Food in São Paulo:
All the food you have to try in Brazil’s largest city
As well as being the “fine dining capital” of Brazil, the street food in São Paulo is a huge draw. There is also an abundance of market stalls and family restaurants. With so many options it can be quite overwhelming. That’s where we come in. Read on for our guiding hand, as we pick out our absolute favourite foods to eat in São Paulo that you have to try. Plus, you will find our recommendations for the top restaurants to eat at too.
São Paulo Food Scene
In this bustling metropolis, you will find an incredible and unparalleled mosaic of influences. Influences which traditional Brazilian food is so well-known for. You will see examples of indigenous, African and European influences and ingredients in the local cuisine.
Portuguese colonisation was most prevalent in the coastal regions of Brazil. During this time they introduced many ingredients to the area. Examples of which are plants, such as sugarcane and coffee; animals like cattle, pigs and chickens; and culinary styles. West African slaves who were brought to work the plantations brought their rice-growing expertise plus their own traditional cooking techniques and culture.
The fingerprints of all three groups can be found across Brazil, in particular within Brazilian cuisine. However, they are most prevalent in the food of São Paulo and other coastal cities.
Recent Lebanese and Syrian immigration has added yet more diversity to São Paulo’s food scene. They brought techniques and skills from Middle Eastern cooking. Plus there is the extensive Japanese population – Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, many of whom reside in São Paulo. So, fantastic examples of each of these cuisines can be found in this vibrant Brazilian city.
The vibrancy and excitement of the city have attracted Chefs from around the world. With them has come Michelin starred techniques, styles and flair adding to Brazil’s extensive pantry.
Top 14 Foods of São Paulo
The Plate Unknown
Hey there! We are Katie & Matt, the duo who love food - and learning about it even more!
We have worked in the food industry for 30 years combined and are set to travel the world to continue learning about the food of the world.
Technically a mortadella sandwich is an Italian thing. However, the Mortadella sandwiches of São Paulo are huge, meat-filled rolls with cheese, tomato and lettuce.
Ceratti mortadella, a large Italian-style sausage, is used in the huge sandwiches made in Mercado Municipal. São Paulo has a distinctive style of mortadella sausage which is made with more spices and black pepper. The classic Portuguese bread rolls are confusingly called “pão francés” (French bread). These rolls are stuffed to overflowing with thinly sliced mortadella -roughly 300g per sandwich!
The backstory of these sandwiches is that in the 1930s customers at the Mercado (Market) were complaining about the price they were paying for the small sandwiches they were buying. To deal with one particularly irate customer, the chef stuffed a sandwich ridiculously full of meat. On seeing this, everyone else obviously decided they wanted the same. And, so, the Mortadella was born.
These are really pretty hefty so calling them a “snack” is a stretch. But they make a solid lunch for sure.
Pão na chapa
Pão na chapa is really bread and butter. However, the people of São Paulo swear by it as the breakfast of champions.
You have to buy it from a bakery to get the true experience. Here, they will serve up big chunky slices of toasty hot bread which have been coated in a totally appropriate amount of butter. In other words, about a 60:40 bread to butter ratio.
This truly is one of life’s simplest pleasures. And the São Paulo version is as good as any you will find across Brazil.
Next up we have a São Paulo street food and snack time favourite: coxinha.
Coxinha originate from Limeira a city 150km inland from São Paulo, but they are now enjoyed across Brazil. They consist of shredded chicken and cream cheese encased in dough and breadcrumbs then deep fried. Anything deep-fried gets our instant vote as a top food (typical Scots).
Initially, coxinha was created as a way to use up parts of the chicken that were less desirable, preventing wastage. Although, now it is mostly chicken thigh that is used. You can also find vegetarian varieties and other fillings so there is something for everyone. The favourite accompaniment to coxinha in São Paulo is a fiery hot dipping sauce. And when we say fiery, we mean it: you’ve been warned.
Cod Pastel (Bacalhau)
If you’re looking for the best cheap food when travelling through São Paulo, look no further than pastels.
Pastels (deep-fried, stuffed pastries) are one of the most common street foods across Brazil. In São Paulo, however, cod is the filling of choice. Specifically, dried and salted cod – bacalhau in Portuguese. The thin pastry is filled with the salt cod, mashed potato, eggs, onion and parsley before being deep-fried.
This might sound like a bit of an odd combination but it’s like the filling of a delicious fish pie that’s been deep-fried in pastry. As a Scot, I couldn’t be more on board with this idea.
If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, don’t fret. Pastels come with many delicious fillings such as meat, seafood, cheese, vegetarian and every possible combination of those things. There really is something for everyone.
Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish. It is a hearty stew of black beans, beef and pork. The name comes from the Portuguese word feijão, which means beans, so they are a pretty key component!
Normally served with rice, feijoada is typically eaten on the weekends. Why? It is a very hearty dish so plenty of time needs to be set aside for a food-induced nap afterwards.
Bolinha in São Paulo has 10 different cuts of pork in their feijoada. However, the recipes vary fairly wildly across São Paulo and there are also vegetarian versions available.
Virado À Paulista
Beans, rice, pork, kale, sausage, plantain, toasted manioc flour and a fried egg served on a platter. Hearty doesn’t quite cover it.
Virado À Paulista is one of the most important dishes in São Paulo in terms of food culture and history. It is normally eaten on a Monday – most likely to recharge after a hefty weekend of samba and caipirinhas (or maybe that’s just us!)
This dish dates back to the earliest Portuguese colonists. Bandeirantes would travel into the interior of Brazil. Initially, this was to capture indigenous people as slaves. Then, later, it was to search for silver, gold and diamonds. In their packs, these Bandeirantes carried cornflour, beans, dried meat and sausages which would get mixed together, hence the name “virado” which means “turned”.
The cornflour was quickly replaced with cassava when the plant was brought to the region. It was this combination which became a staple – eaten either cold or hot. The introduction of rice in the 19th century added another element to the dish and kale was served on the side in most households.
Roughly half a million plates of virado are eaten weekly in São Paulo.
A true São Paulo classic, Bauru is another top Brazilian sandwich. The Bauru is named after the city in São Paulo state where the creator was from. This incredible sandwich consists of roast beef, melted cheese, tomato and pickles in a crusty bun with the soft inside removed.
The history of this sandwich is well documented; its creator celebrated. In 1934, the law student, Casemiro Pinto Neto, walked into the famed restaurant and student hang-out, Ponto Chic. Here, he ordered a sandwich off-menu and to his exact specification. The original had 4 types of melted cheese on it – the kind of order we can get behind! His sandwich order was an instant hit and soon became the biggest selling menu item at Ponto Chic.
You can still visit one of the 3 Ponto Chic restaurants in São Paulo to get yourself a Bauru sandwich.
Açaí na Tigela
Açaí na Tigela is literally an açai smoothie bowl, served kind of like soft-serve ice cream (ah-sah-ee if you, like us, always get it wrong). The bowl is made with frozen and mashed açaí berries, usually topped with banana, granola and other equally healthy toppings of choice.
This is a dish you may have seen popping up at your favourite trendy breakfast/brunch spots the world around. Its popularity is mainly due to claims that açaí berries are a “superfood”. Plus the many spurious claims made about the berries – all with little to no scientific evidence to back them up. Such spurious claims include “boosting the immune system” and “promoting weightloss”. Science aside, they have made for a wonderful marketing campaign for açaí berries.
Açaí comes from a palm tree native to South America. Palm hearts are also harvested from this same tree. Original açaí recipes from Northern Brazil contained prawns or fish. Whereas, in the south, the berries were pureed and served with other sweet things such as a smoothie or a breakfast bowl.
You will find vendors on the beaches selling these delicious fresh açaí drinks and bowls. The fact that the more outlandish health claims have no foundation in reality doesn’t detract from the fact they’re really nice to eat. Plus, fruit that fresh is always a good thing.
Cuzcuz Paulist is couscous, but not as most Europeans and Americans know it. In Europe, couscous is wheat semolina that has been steamed or boiled. Whereas in Brazil, cuzcuz is made from corn or manioc flour.
The eating of cuzcuz did come across the Atlantic from the Portuguese colonists and the African slaves. In doing so, it became particularly prevalent around the São Paulo area. Initially, it was simply maize or manioc flour steamed over water. However, over time the recipe became more elaborate and flavoursome.
Cuzcuz Paulista contains garlic, pepper, coconut milk, prawns, fish, eggs and palm hearts. The dish is usually steamed, then placed in a mould to cool and shape into the traditional ring. Slices can then be cut from the ring and served.
The delicious fried food, acarajé, is actually a street food from Bahia. But it successfully made it’s way to São Paulo and is a street food favourite there too. It is made from cowpeas (black-eyed peas) which are mashed and shaped into little spheres before deep frying in red palm oil. The spheres are split open and stuffed with delicious things, usually chicken or seafood.
People from Bahia will tell you that only those from Bahia or with Bahian heritage can cook Acarajé correctly. I’m not particularly inclined to argue with this as I have similar feelings about Yorkshire puddings. However, they are certainly still enjoyable in São Paulo – even if only to those with as undiscerning palates as ours.
Pão de Quiejo
Pão de quiejo is a Brazilian institution: essentially Brazilian cheese bread. Although they originate from Minas Gerais and are usually made with the cheese from that area, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Brazilian bakery that doesn’t sell them.
This much-loved Brazilian food originates from African slaves. They ground up small pieces of cassava into a powder, mixed it with water and baked it to make puffy chewy balls. Much later, when the Afro-Brazilians were freed and able to use much more foodstuffs, the cheese was added and the pão de quiejo spread across the country.
Crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle and with the sharp tang of cheese goodness. These little morsels are a particularly good breakfast staple, but also a great snack at any time.
Cachorro-Quente (Hot dogs)
Hot dogs in São Paulo are a completely different beast to the fast-food items sold from carts across the US. In São Paulo, the sausages are often cooked in tomato sauce before being placed in the bun. The toppings are magical including things like mashed potatoes, peas, corn, potato sticks, quail eggs and mayo.
When loaded up with a few toppings, eating cachooro-quente can be a meal in itself as opposed to a quick snack. They are an absolute must-try food whilst visiting São Paulo.
Esfiha were brought to Brazil by the large Lebanese community who reside there. The esfiha is a breaded pastry containing meat, cheese or vegetables which is folded into a rough triangle before being oven baked. You’ll also see them served as small flatbreads baked with the toppings on them.
Flatbreads have been made in the Levante since prehistoric times. Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to Brazil, a large portion of whom settled in São Paulo, brought these breads with them. They were quickly embraced by the local population and soon became a very popular food in São Paulo.
No round-up of top food in São Paulo would be complete without the much-loved churros. They are a favourite of street stalls at markets across Europe and America. However, the choux pastry used in Brazil is often filled with chocolate or condensed milk before heading to the fryer. This creates a heavenly, gooey, melty centre.
Top Restaurants in São Paulo
Now you know what to eat in São Paulo and just how delicious they are, you need to know where to find them. Keep reading for our list of the best São Paulo restaurants recommended by locals and travellers alike, allowing you to get the best of the city’s cuisine.
Located within a farmers market (feira), Pastel Da Maria is a famous pastel stand serving some of the best pastries in São Paulo. Kyoto born Japanese immigrant, Kunink Yohana, aka Maria, has been perfecting her recipe for 5 decades. Now, she has several stands across the city. But the best is found at Feira do Pacaembu on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
This dive bar is a purveyor of many delicious deep-fried snacks but the Caixinha is premier among them. They might be the most iconic Brazilian snack and are absolutely the perfect accompaniment to the giant beers served at Bar Do Luiz Fernandes. Don’t limit yourself just to these items though. We recommend that you also have the manioc fritters filled with oxtail or Basque beef-cheek fritters – rich and delicious.
Having heard a lot about the amazing sweet things created in Brazil, Casa Mathilde has to be your first stop to satisfy your sweet tooth. Here, you will find a superb collection from sweet pastels to cheesecakes and everything in between. Our absolute favourite is the pastel de Belém: a deep-fried flakey pastry filled with rich custard. What is not to love?!
Brazil is home to nearly 2 million Japanese immigrants and their descendants, many of whom reside in São Paulo. This means you will find some of Brazil’s best Japanese restaurants in São Paulo. Top of our list is Restaurante Aizomê. This is their second venue, set up in the stunning Japan House which showcases incredible art and design. The top dish on their menu is the chirashi – a delicately assembled bowl with the freshest fish and expertly prepared sushi rice.
Get your Acarajé fix at this tiny counter in the heart of São Paulo. The fried cowpea flour is stuffed with vatapá – a creamy, spicy, seafood stew. This dish is one of the best examples of African influence in Brazilian food. Whilst acarajé originate from Bahia, these are the absolute best in São Paulo so not to be missed, especially if you don’t plan to travel onto Bahia.
Churrasco is a Brazilian icon. So, to enjoy this delight to its fullest, you should try a Brazilian institution like Fogo de Chão. Served in the “all you can eat” style with meat being carved at the table and a salad bar to accompany, this is a good value option for enjoying Churrasco. Depending on your budget, you may prefer to order one of their massive tomahawk or T-bone steaks or a huge beef rib to share. There’s no shortage of Churrascaria in São Paulo but Fogo de Chão is budget-friendly with good quality meat on display.
One of the finest chefs in the world, Alex Atala, explores the ingredients and history of Brazil at his 2 Michelin starred restaurant, D.O.M. He uses lesser-known indigenous ingredients and pre-colonial cooking methods alongside African and European influences. In doing so, he creates dishes which showcase the very best of Brazilian cuisine. This is a very expensive restaurant. The kind of place that is so expensive that they don’t put prices on their website and reservations must be made months in advance. But if you can afford to visit then it is a gastronomic experience not to be missed. An exploration of Brazilian food unlike any other in the world.
The perfect place to try Esfiha is this family-run Lebanese restaurant. Brasserie Victória has been open for 50 years and still uses the original recipe for Esfiha from the first day they opened. The Esfiha here is more like a pizza style than a parcel but absolutely delicious. We recommend that you try their sweet pastries too which are always a highlight.
Need to get your Feijoada fix? Look no further than Bolinha. With several varieties of Feijoada to try, you don’t need to wait for a Saturday to tuck into this hearty stew. Their traditional version has 10 cuts of pork so it truly is a hearty bowl. Servings are huge and ideal for 2 to share – and that’s coming from a non-food sharer! Don’t forget to have a few Caipirinhas with your feijoada too. For us, this is the best restaurant in São Paulo for lunch – because then we can take the traditional nap afterwards too.
As well as the dizzying array of amazing produce on show, the Mercado Municipal is the home of the huge Mortadella sandwiches. Head upstairs to get your iconic monster meat sandwich and maybe dip into a few fried pastries while you’re there too. This is a very good affordable restaurant in São Paulo, making it a very budget-friendly choice. Plus, there is a great selection of delicious treats to try – a win all round!
Brazil's complicated history has created a diverse food culture, awash with exciting must-try foods.
Click here to read all about the top Brazilian food and drinks to enjoy on your next trip.
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The Plate Unknown is an educational food blog. Here we share information about world food culture, the origin of dishes from around the world, and tips for taking a food-focused trip.