A short list of key ingredients forms the basis of Brazilian cooking. Beans, rice, and manioc have been a big part of local cuisine for centuries. Tasty tropical fruits such as bananas, papayas, pineapples, avocados, and oranges also brighten Brazilian tables, alongside fresh vegetables, including collard greens, squash, yams, and eggplant.
In southern and central Brazil, the wide plains provide abundant grazing for the beef cattle favored by meat lovers. Pork and chicken dishes are also popular. In the Amazon Basin of the north, however, and all along Brazil’s Atlantic coast, regional dishes are more likely to include fresh fish and seafood. Many spices and flavorings enhance all of these ingredients. Hot peppers, garlic, lemon and lime juice, coconut milk, and dendê oil (the oil of the dendê palm, a tree native to Africa) are staples in a Brazilian cook’s pantry.
Perhaps the most typical Brazilian dish is feijoada, a thick stew of black beans and pork. A dish formerly prepared by slaves, feijoada has hundreds of variations, and nearly every cook has his or her favorite. Feijoada was first prepared near the southern ports of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where many slaves arrived. It is often served with the traditional accompaniments tutu a hearty side dish of mashed beans, onion, and garlic and couve, collard greens sautéed with oil or butter. Prepared “à Mineira,” or in the cooking style of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, these three dishes date back two centuries.
Other dishes from Minas Gerais include corn, beans, pork, and cheese. In south-central Brazil, beef is more common than other meats, and meat barbecued over an open fire is a local favorite. In the northeastern state of Bahia, on the other hand, cooks along the coast make good use of fresh seafood. African influence is strong in this region too. Coconut milk livens up plain white rice, and diners use the spicy condiment vatapá, liberally.
In northern Brazil’s interior, where the land is often stricken with drought, dried staples such as cornmeal, manioc, and dried meat are essential. Thick angús warm cornmeal mashes that are often served
with meat sauces are popular. Northern Brazilian cuisine is also heavily influenced by indigenous cooking and makes good use of time-tested ingredients such as yams, peanuts, and fruit.
With so many influences, Brazilian cooking has its own very dis tinct identity. Like a complex melody that requires many musicians to work together, Brazilian food draws on each of its historical elements to create a perfect and delicious harmony.