Author's Note: Thanks to the Brazil Tourism Board and Semana Mesa, I got the chance to check out the food and drink of Sao Paolo last month. Here are a few of the highlights of my trip.
In setting out to pick the best things I ate in Sao Paulo, it was hard eliminating, well, anything. This is a country where serious flavor takes top priority; most everything I tasted was delicious. This list rounds up some of the most traditional, classically Brazilian dishes. They are basic dishes that hail from all over: the Northeastern area of the country, the Amazonian jungles, the quick take-away shops in Sao Paulo.
Of course, limiting things to "Brazilian" dishes still allows for an enormous span of cultural influence. Portuguese linguica made many appearances, while dende oil and coconut milk bolstered Afro-Brazilian flavors from Bahia.
Brazil is a country as much shaped by the colonial culture of Portugal and the accompanying slave trade as it is by the wealth of native fruits and vegetables growing in the Amazon. Brazilian food is simultaneously unique and largely indebted to outside cultures. Still, some consistent themes emerged: food should be a comfort and a pleasure, and something that's easily and immediately enjoyable.
Like the basic ingredients in Brazilian food, the classic national dishes were all about the flavor, and about satisfying a particular need.
Sticky and hot after an Amazonian rainstorm? Cool down with a hot, salty soup that will make your mouth tingly and numb. Need a bite to go with your caipirinha? Go for a bowl of chewy, crackly fried pig skins with a squeeze of lime.