A big part of the enjoyment we find in travelling is to get lost in a different culture and to notice the small details that remind you that you’re away. With food being such a key element of our everyday lives, the way people eat tells a lot about their culture. In Brazil, some of these eating habits made up the “exotic side” of going out for a meal. Here are a few things you can expect to find there:
Self service: Food by kilo
Just like we buy our veggies and fruits by the kilo in the shops in Europe, you can expect to find a scale in these self-service restaurants. If you pass the door and are handed a little card, hold on to it & don’t panic, here is how it works!
The layout is usually the same, there’s a buffet somewhere with cold starters and hot mains, sometimes even a “Churrasco” area where you can get these delicious barbequed meat skewers, or a Brazilian/Japanese fusion cuisine with Temakis and other hot rolls (often available at extra cost). You can grab a plate and fill it up with anything you’d like. Take it to the scale, where it will be weighed (minus the own weight of the ceramic of course) and the little card you were given will be credited with an equivalent amount. You can then grab a seat, eat and even go back to the buffet as many times as you’d like, but make sure you bring your receipt with you so that they can add the other portions to it.
The price can vary, depending on the quality of the food on offer, going from about 25R$ to 60R$ per kilo (we even found a very premium one for 100R$ per kilo in Rio). Some restaurants display a price per 100 grams, others a price per kilo.
Another cool little difference is the way people approach the concept of a main course. With less poetry & more pragmatism, the Brazilian approach is very down to Earth: there’s a choice of “protein” (i.e meat or fish) and a choice of “garnish” (sides). No fancy names for a dish on the menu here, it’s about food, not literature!
Really hungry? Go “sem balança”!
Some of the “self-service” restaurants have a big “sem balança” sign on display at the front, which literally means “without scale”. In other words, they are the closest equivalent to “all you can eat” buffets, with their good and bad sides.
The food is usually cheap, but quality rarely comes cheap. You get what you pay for. So, if you are on a bad hangover, looking for greasy food to relax your stomach, that might be an option. However, if you are on a quest for good authentic local food, stay away from these places!!!
A meal there is about 25R$ to 40R$ per person, cheap as chips!
There are trolleys of street food around most places, with some “classics” available. You should definitely try some of them, since they are the cheapest/best option to stay on a budget while eating as much as you need. For more info about street food in Brazil, check out our full article here.
Traditional Restaurants: the Concept of Sharing
Like what you can find in most Mediterranean cultures in Southern Europe, Brazilians have a thing for sharing. Most menus are labelled with dishes for one (quite expensive usually) and versions of the same dishes for two or more (suddenly getting very affordable).
Don’t get fooled by the layout of the menu, I don’t know where they got their portion sizes from, but especially with rice-based dishes, only giants can eat that much!
Most individual portions can easily feed 2 people and dishes for two really are designed for 3+ people. So, don’t be shy and ask if you can order one dish to start with and more later on. Unlike what happens in Northern European cultures, you won’t get a bad look from the waiter in most cases, since it is a perfectly normal thing to do there!
The last-minute add-ons
If you are on a very tight budget, counting every penny you spend and adding up the prices of the items you’re getting in your head before you get the bill, there are things you needn’t forget.
These little add-ons are rarely compulsory by law, but it might be socially awkward to refuse to pay them, so you’d better be aware of them…
Participation to the Music
You stopped into a restaurant because the busker playing outside was just too good? Well, there’s a good chance you’re gonna have to pay for it!
However, this is NEVER mandatory and you can just refuse to pay for it, but in most places with live music, the final bill will come with the hand-written addition of about 10 to 20% of the bill for the musicians. It’s up to you to accept or refuse, but you must always remember that these guys are trying to make a living out of their art, and unless it wasn’t good at all, a little participation is always good…
The All-Times Wonder: Tips
No need to panic at the end of the night, wondering if you should leave 2R$ or 20% of the bill here? Tips are usually added to the final bill, around 10% extra.
You don’t have to tip in addition to that, unless service or the food were over the top. Just make sure you remember it if you are counting every penny you spend while travelling.
Once again, it is not a mandatory add-on to your bill, but unless things were really crap, who on Earth would turn to a waiter who looked after your table for one and a half hour and ask him to take his commission out?
I hope this can help you in your travels guys, enjoy the World!