Brazil Culture Guide: Language, Cuisine, Music and Literature

by Jules on September 8, 2013

Brazil is firmly in the spotlight right now as one of the hottest travel destinations and we take a look into the Brazilian culture through the literature, arts and Portuguese language.

Thanks to a wide range of historic influences, the Brazilian culture is incredibly rich and diverse. It was of course the Portuguese who gave Brazil its language and traditional culture. The country also has also inherited the music and cuisine from the Native Indians and African slaves which has fused with the dominant Portuguese heritage. Brazilian music is known the world over for its colourful diversity with Spanish, American and Caribbean influences within its beats and rhythms. Jazz and samba add to the intensity, while the whole world is familiar with the Bossa nova-based classic “Girl from Ipanema” from the hedonistic 1960s which reflects the sheer passion of the Brazilian people. Later came the forro and lambada dance movements which popularised Brazilian culture.

Brazil’s Language

Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered and claimed Brazil in 1500 and today most of the country speaks the Portuguese language. There are small pockets of Japanese and South Koreans settlers, as well as Amerindians, who speak Tupí, Arawak and Carib languages. The language and accents of the Portuguese Brazil and those in European Portugal are very different. English is often taught in school and sometimes also Spanish, although less so.

Arming yourself with a few basic Portuguese phrases is always appreciated;

Hello – Ola, Oi
How are you? Como vai?
Thank you very much – Muito obrigado
Where is …? – Onde e…?
Good morning – Bom dia
Good afternoon – Boa tarde
Good evening – Boa noite
Goodbye – Adeus, Tchau

Brazilian Cuisine

The food is Brazil is influenced by both the African and Indians to produce an exciting and eclectic cuisine. Regional specialities still exist and each community utilizes authentic ingredients and traditional ways of cooking.

In the northern region Brazil, aka Amazonia, the traditional cuisine contains fresh local fish, a variety of root vegetables such as yam, locally harvested peanuts and various tropical fruit. Amazonian cuisine is heavily dominated by the Indian influence, where one million arrived under Portuguese rule. Popular dishes include ‘Caruru do Par; which is prepared with dried shrimp, okra, cilantro and tomato.

In the Northeast Bahia region the cuisine has African roots, following the influx of around five million Africans. Again thanks to the location, the diet focusses on seafood, fresh shellfish and seasonal tropical fruits.

Within the central west region, fish and beef are popular. The local ranches provide fresh pork as well as locally grown corn, soybeans and rice.

Much of the cuisine from southeast Brazil contains cheese, corn, pork and beans. In particular, within the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo you’ll find a wide selection of meat and beans dishes. Rio favours black beans, whilst Sao Paulo traditional favours pale beans. Travellers will find a greater concentration of European and North African influences within the food of Sao Paulo.

The south of Brazil is considered the ‘gaucho’ (cowboy) region and the diet here reflects that with lots of salted and sun dried meats on offer.


As with many other aspects of Brazilian culture, the music is an interesting fusion of various influences. Understandably its roots lie in the traditional Portuguese heritage, so classical sounds built around the flute, cello, guitar and clarinet are very popular, as these were some of the first instruments to be introduced. The musical scene was taken up a notch with the arrival of the Africans who introduced agogo and cuica. In fact the ‘berimbau de corpo’ instrument made of wood and rope is the main sound used within the Capoeira Brazilian martial art.

Brazil is probably best known for its ‘chorro’ (crying) style of music which began in the 1870s in Rio de Janeiro. This was the Brazilian take on European-style music with saxophonist Pixinguinha really popularising chorro. Rio de Janeiro remains a hotbed of chorro action, with many clubs and venues offering this style of performance.

And of course we can’t mention music and Brazil without including the hugely popular and often imitated Rio Carnaval. Today the annual carnival is a riot of colour and exuberance, but the festival really sprang to prominence with the addition of its themed music. In 1899, Brazilian composer Chiquinha Gonzaga created “O Abre Alas” which fused both African and Brazilian rhythms. And with the additional of the samba 1917, this is the musical score that you’ll hear today at the Carnaval.


Brazilian literature is considered to have begun chiefly within the Colonial era, when missionary Jose de Anchieta popularised literature. As you’d expect, much of the literature of the period was shaped by opposers of colonial rule and French revolutionary ideas from France.

After gaining independence from Portugal in 1824, literature was infused with national pride and romantic notions, resulting in the heavy production of poetry.

During the twentieth century, social novels rose to prominence, from authors such as modernist Joao Guimaraes Rosa. Much of the themes at the time focussed around censorship and repression, culminating in the 1660s military regime.

Notable dates

Brazilian Independence Day is celebrated each year on 7 September.

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