Brazil, like most of South America, remains to be a challenging place for vegetarians to find the right kind of food. The main reason for this is the lack of awareness about a vegetarian diet. While places like East Asia have some sort of awareness thanks to Buddhism, such a concept simply does not exist in Brazil. It’s diet is meat heavy (Brazilian barbecue is known throughout the world), and the main language spoken throughout Brazil is Portuguese. Knowing bits of Portuguese alone cannot make life easier either, because even “vegetarian” food might have chunks of meat hidden inside.
Luckily, there are a few things that can help you navigate your way through the food world in Brazil. The following resources are a result of lessons learned through experiences of various people who successfully found vegetarian food in Brazil.
1) Learn to say I am vegetarian in Portuguese
While this may not always be a life-saver, it can definitely help. You can say “Eu sou vegetariano” (ew so vegetariano) which means I am a vegetarian.
You can also say “Eu não comer carne, peixe ou frango” (ew now comer carne, peshe ou frengo) which basically means I don’t eat meat, fish or chicken.
Check out the following links for Portuguese translations of specific ingredients and other food related items:
2) Print the following image and show it to the restaurant server/chef
* if you have trouble printing the image below directly, then you can copy paste the image below onto a word document and then print*
Below is a checklist that you can custom select to communicate what you can and cannot eat. You can print this and take it with you.
3) Eat at a Por Kilo restaurant
Por Kilos are self-service buffet restaurants. They are located throughout Brazil, and charge you by the weight of food that you have taken in your plate. While majority of the offerings at the buffet are not vegetarian, there are quite a few salads, fruits and pastas which are vegetarian. The food items are often labelled (if it is in Portuguese, just ask a server) and most importantly, you can also actually see the food before putting something in your plate.
4) Plan ahead
While you cannot always expect to know exactly where and when you will eat, try to keep a list of few vegetarian restaurants in the area that you are going to visit. To create a list, use the following websites (use google translate for Portuguese websites) :
The best resource online for finding veggie food places – https://www.happycow.net/
Veg friendly restaurants in Rio – http://www.vegetarianismo.com.br/sitio/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=127&Itemid=92
Food places in Sao Paulo – http://vegporai.com/2013/09/01/roteiro-vegano-de-dois-dias-na-cosmopolita-sao-paulo/
Another Sao Paulo list – https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurants-g303631-c40-zfp30-Sao_Paulo_State_of_Sao_Paulo.html
Another list for Rio – http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-travel/touring-vegitarian-restaurants-in-rio/#
This is a chain of Por Kilo restaurants in Rio (mostly Copacabana) – http://www.temperarte.com.br/
5) Eat at an Indian restaurant
Indian food is quite rare in Brazil, but you can find a few Indian restaurants in Rio and Sao Paulo. Though you most certainly will find vegetarian food at these places, be warned that the taste may not be to your liking. It is far from the authentic Indian taste and would seem like some sort of localized interpretation of Indian dishes. But, if you are in need of veggie food and out of options, then you cannot go wrong with an Indian restaurant.
6) Eat pizza
Pizza is a universal life-saver for any vegetarian. These days, you can find a plain cheese pizza in almost every country on earth – and Brazil is no exception. You can also order a “make-your-own” pizza with vegetarian toppings and customize it to your taste/preference.
7) Try some Pastels and Pãos
Pastels are deep fried pastries filled with different items. Most of the fillings are not vegetarian. However, the queijo (cheese) pastel is vegetarian and you can try this classic Brazilian snack. Pastels are a street food item and they won’t be always labelled. So, you will have to put your Portuguese to work and ask for a queijo pastel (com queijo – with cheese). You can also try small chesse filled bread balls called Pão de Queijo, but the Pão might contain eggs used to make the bread.
8) Shop at a grocery store
You can always walk in to a grocery store and pick up chips, chocolate, milk, yogurt, bread, and more. Grocery stores would also have a section with fruits and vegetables. You can pick up some to toss up a salad.
9) Visit some Juice Bars
Brazil has many juice bars on various street corners. Being a tropical country, Brazil has a wide variety of fruits on offer. So, you can eat fruit or sip on juices. Acai, a native berry, is very popular in Brazil and you can try the thick Acai juice with some granola and fruit toppings.
10) Check out these resources
* use google translate for Portuguese websites