Food of the Olympics: The top treats to find at the Rio Games
It's easy to assume given the international portrayal of body-conscious Brazilian beachgoers that the country’s national diet would be the world’s healthiest
It would be easy to assume given the international portrayal of body-conscious Brazilian beachgoers that the country’s national diet would be one of the world’s healthiest. Such is not the case. What it might just be, however, is one of the tastiest. Exotic fruits, fried snacks and sweet-sweet delicacies means that while arroz e feijão (rice and beans) is the country’s staple dish, there are plenty other foods to try out on the street at this month’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Here, Al Arabiya English looks at 10 of the best:
Coxinha (Pronounced: “Cosh-eenya”)
Coxinhas can be found in any of Brazil’s little lanchonetes, the snack shops serving fresh juices and simple, baked sandwiches. Essentially it is merely a ball of shredded chicken, wrapped in mashed potato and deep fried, but in truth it is so much more than that. Such is the popularity of this humble pear-shaped snack that there are establishments that only sell coxinha, such as Veloso in São Paulo, the Brazilian metropolis that will host one of the Olympic football semi-finals. While traditionally they come alone, Rio’s lanchonette “Coxinha e Cia” sells cups filled with mini-coxinhas for a very reasonable price.
Pao de Queijo (Pronounced: “Paow jee kay-joh”)
No matter where you go in Brazil, you will find pao de queijo. The little doughy balls of cheese-bread are as omnipresent as football and music. Coming in various sizes, they are usually eaten as a snack between breakfast and lunch. Although they might initially taste a little stodgy, do yourself a favor and persist; look past the carbohydrates and embrace Brazil’s most popular snack. There is an entire franchise — called Casa do Pão de Queijo (House of Cheese Bread) — that survives on the existence of the unpretentious cheese roll, serving them up with fillings such as cream cheese or doce de leite (cooked condensed milk).
Tacacá (Pronounced: “Ta-ka-kaa”)
In the Amazonian city of Manaus, where Nigeria’s football team defeated Japan 5-4 in one of the Games’ most pulsating matches, people sell an adventurous dish from the back of their cars. Tacacá is a gloopy, shrimp-based soup that features the jambu leaf, an exotic plant that numbs the tongue. It is available in Rio too, but harder to find. Amazonian Soul in Ipanema is a good option and serves it in the traditional way — not with a spoon, but with possibly the least useful instrument ever used to eat soup: a wooden skewer.
Tapioca (Pronounced: “Tapee-Oh-Kah”)
Forget everything you thought you knew about tapioca. Once voted the worst school dinner in the United Kingdom, the product of the cassava root is most commonly used in Brazil as a way of creating a crispy, carb-free wrap. Cooked in a frying pan on the street, it’s possible to buy tasty tapiocas filled with a range of wondrous ingredients from cheese, corned beef or chicken to banana and cinnamon or even peanut butter. Quick and easy to make, it’s very common to see a Brazilian munching into a taco-shaped, hard-shelled tapioca.
Acarajé (Pronounced: “Aka-ra-jay”)
Native to Salvador, the African heart of Brazil, acarajé is also available on the streets of Rio and almost exclusively sold by colorfully dressed women from the state of Bahia. A hard-shelled greasy fritter made from black-eyed peas is then filled with shrimp, tomatoes, peppers and vatapá, a spicy paste consisting of chili, coconut milk, finely ground peanuts and palm oil. The snack has the potential to make you feel like your mouth is on fire while simultaneously have you craving that next bite. Much like one too many esfilhas, you’ll feel guilty after eating it, but will always go back for more.
Açaí (Pronounced: “As-eye-yee””)
Native to the tropical northeast of the country, the super fruit has grown internationally in recent years. Yet while you can now grab an açaí sorbet in Doha and Dubai, nowhere in the world offers such variety as in its native land. Different regions means different accompaniments so although in Rio it is mostly served on the beach with banana and granola, if you happen to be in Salvador for the Olympic football you can expect to have it with condensed milk, and if you venture as north as the Amazonian city of Manaus, you can even find it served alongside chicken. However it arrives, it always arrives tasty.
Brigadeiro (Pronounced: “Breeg-a-day-roh”)
Available throughout Brazil, you will struggle to visit the country in a time of celebration and not come across brigadeiro, the little chocolate truffles that can be bought from vendors on the beach or in the local padaria (bakery). The Brazilians are especially proud of their creation, which mixes condensed milk with cocoa powder, butter and chocolate sprinkles. Another popular alternative is beijnho (little kiss), a white-colored brigadeiro that is made using coconut powder instead of cocoa.
Biscoito de Polvilho (Pronounced: “Bis-coy-toe jee Paul-veel-yo”)
Is it a crisp? Is it a cookie? No, it’s neither. Ignore the name and the fact biscoito de polvilho can, initially, taste like, well, tasteless. Imagine a Chinese prawn cracker but in the shape of an ‘O’ and without the fishy taste and oily deep-fried texture. Made from cassava starch, the lightly salted savory crackers are omnipresent on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana and sold in branded packets labelled “Biscoito Globo”. Sometimes with an ever-so-slight hint of parmesan, they make the perfect light snack to munch without worrying about ruining that beach body.
Frutas Tropicais (Pronounced: Froo-tas tropic-eyes”)
One of the pure joys of eating in Brazil is getting the excuse to order another fresh juice to wash your food down. In Rio, the selection of exotic fruits is seemingly limitless with menus often having more than 20 options. From maracuja and acerola to caju and cacau via fruta de conde, caqui, jaca, graviola, carambola and jabuticaba, you will struggle to try them all. Word to the wise, the words for pineapple and avocado are very similar. If you want the the sweet and spiky fruit it’s abacaxi (“aba-cashee”); if you want the creamy green superfood it’s abacate (“aba-catchie”).
Cocada (Pronounced: “Coke-adda”)
One of the sweetest, but most delectable snacks in Brazil is cocada, essentially grated coconut soaked in a sugary syrup, rolled into a cookie shape and cooked until crispy. Once set, the homemade cakes are wrapped in clingfilm and sold on the street or at the check-out of locally-owned shops. With a chewy yet soft texture, cocada makes for a great snack for those with a sweet tooth, while sometimes the coconut is exchanged for passion fruit giving you the impression you are even being healthy by eating one of your five-a-day fruits. (Spoiler: Fruits covered in condensed milk don’t count.)
Feijoada: This bean stew is Brazil’s most traditional dish, but contains pork. And lots of it.
Moqueca: Salt water fish stew in coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander and palm oil.
Romeo e Julieta: A slice of guava jelly together with a slice of white cheese from Minas Gerais.
Quindim: Yellow-colored baked dessert containing egg yolks, sugar and coconut.
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