With the World Cup now in full swing, the soccer rabid among us are weighing each nation’s chances of advancing to the next round. But it also presents an opportunity to look beyond the feijoada stew (no matter how delicious it is) and embrace Brazil’s regional specialties. These five dishes, each from a different World Cup host city, present not just geographic diversity, but a great spread for your next match-viewing party.
Brazil's capital city is located in the country's central-west region, an area that's also home to one of the world's largest tropical wetlands: the Pantanal. Therefore, it's little wonder that fish is a big part of the local diet, especially pacu—a large, freshwater fish known for its sweet, mild flavor. Pacu can be prepared numerous ways, such as grilled over rice or roasted and stuffed with a mixture that includes flour, eggs and hot peppers. A favorite dish (and one that's perfect for parties) is charbroiled pacu ribs, which you'll find at many Latin American restaurants in the States. For maximum taste, coat and bake them in a chipotle sweet chili sauce. While pacu is available at many specialty seafood markets you can also substitute other freshwater fish like tilapia or rainbow trout.
Brazil's largest city may be a melting pot of cultures, but its best-known regional cuisine, paulista (meaning from São Paulo) is a throwback to rustic, simple fare incorporating ingredients such as corn, pork and chicken. Paulista dishes vary, though a good one to try for your World Cup festivities is cuscuz paulista, a savory dish consisting of vegetables (including the Brazilian staple, hearts of palm), cornmeal, and chicken or fish and served in the shape of a bundt cake.
The Porto Alegre region is home to one of country's most famous culinary exports: churrasco, basically Brazil's version of barbecue. Churrascarias or 'Brazilian steakhouses,' are popular across the U.S., thanks to the chain Fogo de Chao, which originated in Porto Alegre. All types of meats, including beef, pork, chicken, and sausage, are a go for churrasco—though Brazilians are especially fond of picanha, a type of beef sometimes known in the States as 'top sirloin cap.' Typically in Brazil, you use spits or skewers to slow cook the meat above charcoal embers, cooking over the hottest coals first. However, many U.S. recipes forgo the skewers, combining local customs with Latin flavor.
The only World Cup host city in all of the Amazon rainforest and northern Brazil, Manaus remains isolated from a good portion of the country. The regional cuisine reflects this remoteness with ingredients and dishes still very much influenced by the area's indigenous tribes. Beiju are crepe-like pancakes made of tapioca, the native starch that Americans most often see as a pudding or as a part of bubble tea, and make for an ideal dish for matches that take place in the a.m. They can be buttered like toast, topped with cheese or chocolate, or filled with savory ingredients such as ham, spinach and onions.
The regional cuisine around Natal in northeast Brazil sees a lot of African influence, stemming from the 1500s when Brazilians first brought Africans over as slaves to work on the local sugar plantations. Today, one of the most popular African-derived dishes is moqueca, a fish stew similar to bouillabaisse and made with coconut milk, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and palm oil. Although in Brazil moqueca is cooked in a traditional clay pan, a large saute pan will work just as well. It's also easy to make, meaning less time to prepare and more time to watch matches.