Veganism is increasing in popularity in Brazil, much like it is around the world. However, it is already a great change if a Brazilian adopts a vegetarian diet.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef (hello burning of the Amazon rainforest for pastures!). Brazilian gastronomy centers heavily on meats and seafood, which are the star ingredients in so many national dishes. Brazilian steakhouses are popular worldwide.
Context given, I suppose you will not be surprised to know that Brazil is not as vegan or even vegetarian-friendly as other places (like Vancouver, BC, for example!). If you eat cheese, you will have a much easier time.
Although Brazilian cheese is not internationally famous, Brazilians do make pretty good cheese. There are often plenty of street food options if you eat cheese. Pastel de queijo, pão de queijo, rizole de queijo…(queijo = cheese), pizza de catupiry, coxinha de catupiry, (catupiry is creamy cheese, although different from cream cheese).
If you’re vegan, I suggest betting on heart of palm. Heart of palm is a classic filling in many savory dishes: savory pie, pastel, empada, all of these can be found with heart of palm, and normally end up being a vegan option. Plus they’re delicious. However, many of these dishes may have egg in the dough. You would need to ask.
To be safe, I would go with sweets:
You have not (and I cannot stress this enough) had açaí until you have had it in Brazil. Açaí bowls in Brazil are entirely different. They’re sweet, rich, give you an energy boost, and fill you right up. None of that runny banana + water with just-enough-açaí-to-make-it-purple atrocity.
Açaí is meant to be thick, sweet, and served with strawberries. Okay, whatever toppings you’d like. To make it vegan, just don’t choose dairy-based toppings like condensed or powdered milk. Choose fresh fruits, coconut flakes, nuts, etc.
Try sugar cane juice (squeeze a lime into it, or ask them to add some pineapple, mmm). Try a piece of rapadura (unrefined whole cane sugar). Or! try a piece of sugar cane itself! Find pamonhas (superior tamales) and buy the ones without cheese (either sweet or salty).
Then try some artisanal sweets: doce de mamão (papaya sweet), doce de abóbora (pumpkin sweet), cocada (coconut sweet), doce de batata doce (sweet potato sweet), and so on.
Vegans traveling in Brazil should invest in buying local fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Enjoy the abundance at your fingertips and eat them raw and natural. Whatever deficiencies local eateries may have in serving vegan options, the natural abundance of fresh produce makes up for it.
This is especially true if you visit during the summer (December-March). Winter (June-September), may not be as plentiful, yet there will be many more varieties available than Canada in its plentiful summer/autumn.
If you are in, say, downtown São Paulo, vegan snacks would include that guy over there selling fresh guavas loaded up in a wheelbarrow, or that lady over there selling fresh corn, which she will cook and cut up and sprinkle with salt (ask for no butter/margarine), the guy over there who will peel and cut up a fresh pineapple for you to eat in a bag for easy food on the go, the lady selling salted peanuts, and so on.
In major cities, you will also find vegan restaurants. However, if you’re truly hungry and going to sit down at a “normal” restaurant, you will always be able to fall back on rice, beans, and salad. These are Brazilian staples. If there is no side of vegetables (which there will almost always be), there will always be rice, beans, and some salad (beets, lettuce, tomatoes, heart of palm, olives, cabbage, always something) even at the smallest out of the way restaurants.
Note: Feijoada is a national Brazilian dish made of black beans and all types of meat. If you go to a restaurant, the feijoada will most likely be full of meat. Opt for the pinto-beans instead.
And juice! So many natural fruit options–pure, thick, fresh, made with actual fruit not concentrate. Whenever you come across a fruit juice stand, buy some. Guava, orange (it tastes different in Brazil), acerola, strawberry, mandarin, papaya, graviola, cupuaçu, açaí, etc.
The most important thing to know is you will have options. They might not be the most obvious because everyone will want to offer you the confections, the treats, something “special”. Many take the abundance of fruits and vegetables for granted. But if you take a moment to appreciate the fresh options, you will see there’s plenty to choose from.