How To Survive As A Vegan In Brazil

Table of Contents

Introduction

Brazil is not a country famed for its vegan food. In fact, when most of my friends found out that I was still planning to continue being vegan in Brazil, they laughed in my face. I definitely got a lot of questions about how I would survive with nothing to eat!

I’m happy to report that this reputation is a little undeserved these days, and Brazil is actually a very vegan-friendly country now. Brazilian cities are quickly becoming some of the easiest places in the world to eating and there actually are a lot of naturally vegan foods in Brazil, as you’ll see, but unfortunately most local Brazilian meals are not fully vegan unless they are adapted.

The great news is that Brazil is an open-minded country that is becoming increasingly vegan-aware, so a lot of the dishes below can quite easily be made vegan in the right area. Particularly in the larger cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, it is now very easy to eat great vegan food almost everywhere.

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Areas of Brazil we have visited

We’ve been to Brazil a few times and spent a lot of time in São Paulo (which is seriously vegan friendly, check our guide to the best vegan restaurants in São Paulo here), as well as the Amazon (we stayed in Manaus). The most recent time, we visited São Paulo again, then the Northern Pantanal for a week, and finished off in Rio.

A lot of our food recommendations below are quite specific to Northern Brazilian cuisine, but honestly the food in the North is delicious, and seriously underrated, so perhaps it deserves a little more spotlight anyway!

Best naturally vegan foods for a vegan in Brazil

Açaí

If you’ve visited Brazil (or heard of Brazilian food at all!), you’ve probably heard of açaí. If you haven’t, then it’s an absolute must-try. Açaí is actually a fruit and can be eaten as a berry – in Brazil, it’s predominantly served in the style of a frozen smoothie bowl or a soft sorbet. To make it, the berries are usually mashed, then frozen and blended, sometimes with other fruits such as bananas, so it’s totally vegan and totally delicious!

It’s a common food to eat on the go, so there will often be street vendors selling it in plastic cups, or takeaway bowls, from kiosks. Often it is also topped with granola or nuts. We loved eating it for breakfast or just as a snack on the go, but we did hear that it’s sometimes served as a main meal (alongside fish if you can believe it!).

Emma is sitting eating acai (great food for a vegan in Brazil) out of a large beaker. She has a spoon in her mouth and is smiling at the camera.
Açaí is delicious

Mandioca

OK so mandioca, a.k.a. cassava is served in various different forms in Brazil and it’s really popular! The most common way is mandioca frita, essentially cassava fries. For the vegans, this is one to be a little careful of, as sometimes it’s served in cubes stuffed with queijo (cheese), so it’s important to make the distinction with the server when you order.

Outside of major cities, it’s advisable to have Google Translate downloaded in Portuguese if you don’t speak any yourself, as English isn’t commonly spoken in rural areas. Mandioca frita make a great snack or side dish, and safe to say, we practically lived on them in Brazil!

Tapioca

Same plant, different name! Tapioca flour is the starch that comes from the cassava plant and it is most commonly used in Brazilian cuisine in the form of a delicious pancake. The texture is a little unusual, as it’s pretty chewy, but if you can get past that, tapioca makes a great option for vegans and vegetarian travellers alike.

The traditional way to eat it is stuffed with fillings – of course, being Brazilian, these are usually meat and cheese, but since it’s a staple in Brazil, you can easily ask for a vegan or vegetarian filling, such as vegetables or mushrooms. Tapioca is also really popular, so you will easily be able to find it in most areas of the country.

A white pancake made of tapioca. There is avocado next to it.
Tapioca pancakes with avocado

Farofa

Another form of cassava, you say?! Yep, we’re still not done with the cassava variations! Farofa is a toasted grain, a little like couscous but made from (you guessed it!) toasted cassava flour. It’s got a dry, nutty taste, and is often served combined with in-season vegetables (or meat/fish, but of course that’s not relevant here!). This is a food that, as far as we can tell, is much more common in the North than the South.

Paçoca

We’ve finally moved on from cassava! Paçoca is a type of sweet snack in Brazil, made from peanuts. You can buy it ubiquitously in the supermarkets, especially in and around São Paulo and Rio, but it’s also made by local families as a sweet treat. Interestingly, we also had a dish named Paçoca in a restaurant called Fitó in São Paulo (which we absolutely recommend visiting), which was more of a peanut sauce stir fry, but apparently this is an uncommon way to serve it.

A Brazilian rice bowl. There is toasted coconut on top of the rice and beans, and banana peel with salsa on the other side.
Paçoca, but not as it’s usually served!

Arroz com Feijão

You can’t go wrong with rice and beans, and I am fairly sure I will go to my grave saying this! There’s not much more to say about Arroz com Feijão except that it’s the Brazilian version of rice and beans, and is generally served with white rice and black beans. This is a classic in for a vegan in Brazil and is one that no one should miss.

Note: this should not be confused with feijoada, which is a bean stew (typically served on Sunday in Brazil). Feijoada is very commonly (almost exclusively) served with meat and isn’t a great option for vegans or vegetarians, except in certain places in big cities, where vegan versions can be found.

Polenta

Much like mandioca/tapioca, polenta is a grain very frequently used in Brazil, either as a cornmeal porridge, or fried in the form of chips (polenta frita). It’s a great option of side dish for a vegan in Brazil.

Before we move on to Brazilian vegetarian specialities, we’ll just draw attention to the amazing range of fruit juices you can find in Brazil, most of which are beautifully fresh and delicious. One of the most unusual juices we tried in Brazil was cashew nut juice, and you will also find fresh coconuts all over the place, notably on every corner of Iberopuera park in São Paulo.

Vegetarian Foods That Can Be Veganised

For our vegan readers, most of these foods can easily be either made vegan, or else found vegan in certain areas of Brazil. In São Paulo and Rio, we actually found all of these foods vegan.

A plate of food, mostly beans and vegetables.
A plate of traditional North Brazilian food, including arroz com feijão

Pão de Queijo

If I could choose one food that would always be vegan in Brazil (but sadly very much isn’t…), it would be pão de queijo. Cheesy, gooey balls of goodness that are in abundant supply everywhere in Brazil. They are always vegetarian (to my knowledge, unless fried in anything strange, which isn’t common!) but are made with cheese and eggs in the dough as well as cheese in the filling.

The good news? You can find vegan versions in most supermarkets, especially those in Rio and São Paulo, which are a perfect replica, and as long as you’re in self-catering accommodation, you can have your very own vegan version ready in 10 minutes in the oven or the microwave! There are also a good few cafés in São Paulo which are now beginning to serve vegan pão de queijo, so you are bound to find some somewhere.

Pão de batata

This is a pretty similar street food snack to pão de queijo, but we had to include it, because this version includes POTATOES. It’s a type of potato bread, stuffed with molten cheese and is generally quite a bit bigger than a pão de queijo. These are also available vegan, though not as readily – we did have to search quite hard to find these but we reckon they’d be quite easy to veganise yourself.

Brigadeiro

Brigadeiro are delicious balls of chocolatey goodness – basically sweet truffles. They are commonly sold in lots of different areas, and come in lots of different flavours. I will grant you that they are extremely difficult to find vegan BUT we were able to find vegan versions in certain supermarkets. They may have been available from street vendors too, but we felt more comfortable being able to check the ingredients.

A pile of yellow grapefruits in a Brazilian supermarket, next to a pile of limes.
So much delicious fresh fruit in Brazil!

Acarajé

Acarajé is a stuffed bean and onion fritter and it is absolutely DELICIOUS! We’ve listed it in this section since, of course, being Brazilian, it isn’t usually vegan or even vegetarian and typically comes filled with meat or fresh fish. However, we did find quite a few places selling vegetarian acarajé and since the batter doesn’t usually contain any eggs, that’s a winner for the vegans!

Coxinha

This is another one that has to fall under the adaptable foods category! Coxinha are traditionally chicken croquettes, but we did find them in multiple places in their vegan form! Most obviously in Casa do Pão de Queijo, which is a chain of coffee shops, found everywhere in Brazil, including most airports.

Vegetarian foods we didn’t find vegan versions of (but they might exist!)

Pudím – a Brazilian flan

Banoffee pie – strangely available everywhere and we had no idea why! It does make sense given the abundance of bananas, and…

A latte with doce de leite (caramel) round the rim.
Doce de leite latte

Doce de Leite (you may be more familiar with the Spanish version, dulce de leche) – cooked and sweetened milk, which has a similar consistency to caramel. It’s delicious and served everywhere with Brazil, it’s especially great in coffee.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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