If Londoners took their perception of Brazilian food from the best known restaurants in the capital, they would think it’s a cocktail of all-you-can-eat barbecue, Cabana and Sushisamba. Only one of these reflects the food eaten in Brazil. No prize for guessing which.
Still, Brazilian cuisine is more than belly-stretching barbecue blowouts and, frankly, none of London’s churrascarias impress. But quality Brazilian restaurants are prevalent, if under the radar, perhaps because they are aimed at expats rather than non-Brazilians. Kilburn, Kensal Green and the streets near Willesden Junction, are packed with Brazilian salons, solicitors, butchers and, most importantly, restaurants. Stockwell, Stamford Hill and Stratford aren’t far behind.
Brazilian cuisine itself also emerged from centuries of immigration. Its strongest influences come from European colonisers (primarily the Portuguese) and the four million Africans — mostly from the Atlantic coast — they enslaved. Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, which consists of black beans and all the fattiest bits of pork, is typically served alongside rice, garlicky collard greens, a slice of orange and a toasted cassava flour called farofa. These ingredients and preparations share commonalities with West African cuisine today. Usually eaten on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Brazil, it’s found in practically every Brazilian restaurant in London (on any day of the week) and always a safe bet. Millions of people also arrived from Spain, Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, Japan, the Middle East and elsewhere; all influence how Brazilians eat today.
Aside from feijoada, African-influenced dishes are more common in the northeast of Brazil. They include moqueca, a seafood, tomato and palm oil stew, and acarajé, a black-eyed pea patty fried in palm oil, stuffed with a shrimp and peanut paste called vatapá and topped with dried prawns. Diners can find the former in many London Brazilian restaurants, but the latter is rare.
Indigenous Amazonian cuisines are finally being acknowledged in Brazil, too, as part of a wider movement across the country belatedly recognising traditional or indigenous culture. Spearheaded by internationally renowned chefs like Alex Atala at Dom and Janaina Rueda at A Casa do Porco, both in São Paulo, Amazonian fish like pirarucu, or the sweetcorn-yellow fermented wild manioc sauce called tucupi, are increasingly present on fine-dining menus. In London these preparations are harder to find, although Da Terra in Bethnal Green serves tucupi.
Elsewhere on London menus, Brazilian food is heavily slanted towards the dishes eaten in the richer, industrialised southeast of Brazil: hearty and heavy in meat and beans. Diners will also see stroganoff, parmigiana, and milanesa: Brazilian food is strongly influenced by Italy. And while London’s churrascarias might not be up to scratch, chicken hearts are popular in most restaurants, and should always be ordered. Many Brazilian spots offer discounts to delivery drivers, thanks to a huge number hailing from Brazil.
Finally, Brazil excels at snacks, with Lebanese and Syrian immigrants introducing kibe, beef and bulgur wheat fritters, and esfiha, flatbreads topped with meat or cheese. These and another famous snacks, the rich and savoury pão de queijo, deep-fried, filled pastries called pastel (introduced by the Japanese), deep-fried coxinhas usually stuffed with chicken, and cassava chips can be found almost everywhere, and are all perfect alongside a beer, caipirinha or guaraná.Read More