The Street Foods of Rio de Janeiro

Apologies, your honour. I commence with a confession: It took me until 2013 to finally muster up the courage to sample real street food. When a bout of exhausting and severe gastroenteritis struck me as a 12 year old in India, I was left with a gripping fear of all manner of roadside snacks – completely counter-intuitive of course, since it wasn’t even street food that caused the illness. But this rationale is not something one appreciates at that age so the portable apprehension shadowed my future eating habits as I traversed the globe, resulting in me missing out on some of the best foodie finds in countries like Thailand and Hong Kong. Churros Dulce de Leche BrazilIn Rio de Janeiro, I wasn’t really expecting to find much street food. We weren’t going for the food and we certainly didn’t research it so when I spotted carts dotted along the boulevards of the Copacabana, I was determined to make up for lost time.

What I hadn’t realised was just how many unique, tasty treats can be found on Rio’s roads. Whether you are looking for a deep-fried dessert, a healthy, savoury snack or just some refreshing rehydration in the Amazonian heat, you’ll find it here and you’ll find it cheap. Here are my top picks:

Brazilian Churros

As one of my favourite ever desserts, Churros are fried-dough desserts, rather like elongated doughnuts with slimming ridges along their length. Spanish churros are often produced in spirals before being cut up and served with melted chocolate. Brazilian churros are made straight and are filled with a central piping of chocolate or dulce de leche (or doce de leite in Portuguese). The sugar dusting yields a dissolving, grainy surface to the crispy exterior but that moment, when your mouth cuts into the sinfully sweet and creamy dulce de leche, is nothing short of an explosive epiphany to the tastebuds, the luscious sauce oozing langurously from the centre like viscous, caramel magma. If you can’t quite make it to Rio, the fabulous Brazilian Churros stall at Greenwich Market is the closest alternative for hungry Londoners.

Acai Berry

Endemic to this part of the world, the acai berry from the acai palm plant is hard to miss in Brazil, being used as an ingredient for a range of foods and drinks but I spotted it most often in the form of frozen acai pulp, reminiscent of frozen yoghurt with a velvety, maroon hue and the option of a granola topping. The portions were huge so we shared one between us and you’ll have to forgive my photos, which do not do it justice but in the tropical humidity, I was more concerned with inhaling this zingy cooler than I was with Instagram.

acai berry frozen BrazilCorn on the Cob

I must admit I only really tried this to ease my conscience about the lack of vegetables I was eating during my time in Rio. I’m most partial to corn on the cob when it’s cooked on a flame and moistened with a bit of fresh lemon juice and salt. Here in Rio, it is boiled and laced with a little knob of butter and salt. It was certainly nutritious and seemed very popular with the locals but personally, I found myself missing the charred, brown surface.

Tapioca Pancakes

I love the sense of discovery when travelling and all the more delicious when it happens to be a food discovery. Tapioca, I have heard of but never a tapioca pancake. Made from manioc flour and water, this mixture quickly melts into a crepe when placed on heat and can be filled with a range of sweet and savoury fillings including banana, chocolate, coconut, guava paste, meats and cheese. The tapioca batter is quite dense so one of these could easily make for a hearty, street food lunch. Are you spotting a trend emerging? Brazilian food cannot be accused of leaving you hungry!

Brazilian Pastel

In England, I am rarely tempted by fast food – I occasionally collapse under the pressure of self-discipline on a Friday night to indulge in (half a portion of) fish and chips but these moments are rare. If, however, Pastels were as commonplace in the UK as they are in Brazil, then it would be an altogether different scenario. These adorably-sized, mini pies are deep fried and come with a variety of fillings, including chicken, beef, cheese and even soya mince and less commonly with sweet fillings, such as guava jam.

They can be found at street food stalls or Pastelarias, entire shops devoted to these scrumptious snacks! We grabbed a Pastel each on the go, munching whilst walking towards Ipanema beach but they were so moreish that half way down, we turned around, went straight back into the shop and ordered another! Hopefully, they will have received our repeat visit proudly and not judged us as the greedy Brits who returned for seconds! 😀Brazilian pastel

It is an enormous relief to my gastronomic senses that the curse of the “street-food fear” has finally lifted and if a trip to Rio de Janeiro is on the cards for you, don’t miss these delicious bites!

Do you love street food? Where in the world have you experienced the best street food?


27 thoughts on “The Street Foods of Rio de Janeiro

  1. sounds pretty tasty actually – I am like you (were!) – not keen to try the street food.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 17, 2014 — 6:07 pm

      Haha! Well maybe one day if you try chocolate churros, you’ll be converted 😉

  2. I can completely relate how a bad experience can impact future habits. I’m the same way, except with… public bathrooms (due to some truly traumatizing experiences in China)! I’m glad you cured your fear! Otherwise, it’d be sad to miss out on all that yummy Rio street food… especially the dulce de leche churros!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 17, 2014 — 6:10 pm

      Dulce de leche churros was definitely the turning point!! Oh dear that sounds like a horrible bathroom experience – I’m the same with horrible bathrooms too! Thanks for commenting Anna 🙂

  3. We are not keen on street food but have tried the Brazilian churros so far!! We have another week or so to try everything else you suggest 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 17, 2014 — 9:49 pm

      So excited to hear that you’re in Brazil right now! Have you watched any World Cup games? I love the churros – I had at least 1 a day when I was out there! If you have a sweet tooth, the acai berry frozen pulp is worth a try! Enjoy the rest of your trip – I look forward to reading about it! 🙂

      1. We have been to the Australian vs Chile game and going tomorrow to watch Australia vs Netherlands. But we have been watching all the other games at different venues in the cities we are in. Will definitely have to try the acai berry frozen pulp 🙂

  4. That boiled corn brings back memories of my childhood in Malaysia! It was our treat when we went to the beach 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2014 — 12:32 pm

      Aww that’s nice! I’d only ever seen it done on a flame before in other parts of Asia so this tasted a little bit different and I preferred sticking to Churros!

  5. I MISS, MISS, MISS street food so much now we’re travelling in Europe. I think that it’s something that we’ve seen disappear over the past 100 years that I think every traveller to places like Asia and South and Central America are going to fall in love with and wish they could sample when they are back home.

    I’ve only tried Brazilian churros at music festivals and it must be said that they’re pretty darn nice, but probably not as good as the real thing; and as for acai, I only really tried it recently and fell in absolute love!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2014 — 12:34 pm

      I completely agree, it seems to be something that’s been around for hundreds of years, which we now find so appealing & definitely gaining favour again! I miss it too being back in London! I had only ever heard of acai as something you find in health food shops etc but it was absolutely delicious and great in the tropical heat! Thank you for the comment Dale 🙂

  6. Now I’ll be craving churros all evening when England plays Uruguay in Brazil. And the frozen acai berry looks gorgeous too.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 21, 2014 — 11:18 pm

      Haha Mette! Well I’m sure the England team will have all the time in the world to sample the churros now that they are out of the world cup! The acai berry was so refreshing – ideal for the heat! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  7. Glad to hear that you’ve gotten part your fear of street food! (Although to be fair, that’s a legit reason to be wary) Best street food I’ve had was in Beijing (at what my friend described as “Eat Street”) – I’ve been hooked ever since!

    Also: Churros! ❤

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 21, 2014 — 11:20 pm

      Thanks Sara! I’ve never been to China but can totally believe that the street food there would be great! I’m glad I conquered the fear too but you’re right, still need to be wary or else I’ll end up going full circle! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. I love street food and prefer it when we travel because at least I can see the ingredients being used and how it’s prepared. India did test my stomach and resolve but in doing so, I’d like to think, significantly boosted my immunity. So I recommend forging ahead and trying everything that takes your fancy and then some 😊

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 21, 2014 — 11:24 pm

      Haha! Yep India certainly has built up my immunity over the years – I have a lot of family there so there have been several trips out there where I’ve ended up a bit poorly but like you say, at least you can see it all being made in front of you! Thanks for reading Hai 🙂

  9. Oh poor you! I’m not surprised that you’ve been wary with food choices since that episode. I’m so glad you survived your street food experience and discovered some amazing dishes. You missed out one of my favourite stalls in Rio though – the ones selling the Caipirinhas! Lethal, but tasty!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 23, 2014 — 9:45 pm

      Hehe, yes that one got left out mainly because I don’t actually drink!! So my trip to Rio was filled with Virgin Caipirinhas – still delicious but most definitely not as lethal! 😀 Thanks for commenting 🙂

  10. I have just returned from Rio and I absolutely fell in lve with Acai Berry. Soo yummy!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 24, 2014 — 11:55 pm

      Wow, so you’ve been there during World Cup season – must be an electric atmosphere out there right now! It’s so delicious isn’t it?! And just so refreshing in the heat! I’ve never tried or seen it anywhere else on my travels until Rio! Thanks for commenting Tammy 🙂

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