Manioc, or mandioca, is the staple starch of Brazilian food. It's also known as cassava or yuca, and in Sao Paulo, we tried it in every conceivable form: sliced thin and crisped into plantain-like chips, roasted and covered in butter, and pureed with butter and cheese. Here, the manioc puree is mixed with parmesan cheese and fried into croquettes — the creamy interior was more smooth and buttery than the richest mashed potatoes imaginable.
Carne-del-Sol and Carne Seca
The first thing most people associate with Brazilian food is meat, or carne. From the flame-roasted churrasco to smokey, dried carne seca, you can expect meat to be simply prepared (and generally quite tasty in that form). This carne-del-sol, a specialty of the Northeast region, is salted, spit-roasted, and served with a drizzle of melted butter.
Hearts of Palm
I had never had much of a relationship with hearts of palm. We'd crossed paths in salads but I never quite understood what all the fuss was about. Until I ate them in Brazil. Pureed into cream, served in salads, or here, cut into thin strips approximating fettuccine, the hearts of palm always maintain a rich, buttery flavor that's worlds away from the sad canned varieties.
Farofa is manioc flour fried with different oils, meats, or spices (here, it was prepared with dende oil). Served alongside meats, vegetables, and sometimes even dessert, the farofa manages to add some serious flavor and a great crunchy texture to just about every dish.
Of course, butter isn't unique to Brazilian cuisine, but they sure know how to do it right. A blend of sweet and salty, the creamy, spreadable butter always comes with bread; more interestingly, a melted down "liquid butter" might be served like olive oil and provided to pour over meat, rice, and manioc.
Acai has become a buzzword in food and health circles thanks to its vitamin-packed, antioxidant qualities. In Sao Paulo, you'll find it served at corner juice stands or blended with other fruits and topped with granola for breakfast. Here, acai is blended into an icy, refreshing granita, sweetened with honey and citrus.
Small and yellow or long and red, pickled hot peppers are served alongside many meals. As a certified hot sauce lover, I tried them all and delighted in the spicy, eye-watering results. Each distinctly flavored, the peppers are sourced from all over the country, with some particularly explosive varieties coming from the Amazon.
Tapioca, usually made from manioc flour, appeared with seafood, in desserts, and in this case, fried up with a spicy-sweet dipping sauce. Chewy and pliant, the pearls have a lovely texture and are excellent flavor vehicles.
Queijo makes frequent appearances in dishes, whether in dessert, breads, or manioc. Queijo coalho is a springy, salty cheese from the Northeastern part of the country and has the flavor and texture similar to good, squeaky cheese curds.
It's often served fried with a sweet honey sauce for dipping.
From the Minas region of the country (near Rio), this is a soft, creamy cheese with the versatility of ricotta. It is excellent mixed with pureed manioc or mixed with guava for dessert.
Here the creamy queijo minas is mixed with fleur de del and served on a crispy bread made of sour manioc flour.