurants around the world. The northeastern city of Bahia, which has become a top destination for visitors to Brazil, is a good place to taste the region's signature dishes.
What to Eat From Northeast Brazil
Acarajé: Similar to a falafel but made with black-eyed peas. The traditional (and best) way to eat these is fried and then stuffed with a dried shrimp sauce.
Bobó de Camarão: Thick and luscious shrimp stew, made with pieces of manioc, coconut milk, and dendê oil.
Bolo de Aipim: Generally, manioc is used in savory dishes, but this sweet cake combines the starchy flour with coconut to create a moist, bread-pudding-like texture.
Caruru: Another stewlike dish, which contains okra, dried shrimp, and toasted cashews and peanuts.
Moqueca de Camarão: This classic Bahian dish has several variations, but a traditional version contains shrimp, coconut milk, and dendê oil. When served over white rice, it's perfection.
Vatapá: Shrimp cooked in a thick purée of bread, coconut milk, dried shrimp, peanuts, and dendê oil.
Xim Xim de Galinha: A braised-chicken dish made with coconut milk, cashews, peanuts, dried shrimp, and dendê oil.
Federal District of Brasília plus Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul
Like Brazil's northern region, central-west Brazil was isolated from outside influences for much of the country's history. It wasn't until the late 1950s, when what was to become the new capital of Brazil (Brasília) was built, that the population increased and the region's cuisine became more recognized.
The area's long period of isolation certainly didn't result from any lack of natural food resources: This area is home to the famous Pantanal, one of the finest game and fishing regions in the world. The river fish from the Pantanal, the beef jerky–like carne seca (dried meat), and the starchy banana da terra plantains are the best-known ingredients representing this region. Fish is also a part of everyday eating here: It is said that no lunch gets consumed without it. Pacu, for example, is a commonly used local fish that is often roasted or baked, but may also be turned into a soup or stuffed with farofa and banana.
What to Eat From Central-West Brazil
Carne Seca com Banana Verde: Sun-dried meat sautéed with onions, garlic, and tomatoes and served with green bananas.
Doce de Abóbora: Pumpkin compote, made with cloves and coconut milk.
Empadão Goiano: A savory pie made with chicken, sausage, cheese, herbs, olives, and eggs.
Farofa com Banana: Sautéed bananas and onions mixed with toasted manioc flour.
Pacu Assado: A river fish that is usually roasted and stuffed with a mixture of manioc flour, eggs, cilantro, bread crumbs, and hot peppers.
Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Espírito Santo, and Minas Gerais
It has been argued that Rio doesn't really have a traditional Carioca cuisine (a Carioca is a person who hails from Rio de Janeiro), aside from four main dishes: the feijoada completa, cozido à carioca, camarão com chuchu, and sopa à leão veloso. Cooks from Rio certainly have their own styletheir rice always needs to be loose and the beans always black, and they prefer to use less fat and a discreet amount of hot sauce in their cookingbut the cuisine of the region piggybacks on the beloved traditions of Portuguese cooking. Portuguese restaurants are many and popular in Rio, serving in-demand traditional dishes like bolinhos de bacalhau (fried cod cakes), caldo verde (a soup made from potatoes and collards), and bacalhau à gomes de sá (salt cod and potatoes). Rio isn't known for trendy or exotic tastes, but it's a great place for Brazilian comfort foods: Find a seat at a beachside restaurant and indulge in the long list of salgadinhos (savory finger foods like fried manioc and fried cod cakes) along with a nice cold chopp, or draft beer.