A trip to Rio de Janeiro would be incomplete without sampling its thriving food scene. Brazil is home to one of the world’s most vibrant and eclectic cultures, food playing a massive part in that reputation. With so much choice in the restaurants and street food markets of Rio de Janeiro, however, it can be overwhelming knowing which dishes are worth a taste or two.
Luckily, we have curated this list of the nine best Brazilian dishes you must try when you visit Rio so you don’t have to spend your trip on an eternal quest throughout the city. Of course, you can find authentic Brazilian food all over the country, but Rio de Janeiro is home to some of the best of it.
We’ve covered all of Brazil’s best, most delicious, and most authentic dishes, so there’s something for everyone – from carnivores to chocoholics. Once you’ve found the best place to stay in Rio de Janeiro, all you need to do is dig in to our guide to Rio’s best food culture so you can simply chow down when you reach Brazil.
Pão de Queijo
Otherwise known as Brazilian cheese bread, pão de queijo are deliciously light and fluffy baked buns with a cheesy flavor. Incredibly popular all over Brazil as a snack or for breakfast, they originated from Portuguese colonizers in the region of Minas Gerais and maintain a reputation as a mainstay of Brazilian cuisine.
In the absence of wheat flour in Brazil during the 1700s, these fluffy treats were made with tapioca flour, from cassava root. Originally, they also didn’t contain cheese, but as dairy became more widely available throughout the country, they added a hard cheese similar to parmesan into the mix to give them their savory flavor. Hence, pão de queijo were officially born as we know them today.
Being such an important part of traditional Brazilian cuisine, there will be no shortage of spots in Rio de Janeiro to get your fix, from street markets to cafés. There are a lot of divided opinions on where to eat the best pão de queijo in Rio, but it’ll be pretty difficult to find a bad version of this deliciously decadent Brazilian cheese bread.
Picanha is Brazil’s most iconic cut of steak that is perfectly suited to their churrasco barbecue culture. Carnivores rejoice when you visit Rio de Janeiro: not only is picanha easy to come across throughout the city, but it is one of the most flavorsome dishes you will eat in Brazil.
Although picanha is growing in popularity throughout the world, it is still very much more typical of Brazilian cuisine than anywhere else in the world. A cut from the rump of the cow, picanha has a thick layer of fat on top which is what makes it so perfect for the Brazilian way of cooking meat. Traditionally seasoned simply with rock salt, the flavor of this cut of beef speaks for itself.
You will have no problem trying to find a fantastic churrascaria in Rio de Janeiro where you can dine on some of the best steak you will ever have in your life. It’s up to you whether you choose to keep it traditional, or perhaps try it with some chimichurri – a fresh and tangy sauce from South America. Either way, meat-eaters will not be disappointed in this smoky Brazilian steak.
Chicken coxinha is another reason for Brazil’s love of meat, and love of all things deep fried. Not too dissimilar from the Spanish tapas staple croquetas, chicken coxinha is a delicious deep fried ball filled with seasoned shredded chicken and Catupiry – a Brazilian soft cheese that was developed in Minas Gerais in 1911.
Literally meaning ‘little thigh’, chicken coxinha are traditionally made using shredded chicken thigh before being shaped into a chicken drumstick shape. Although they are thought to have originated in São Paulo, which is home to its fair share of top traditional dining spots, chicken coxinha has firmly cemented itself in the wider cuisine of Brazil, and especially in Rio de Janeiro.
Expect the coxinha you try in Rio to be decadently crisp with a silky smooth and savory exterior. You will be able to find a huge variety of chicken coxinha throughout Rio de Janeiro, from street food markets to bakeries, restaurants, and snack bars. Be sure to try at least a few different versions before you leave Rio so that you can discover your favorite – and be mindful to pair it with a cold and refreshing Brahma beer.
Pastel de Queijo
Pastel de queijo are little deep fried parcels that are filled with gooey cheese. Somewhat similar to an empanada, pastel de queijo are hard to define but easy to eat. Despite the similar name, pastel de queijo are actually different from pão de queijo – queijo just meaning cheese. However, these Brazilian snacks are equally as delicious and just as widely available in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil is home to many delicious, hot bar-style snacks, and these are one of the greatest that you’ll discover in Rio de Janeiro. There are also many kinds of pastel (or pastéis in the plural) all over the country, ranging from sweet to savory. These pastries are thought to have originated from Japanese settlers in Brazil, and have adapted since then.
When you’re in Rio de Janeiro and in desperate need of something hot, crispy, cheesy and delicious, you should make a pastel de queijo your first snack of choice. You’ll be able to find them all over the city, especially in one of Brazil’s many pastelaria that specialise entirely in selling all different types of delicious and authentic pastry snacks.
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, but you will find that when you’re scouring the menus at Rio’s many restaurants it will almost always be referring specifically to dried, salted cod. This dish is a really popular and authentic part of Brazilian cuisine that takes many forms.
When you’re spending time looking through the best street food markets in Rio de Janeiro you will undoubtedly come across plenty of delicious snacks that feature bacalhau. One popular street food snack are little bacalhau fritters that are made from the salt cod with the addition of potato, making them deliciously fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside.
Much like many of the other traditional foods of Brazil, this popular salty snack is entirely thanks to the Portuguese. There are thought to be over 1000 different recipes that include bacalhau on the Spanish and Portuguese peninsula. However, you’ll find that Rio de Janeiro is home to plenty of their own versions too, from the delicious fried fritters to a fresh, hearty bacalhau stew.
Rice farofa is one of Brazil’s most authentic and traditional foods that is a real staple of the Brazilian diet. It is made from manioc flour, which is essentially cassava flour, cassava being very abundant in Brazil. More often than not, it’s served as a side dish for the Brazilian national dish of feijoada.
You will be able to find farofa commercially packaged in Rio de Janeiro, but it’s best to order an authentic version from a traditional restaurant – unless you can find some locals that are willing to serve it to the masses! When you try it, you will notice that farofa will have a deliciously savory and smoky flavor, as the manioc flour is often cooked with generous amounts of butter as well as a whole host of seasoning.
The basic beginnings of this popular Brazilian dish entails the raw cassava flour being toasted with plenty of butter, but the rest is open to interpretation. Sometimes cooked with bacon, sausage, onions and hard-boiled eggs, other times it features additions of olives, nuts or even raisins. It completely depends on where you’re eating your farofa, and at what time of year. However, you can guarantee that Rio de Janeiro will not disappoint you if you’re looking to try some truly delicious versions of this traditional Brazilian dish.
Brigadeiros da Escócia
Named after a popular Brazilian political figure, brigadeiros da escócia are sweet little truffles that are made with cocoa powder and condensed milk. They are considered the national truffle of Brazil. When on a food tour of Rio de Janeiro, these are the perfect way to end on a sweet note.
Brigadeiros da escócia became especially popular in the years following World War Two because of the lack of fresh ingredients. They were created in Rio by a local confectioner, so when you visit Rio de Janeiro you will be spoiled for choice with the most authentic little treats in the city. As well as cocoa powder and condensed milk, they generally also contain butter and chocolate, and are covered with chocolate sprinkles.
Although most carioca people make their own brigadeiros at home due to their affordability and ease to make, as a tourist in Rio de Janeiro you will have no trouble finding plenty of sweet shops and food stalls that will be selling these popular truffles. Due to their increasing popularity, you will probably even find some different brigadeiro flavors. Whether you’re in Rio on honeymoon or for the festival, treat yourself and your travelling partners to some of these delicious sweets.
Feijoada is undoubtedly the national dish of Brazil. It is a stew made using meat and black beans, commonly using both beef and pork. Feijoada is also considered to be an important dish in many other countries, such as Portugal, Mozambique, and Goa, so the recipe is slightly different all over the world. However, when you travel to Rio de Janeiro, the authentic Brazilian version of the stew will be all over the city.
Originating from the Portuguese word for beans, feijoada came to Brazil as a result of long cooking traditions from the Mediterranean and has been an important part of Brazilian food culture ever since. In fact, feijoada is largely considered a carioca specialty, it being particularly popular in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Feijoada is typically served with white rice, but the ingredients and sides can vary a lot, even in Rio. The inclusion of black beans is always there, but even the cuts of meat can vary, from different types of pork sausages, to smoked ribs, pork trimmings, or beef tongue. Make sure that you try at least a couple of different versions of feijoada when you’re in Rio, and experience the authenticity and passion that this country has for their national dish.
Quindim is a baked dish made with sugar, egg yolks and, most importantly, coconut milk. This incredibly delicious, sweet dessert is essentially a baked custard, like a Brazilian version of crème caramel. Quindim is the perfect way to round off any authentic Brazilian meal.
Custard based dishes are not uncommon in Portuguese culture, but quindim is especially unique to Brazil, with a more South American flavor thanks to the traditional coconut milk. Like a lot of other dishes, quindim has a sad origin story from the country’s slave past. However, today, quindim is a popular dessert that is enjoyed by all, all over the country.
This creamy coconut flan should be easy to track down in Rio de Janeiro and features heavily on many restaurant menus in the country. It is important to appreciate the delicious desserts that this country has to offer as well as their savory snacks if you consider yourself a foodie. So, when you get to Rio, make sure that you make quindim a priority on your food tour.
What is traditional food in Rio de Janeiro?
Rio is well known for a meaty dish known as Filé Oswaldo Aranha. This delicious dish is essentially a beef steak served with crispy fried garlic, white rice, potato fries and farofa. It is named after the Brazilian politician Oswaldo Aranha after specifying this particular order at the Rio restaurant Cosmopolita.
What is Brazil’s national food?
Feijoada is Brazil’s national food, having been a large part of Brazilian food culture for centuries. This meaty black bean stew varies from region to region, with some parts of the country including lots of vegetables like kale, okra and even sometimes banana, whereas other regions include more meat. Feijoada is eaten in many different parts of the world, but it is most commonly linked with Brazil.
What is the most famous dish in Brazil?
Farofa is a huge part of a typical Brazilian diet and is served alongside many authentic dishes, such as its famous feijoada or even with steak. Farofa is completely unique and uses the abundant tapioca as its core ingredient. It is even eaten by itself: simply fried with bacon and served with beans and white rice.
What food is eaten at the Rio festival?
Street food is the most common cuisine to have at the Rio festival. Small, bite-sized nibbles such as bacalhau cod bites, prawn skewers, pão de queijo or chicken coxinha make perfect snacks for carnival season. These dishes are both portable and traditional for the Rio carnival.