Bem vindo au Brazil! Here we eat dinner very late. There is this unspoken rule that dinner is served when the sun has completely set and not a minute before. With such a long gap between lunch and dinner it’s no surprise that a Brazilian snack goes beyond the usual chips and dip. In addition, with Brazil’s seemingly endless supply of delicious meats and tropical fruits, grabbing a bag of Ruffles just seems wrong.
While there are plenty of strange chip flavors and chocolate candies staring at you in the checkout line, the concept of a snack in Brazil is comparable to a small meal. What makes it a snack is that it’s quick and easy to grab. So what are we munching on in Brazil? Let’s work our way up the snack ladder.
When you do catch a few Brazilians snacking out on a bag of something salty, it’s usually Biscoito de Polvilho. They are considered cookies, but in my opinion they are more like Cheetos. They’re made from a type of flour called sour cassava starch that’s mixed with eggs and a little Parmesan cheese. You can find them wherever chips are sold, and like a bag of chips they come in a variety of flavors. Sadly, this is the closest thing to a cookie you’ll find in Brazil. Trust me! Around this way a good cookie is hard to find. However, not finding a good cookie will bring out the baker in you. Last week I baked a batch of sugar and snickerdoodles from scratch because I can’t live without a good cookie.
Enjoying a big bowl of fruit or a fruit juice blend isn’t a hipster health-conscience fad; it’s a way of life in Brazil. First thing in the morning you prepare fresh fruit juices such as passion fruit, papaya, orange, dragon fruit or perhaps mix them all up for a fun smoothie. Weekend farmers’ markets are full of everything from lychee to kiwi, and wherever you are in Brazil you are sure to run into a fruit stand selling guava or pineapples before a food truck. You can even pick a pomegranate or acerola berry from a friend’s garden. In the city, too! I did that once and a woman came out with a plastic bag and allowed me to pick as much as I wanted. Fruit heaven!
A year before moving to Brazil, I spent a month traveling to a few places in this scenic country. Hiking was a large part of my adventure, and in Bahia I ended each adventure with açaí na tigela, which translates as “açaí in a bowl.” This simple treat is served cold with granola and fresh bananas. Açaí is one of those superfruits, so it’s full of energy, but still sweet enough to satisfy your cravings. You can find this at Brazilian juice spots everywhere.
My absolute favorite snack is coxinha! If you want the finest coxinha, you have to visit Sorocaba, which is about 45 minutes outside of the city of São Paulo. Sorocaba is not an exciting place to visit (unless you’re obsessed with malls), but they are known for serving the best coxinha. This hearty snack is made with shredded chicken, perfectly seasoned with potatoes covered by dough, then battered and fried. The best coxinha features a special creamy cheese called catupiry. This simple cheese creates a taste so good it feels like it’s melting in your mouth. You can find this tasty snack anywhere in Brazil, but beware of fake catupiry! The last thing you want is coxinha without the real special ingredient.
If you love a greasy post-work snack, then pastel is for you. Like coxinha it is another fried pastry packed with fillings such as palm hearts, beef, calabresa (Italian sausage), carne seca (Brazilian jerk beef), broccoli, cheese and just about anything else you can think of. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach in Rio, at the farmers’ market in São Paulo or in a pasteleira, you can’t miss this popular treat. Be sure to eat it the way the locals do by biting the top two corners of the rectangular treat and blowing inside between bites. You don’t want to burn your tongue!
Pão de queijo is cheese bread, a simple snack to hold you over before dinner. The cheese (usually from Minas) and dough are molded together and baked into a small ball. It is not one of Brazil’s heaviest snacks, but still satisfying. You can find pão de queijo at cafés or corner markets just about everywhere in the city. This simple snack can also easily be prepared at home and is sometimes served for breakfast alongside Brazil’s best fruit. I enjoy pão de queijo with a cup of mate. If you are in the mood for a little more than cheesy bread, consider the pão de batata, which is potato bread and is served with different fillings such as ham and cheese or broccoli and cheese. Pão de batata is similar to an empanada and is very small, so you don’t have to worry about it filling you up before dinner. That is, if you can only eat one!
When it’s hot you can’t go wrong with ice cream or a great ice pop! The avocados here are so sweet that they are typically used for milkshakes or ice cream. Sorry folks, no guacamole! You can easily make this treat at home or find it wherever juices are sold.
When it comes to popsicles everyone is eating paleta Mexicana. This new trend is just like your average Latin fruit pops, but with dripping sweet milk filling. The cool treat comes in just about every fruit flavor and can be found at your local ice pop stand at park or on the beach. They are so good there is a chance you may have more than one of these before dinner…and another after!
Stephen Grant is a web communications professional, freelance writer and expat currently in São Paulo, Brazil. Stephen has a column for The Huffington Post Blog that covers mostly music, arts and travel. He has written for websites such as EQ Music, Too Good for Radio, The Arts Paper and #ARTNHV. Follow articles by Stephen online at stephenjgrant.com.