When I was first notified that I was going to be living in Brazil for a couple of years, I have to admit I wondered a lot about the food and if Brazilians like spicy food. I knew very little about Brazil and assumed there were going to be a lot of spices but, was I wrong.
Some Brazilians do enjoy a good spicy meal, however, the majority of the population does not regularly consume spicy food. The various regions differ in the levels of spicy foods they eat. Bahia, in the North East of Brazil, is a region known for regularly consuming spicy foods.
This being said I spent all of my time in the southern regions of Brazil where cooking styles like Churrasco are more popular. In that region spicy food isn’t consumed on a regular basis but please do not mistake that for the food being bland. In the rest of this article, I’m going to share with you why Brazilian food isn’t usually spicy as well as why the food is jammed packed with flavor.
Is All Brazilian Food Spicy?
Like I alluded to before, to make the comparison about whether or not Brazilian food is spicy or not, would be like trying to compare American Southern Food, to New York Street Food. Each region has a diverse population of people that come from all walks of life and each brings a little bit of their heritage long as well as the cultural food influences.
In general, Brazilian food is mild however it is also jam-packed with Flavor. As a foodie, I enjoy the diverse flavors of food. I love eating spicy, sweet, mild, savory, and even foods that push the culinary boundaries. So when I heard the number one and number two foods consumed in Brazil were beans and rice I was greatly concerned.
My parents always made a lot of beans and rice for me and my 7 brothers but it was somewhat plain and even borderline bland. My first taste of Authentic Beans and Rice when I first moved to Brazil blew my mind how well the flavors were cared for and developed. It was Rich and Garlicky. It was seasoned perfectly and had glaring(Obvious) bacon and onion influences.
So whereas Brazilian food, in general, isn’t very spicy, they are extremely good at using spices to make food that is rich in flavor and makes for a divine culinary journey.
Brazilian Food Profiles By Region
Southern Brazilian Food
In the southern regions of Brazil, there is a high German influence in population and in food. This mixed, with the region’s propensity to cultivate livestock, the most famous food type, and cooking method to come from this region is Churrasco. We’ve covered a great deal about What is Churrasco in a different article on this blog so feel free to check it out.
The nomadic Brazilian Gauchos (Brazilian cowboys) didn’t have the luxury of easily accessible food preservation techniques., Because of this, the main meal of the day generally consisted of large cut sections of meat skewered on an espeto (spit) and roasted over an open flame with salt as the primary spice. This allowed for the meat to enhance its own natural flavors and could be easily served from a skewer.
Beans, Rice, and varying salads are always popular food selections amongst southern Brazilians. I remember frequently eating Cucumber Salad, Green Salad, Palm Hearts, Maionese, Cheese Bread, and some very chocolatey cakes called Nega Maluka.
The drink of choice for many Brazilian Gauchos is a loose leaf tea packed into the center of a dried gourd and drank from a filtered straw is called Chimarrao. Similar in nature to the Argentinan Yerba Mate, Chimarrao is less bitter and according to some of my Argentinian friends, it’s sweeter than yerba mate as well.
The cuisine from south Brazil is taking the world by storm in the form of Churrasco and Rodizio style service. It is a novel experience and caters extremely well to the meat lover’s idea of a buffet. However, it is not popular for any kind of spicy food.
Southeast Brazilian Food
In Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, foods like virado à Paulista are very popular. Inspired by the Portuguese, this dish consists of Pork Chop, Fried Sausage, and eggs, cooked in a base of Fat, Garlic, Onion, and Manioc Flour, Kale, Fried Bananas and pork rind.
Feijoada is another wildly popular food in this region and is also known as Bean Stew. Stews are known for their meatiness and large chunked ingredients and feijoada are no different. Beans, dried pork, Smoked meat, pigs feet, Bacon, onions, and salt, are all very popular as a base, with other flourishes like Squash, carrots and even Kale. This meal is known as a heavy meal and usually consumed when the diner has a few hours to sit afterward.
This region also has some German influence in the south but for the most part, the food isn’t very spicy here either. Very diverse and flavorful but again not too spicy.
West Center Brazilian Food
This area of Goias is known for a food called pequi. (peh – key) The pequi fruit’s skin is hard and thick, however, once broken through, you’ll find 1-4 fleshy lumps that are consumed as a fruit. This fruit is commonly incorporated into rice to make Arroz com pequi (rice cooked with pequi).
Pastel is a fried pastry usually stuffed with some kind of chicken or ground beef. This is a pretty common street vendor food. My friends in Brazil would usually eat these with a squirt of Mayo or Ketchup between bites.
And one of my personal favorites is Galinhada. Taken from the Portuguese word Galinha (Chicken) My friends who would make this would do it in a way where they would fry up their spices and onions and garlic in a high walled pan. They would then sear chicken parts, leave those in the pan as they would then add dry rice and fry in the same pan. Then they would add water and bake until everything can out beautifully cooked and seasoned.
Again even in this region of Brazil, the food is diverse and flavorful but you won’t need milk or bread calm it down.
Northern Brazil Cuisine
The northern area of Brazil including Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, Rondônia, and the Tocantins, is heavily influenced by the indigenous people as well as some European influence and their cuisine. A regional favorite of this area is Maniçoba. Maniçoba is similar in many ways with Feijoada (Brazil’s National Dish) but with some distinct differences.
Maniçoba is a dish that features leaves of the Manioc Plant. Which are slightly poisonous in nature but lose their potency after being ground up thoroughly and boiled for no less than four days to remove the hydrogen cyanide. After this preparation, they then add Salted pork, Smoked meats, and other dried meats. It is traditionally served atop of rice, often topped with farofa.
Duck is another meat predominantly featured in the Cuisine of Brazil’s northern region.
When it comes to spicy foods in the northern regions of Brazil, spicy food is more popular but overall isn’t very spicy compared to countries like Mexico, or Thailand.
Northeast Brazil Cuisine
The one region which is famous for its spicy cuisine is the northeast section of Brazil. This region has a population of Amerindian, African, and Portuguese immigrants.
The concept of spicy is somewhat subjective. Bahia is Know for having food that is amongst the spiciest in the country, however again compared to other regions of the world, the food has a lot of spicy and may be considered spicy but isn’t extreme.
An example of a spicy dish in the Northeast is Acarajé. It is a Brazilian dish of African origin made from mashed black eye peas that are stuffed with vatapá and caruru and formed into a ball then deep-fried. It is spicy and one of the more popular street foods available.
Many lunch dishes include Chicken or Beef, and a wide variety of seafood, many of which can be caught fresh.
Many of these foods can be ordered Quente or Frio meaning Hot or Cold. The varying degrees that these foods can get to be spicy really depends on the cook.
But this isn’t to say that you can’t find spicy food in Brazil, and you can most certainly find those who make food hotter than others. However, if you’re looking for a consistent spicy experience you may be disappointed, but if there were a region of Brazil who can add spice to its food and get it right my money goes directly to the Bahia in Brazil’s North-east region.