As a general rule, breakfast in Brazil begins anywhere in between 6:30am and 8am, depending on the hours of school or work. Although Brazilians generally don’t rate one meal as more important than the other, breakfast is more rushed and simple than lunch, which is far more social, more diverse and drawn out for about an hour. The brunch concept hasn’t caught on in Brazil and a ‘let’s do brunch tomorrow’ invite will be met with questioning looks.
In Brazilian Portuguese, breakfast is café da manhã, meaning morning coffee, which is a noteable difference compared to Portuguese from Portugal, where breakfast is called pequeno-almoço, meaning little lunch. Coffee is an important part of the morning ritual where it is either made with heated milk or made dark, strong, and with plenty of sugar.
Breakfast during the weekdays is designed to be substantial yet quick, just enough to get through the morning at work. On the weekends, the food choices tend to be the same yet eaten with more leisure and later in the morning. The most common breakfast item is pão francês (French bread) where one or two will be eaten toasted with butter. Sometimes, bread is eaten with cuts of cold ham, mortadella, slices of mozzarella (different to Italian buffalo mozzarella, this is processed and appears closer to a mild cheddar), queijo prato, or a white cheese from Minas Gerais. In most states, the white cheese from Minas Gerais is pasteurized and soft; in Minas Gerais, however, there is a fresh, harder version that is often unpasteurized and has a much creamier taste.
Papaya is the fruit most associated with the breakfast table, although this may change depending on seasonal variations and states. An alternative to French bread is pão de queijo (cheese bread) or granola with yogurt or milk. It is also common to eat cake at breakfast, yet these cakes are usually orange or corn cakes that are unfrosted and made with little sugar.
To drink, coffee is the most important drink at breakfast. It is either served as pingado, a black coffee with a splash of milk, or média, which is half coffee, half heated-up milk. It’s rare that Brazilians drink coffee unsweetened and usually add heaps of sugar or sweeteners to the drink. For those that don’t like coffee, it’s normal to drink milk mixed with chocolate powder which is common for both adults and children. The concept of tea and milk is considered odd in Brazil, so don’t expect to see an English breakfast tea at the breakfast table! Thanks to its ideal weather, Brazil harvests an abundance of fruits so fresh fruit juice is common, especially orange or guave juice. Vitamina is also a popular breakfast option which is avocado blended with milk and sugar.
Breakfast is not always consumed at home. Padarias (bakeries) are an important part of the morning ritual, where Brazilians will gather around the counter to drink neat black coffee or pingado with pão na chapa (toasted French bread), misto quente (toasted cheese and ham sandwiches) or some other salgadinho (little savory snacks). During the week, a bakery visit tends to be quick and the result of being late but on the weekends, it’s a way to enjoy the usual breakfast in a more leisurely and social way.
Another place to eat breakfast is at the feira (farmer’s market) as a Sunday treat. Here, breakfast is deep-fried pastels of meat, cheese, palm of hearts or prawns served with an extra chilled sugarcane juice. It’s a once a week treat that is a traditional custom among many Brazilians.
Brazil’s vast size fosters various regional differences for breakfast choices. In the north of Brazil, the Amazon region plays an influential part in breakfast options with açaí a more regular morning staple. In the south region of Brazil, sweets and cakes feature at breakfast. Café Colonial is a type of breakfast that is almost exclusive to the south and means colonial breakfast. In restaurants, colonial breakfast is a mix of several types of breads, jams and different kinds of cakes. A simpler version of this is served in households too but only in the south; it is rare to see a pot of jam on the table further north.