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You will certainly find satisfaction and flair in Rio de Janeiro’s upscale restaurants and hipster joints, yet there’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into the true taste of the city – through its street food. Made from years of tradition and with roots in Europe, indigenous cultures and Africa, Rio’s street food is one of a kind and not only is it hearty and delicious, it’s also budget-friendly. Don’t skip these top ten street foods to try when you’re in Rio.
On a Sunday morning, don’t feel guilty about heading to the nearby farmer’s market and tucking into a large, deep-fried pastel for breakfast. After all, it’s tradition. The pastels are filled with different options such as cheese, dried meat, or shredded chicken before being fried in hot, sizzling oil and handed to you wrapped up in a simple sheet of paper. All pastels are best accompanied with a good gulp of fresh, cold, caldo de cana (sugarcane juice).
Sold on the street corners of the South Zone, tapioca (or cassava flour) is fried with shredded coconut to create thick, gluten-free pancakes and then filled with either sweet or savory options to cater for any whim. The ham and cheese tapioca make a filling snack bordering on meal, and who can resist the chocolate spread tapioca filled with chopped banana or strawberries?
Pão de queijo are a mix of cassava flour and mild cheese, usually Minas Gerais cheese, and baked to create round, hot cheesy buns. Sold either as a portion of small pão de queijo breads or as one large bun, they are an easy, on-the-go snack or the perfect breakfast when served with a smear of butter and a strong, black coffee.
Street vendors can be seen on the street corners with small wagons popping popcorn throughout the day and evening. Pipoca (popcorn) is not limited to days out at the cinema and is a popular everyday snack. However, Brazilian popcorn has a twist – it’s cooked with pieces of chopped bacon, giving the popcorn a smoky taste and leaving an irresistible lingering smell in the air.
Bolinho de bacalhau have their origins in the Portuguese love of codfish (bacalhau is ‘codfish’ in Portuguese). The fish is pulled apart into small flakes and rolled into balls with seasoning and herbs before being coated in flour and deep-fried. They are best served warm and with a hint of chili-infused oil for an added kick.
The ultimate stodgy treat, the coxinha is shredded chicken covered in a thick dumpling-like dough which is then deep-fried for a crispy outside, squidgy inside texture. One of the best places in Rio de Janeiro to try coxinhas is Fornalha, a low-key, takeaway bakery which sells classic homemade coxinhas and ones with cream cheese in too.
A popular coastal city street food, açaí is made using crushed açaí berries which are then blended with ice and sugar before being served plain or with granola, honey, or chopped strawberries and banana. While it’s nutritious, it is loaded with calories and makes a substantial snack, especially after a day of lazing on the beach or a workout.
A day sunbathing on the beach can work up an appetite and the best ways to satisfy that is to make the most of the street food that is brought to the beach by local vendors. The queijo coalho is a thick piece of cheese with a similar texture to halloumi that is skewered on a wooden stick and grilled under a portable stove with a sprinkle of oregano.
Sold in small streetside wagons dotted throughout the city, empadas are small pies with a light pastry and packed with delicious fillings such as prawns, cheese, dried meat and shredded chicken. Enjoy them on-the-go as a quick snack or head to a classic Brazilian boteco (bar) to slowly savor the taste accompanied with an extra cold chopp (glass) of beer.
When you want a quick snack but only something sweet will do, make a beeline to the street wagons selling brigadeiros. Brigadeiros are condensed milk heated up with cocoa powder which is rolled into small balls and covered with chocolate sprinkles. They are delicious and dangerously moreish.