Rio de Janeiro may be best known for its carnival and beautiful beaches, but it is definitively the city’s food scene that will have you wanting to visit time and time again.
Any local (or carioca) will tell you that from street food to the high end restaurants, the vast array of Brazilian specialties on offer make it more than worthy of its reputation as a foodie haven.
If you still need convincing that cheap flights to Rio could be your ticket to some incredible dining, here are 9 big reasons you need to visit…
When it comes to deciding where to eat in Rio churrascarías should be top any list. A must-visit for meat lovers, here you’ll find Brazilian favourite piranha (a cut of rump beef), pork, lamb, chicken and wild boar on skewers cooking over hot charcoal or wood, then served straight to your plate.
Great for breakfast or a snack any time of the day, you’ll find Açaí at pretty much every juice bar and cafe in Rio. The purple berry, famous for its super-food properties, is usually served in bowls (known as tigela) topped with granola and slices of banana or whizzed up in juices at one of the city’s many sucas (juice bars).
3. Moqueca (fish stew)
A delicious blend of fish and/or seafood stewed with tomatoes, onions and coriander served steaming in a clay pot, Moqueca is a favourite all over Brazil. Exact recipes differ from region to region and you’ll find a few different takes on this local classic in Rio’s restaurants, usually served with rice and other Brazilian specialties such as farofa (fried manioc flour) and pirão (a spicy fish broth). There are many great seafood restaurants scattered throughout the city but for the best Moquecca, head to the south side (Zona Sul), the old downtown area (Centro Historico) or Barra da Tijuca.
Known as Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, a rich stew of beans, beef and pork, is traditionally eaten at weekends (or Wednesday and Thursday depending on where you are), but you can find it all week round in Rio. For the full experience enjoy feijoada on the terrace at one of Casa Rosa’s famous Sunday jams, before hitting the dance floor to samba.
If feijoada is Brazil’s national dish, Caipirinhas are undoubtedly the country’s national cocktail. Made from cachaça (a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice, with dates back to the 1500s), lemon, sugar and ice, you can get a Caipirinha almost anywhere in Rio, but some bars are taking this drink to a whole new level. Enjoy a graviola com canela (tropical fruit with cinnamon) flavoured Caipirinha as a sundowner looking out over the lake at Palaphita Kitch, or grab a Caipira Magnifica (orange, ginger and Cachaca Magnifica) at local landmark Academia de Cachaca.
Foodies with a sweet tooth (and all Brazilian children) love brigadeiros, a sticky, rich, chocolatey sweet guaranteed to give you a sugar high. While many locals will swear by their own homemade recipes, you can buy these delicious treat at sweet shops and bakeries across Rio. Restaurants are now getting in on the act too, taking gourmet brigadeiros to a whole new level.
7. Pão de queijo
One of the best places in Rio for a traditional Brazilian brunch is in the cafes in and around the Jardin Botanico (Botanic Garden), where you can relax under a mango tree and enjoy a spread of fresh fruit and breads, along with ham and cheese. Good for brunch, but served throughout the day in many places, is mouth-watering Pão de queijo, a cheese bread with a crispy outer shell and chewy middle.
8. Deep-fried delicacies
From street food stalls, to bar and beach snacks, many of Rio’s best foodie treats are of the deep-fried variety. One of the most delicious (and calorific) is acarajé, a patty of black-eyed peas, palm oil and pureed onions, deep fried in more palm oil and then sliced and stuffed with dried shrimp and vatapá, a spicy puree that includes prawns, breadcrumbs and cashew nuts. Seek out this treat at Rio’s markets, such as the Feira Hippie (Hippie Fair). More readily available are pastéis – deep-fried pastry parcels filled with ingredients such as cheese, or minced beef - and bolinhos (little balls) usually made with salt cod, both of which can be found in bars and taste great with a refreshing beer.
9. Água de coco
Anyone spending time on Rio’s beautiful beaches needs to stay hydrated and a favourite with the cariocas is drinking Água de coco (coconut water). Forget the stuff you get in cartons at the supermarket, here it’s as fresh as can be, cut open for you at one of the many seaside stands.