With the largest population in Latin America and a sizable immigrant community here, it’s surprising the food of Brazil isn’t more widely known and served in New Jersey.
Like other major global cuisines, “Brazilian” food isn’t so much a national cuisine as a collection of distinctive regional cooking, from the picadinhos (diced meat dishes) of Sao Paulo and Rio, to the seafood stews of Bahia, and the churrasco (barbecue) of Southern Brazil.
Brazilian food features native ingredients shaped by the cooking of generations of immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia. Indigenous ingredients include cassava, the starchy root staple known as yuca in Spanish Latin America; guaraná, the caffeinated Amazonian stimulant; and açaí fruit, from a species of palm tree. Brazil’s European immigrants, from Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Germany, brought wine, leaf vegetables, and dairy products. Afro-Brazilians added spicy chilies (malagueta), palm oil (dendê), coconut milk, bananas, and okra to the culinary mix.
The most widespread and well-known Brazilian dish is feijoada, the slow cooked black bean stew with multiple cuts of pork, sausage (linguiça) and beef, served with shredded collard greens, and cassava flour (farofa). For a taste of Brazil’s Northeast, try moqueca de peixe, a fish stew with tomato, onion and garlic, topped with cilantro, polenta and acarajé (Brazilian falafel made from black-eyed peas); or vatapá, a creamy paste of bread, shrimp, coconut milk, ground peanuts and palm oil. For a snack, Brazilian bakeries make pão-de-queijo (cheese bread) and coxinha (deep fried meat-filled croquettes), which both go perfectly with strong Brazilian coffee. At the bar, caipirinhas feature Brazil’s sugar cane liquor cachaça. Brazilian steakhouses, churrascarias, typically offer Brazilian BBQ served rodizio-style – pay a fixed price grilled meats of all kinds, sliced off of long metal skewers at your table. (Skip the salad bar and don’t eat any bread – you will need as much room as you can muster for the endless barbecue.)
Head to the Ironbound section of Newark, where some 8,000 Brazilians live, to find the highest concentration of Brazilian restaurants in New Jersey. For all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue, try Newark’s Boi Na Brasa. The crazy overboard sandwiches at Hamburgao (Newark, Kearny) or Altas Horas Lanches are not to be missed. Newark isn’t the only place to sample Brazilian food in Jersey. There are Brazilian spots in neighboring towns like Kearny, and beyond in communities like Long Branch, where Brazilians now make up 30% of the foreign born population. Visit Montclair’s Samba for an upscale take on Brazilian fare.
Brazilian food is poised to become more widely known and enjoyed in New Jersey. I can imagine future local restaurants dedicated to Brazilian regional food. If you spot a new Brazilian restaurant, let EthnicNJ know. Share your favorites spots below. We’ll add the most popular to the list, and to the map.