Beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountains, rainforest landscapes, drum-driven samba music, the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer, and world famous carnival celebrations are Rio’s claim to fame but there is more to the city than just that. Around every corner you’ll find countless opportunities to grab a bite, keep your hunger at bay and continue exploring the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). Whether you’re lounging at the beach or exploring the historic city center, you’ll find a range of foods; some with origins in the culinary traditions of Portuguese settlers and others that make good use of some of Brazil’s native delights. Healthier options like fresh fruit and juices are often just around the corner while guilty pleasures fried to crisp golden perfection are never far off either. Rio de Janeiro will tempt you and your taste buds and leave you wanting more. This slideshow gets you started on your journey exploring the city’s culinary treasures.
Fresh Coconut Water
Forget bottled sports drinks. Coconut water is by far the best hydrating drink on the planet and it’s all-natural. In Rio, vendors sell coconuts all along the beach, at street markets and wherever people go to work on their tanned beach bodies. Ask for coco gelado (ice cold coconut) and they’ll hack off the top end and insert a straw. When you are done sipping, ask the vendor to crack open the coconut so you can scoop out the jelly-like flesh.
A serving of freshly pressed caldo de cana (sugarcane juice) with a squeeze of lime is a popular drink in many parts of Brazil. Despite its high calorie content, this liquid nectar is a raw food filled with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Found at any of Rio’s colorful outdoor markets, where an electric mill squeezes every last drop of sweet liquid from the sugarcane. The juice is placed in a stainless steel jug and served ice-cold.
One of the city’s most popular snacks is the pastel, a deep-fried rectangular pastry filled with anything from cheese to hearts of palm or salted dried beef. These are most commonly found at feiras or markets and thanks to Rio’s warm climate, these open-air street markets are open year round, usually following a weekly rotation on neighborhood streets or plazas. The markets usually set up from early morning to noon and attract locals of all ages as well as visitors wanting to get a taste of carioca (the name given to Rio’s inhabitants) life.
Pipoca – Popcorn
It may come as a surprise that popcorn is as popular as it is in Brazil, but corn is one of the country’s most important crops. This street food has an added Brazilian twist though – keep an eye out for pipoqueiros (popcorn vendors) for a taste of popcorn with bacon or, if you have a, extremely sweet tooth, popcorn with condensed milk drizzled on top. There will almost always be popcorn being sold near bus stops during rush hour, giving weary commuters something good to snack on while braving Rio’s traffic.
Queijo coalho is a firm salty cheese from northern Brazil similar in texture to Greek halloumi or Argentinian provoleta. Its qualities make it great for grilling and that is just how it is sold on Rio’s beaches. Although the practice was supposedly banned years ago, it is still easily found and is a treat that shouldn’t be missed. Vendors carry around a kind of can with hot coals and a grill the skewered cheese with or without oregano sprinkled on top.
After spending a little time in Rio you’ll realize that fresh fruit is quite abundant anytime of year and the best place to sample these is at juice bars located throughout the city. Good luck deciding which juice to try because there are dozens of flavors and possible combinations. Some popular ones are sour sop and passion fruit (graviola and maracuja), papaya and orange juice (mamão and laranja), or a favorite from the Brazilian rainforest, cupuaçu (pictured).
Is it a pancake? A tortilla, perhaps? Actually, it’s neither. Tapioca in Brazil is a starch from the cassava root combined with a bit of water and then pushed through a fine sieve. The starch is then placed in a hot pan and miraculously fuses together to form something unlike anything you’ve ever tried. Its chewy texture and mild flavor lend itself perfectly to be stuffed with cheese, salted meat, coconut and condensed milk or any number of other fillings. These vendors can be found at most feiras, Rio’s street markets, and in street food carts throughout the city.