Surprise the family with a Brazilian Christmas

A Brazilian Chester image courtesy Alexander Mazzo/ Gazeta do Povo

Discover the real taste of Christmas in Brazil with traditional foods that go way beyond the much-loved grilled meat churrasco.

Christmas Eve in Brazil is traditionally the most important day of the festive season and is marked by celebrations with family and friends, exchanges of gifts and the long-awaited Christmas dinner.

A typical Christmas dinner features foods from diverse origins, all with a distinctive Brazilian touch. Imported from the United States, the tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving is now popular in Brazil. It is the main course of the Christmas menu despite the fact that Christmas in Brazil is celebrated in the heat of summer.

The turkey may be substituted by the chester, a type of super-chicken with more meat concentrated in the chest and back regions of the bird, free from bones. (Pictured above, image courtesy Alexander Mazzo/ Gazeta do Povoa). There is also the tender, a piece of smoked ham with a round shape, which is usually decorated with Indian cloves and is characteristic of the Christmas period.

Salpicao is a traditiona Brazilian potato salad. Photo courtesy Pitadinha
Salpicao is a traditiona Brazilian potato salad. Photo courtesy Pitadinha.

The Brazilian equivalent of roast potatoes is a cold potato salad that is mixed with chopped apples and raisins. There is also salpic√£o, a salad with potatoes, carrots, chicken, chopped nuts and raisins and served cold. Raisins are present in many of the Christmas dishes, most commonly in rice to accompany meats and they are also used in the Christmas farofa recipe.

Farofa replaces gravy on the Brazilian Christmas table. Photo courtesy of Destemperados Food Experiences
Farofa replaces gravy on the Brazilian Christmas table. Photo courtesy of Destemperados Food Experiences

Gravy is not on the menu. Instead, it is replaced by farofa, a mix of fried cassava flour and chopped bits of crispy bacon. Cabbage is replaced by kale heavily flavoured with garlic.

Pannetone is a must for the Brazilian Christmas table. Photo courtesy Dane na Cozinha
Pannetone is a must for the Brazilian Christmas table. Photo courtesy Dane na Cozinha

Panettone is also a must. The tradition was brought to Brazil in the nineteenth century by European immigrants. It is a sweet bread loaf cooked with pieces of dried fruits. They take over supermarket shelves months before Christmas and nearly every dinner table will have at least one or two. Traditionally they are made with fruit, but variations that include chocolate, nuts or typical Brazilian flavours are very popular.

A type of French toast of Portuguese origin, known as rabanada, is made with leftovers of bread covered with sugar, the dessert became a typical Christmas. Dried fruits, nuts, almonds and hazelnuts are plentiful, consumed alone or in desserts.

Chef Bruno Da Motta
Chef Bruno Da Motta

I asked chef Bruno Da Motta who was born in Porto Alegre, South Brazil about his family’s Christmas traditions. Bruno, a graduate from Le Cordon Bleu Paris, is Founder and Co-Owner of CHAR&CO in Double Bay and BAHBQ Brazilian Grill at Crows Nest.

What do you miss from Brazil at this time of the year?

What I miss the most are my family and friends, like everyone I guess. Christmas in Brazil is celebrated on the evening of December 24, and it is a huge celebration. The whole family gets together even the distant relatives you haven't seen since last Christmas. It is the best vibe.

What happens at the Christmas party?

Our family Christmas Party is huge, and we usually have about 55 to 60 guests having a great time. The party usually goes from 6 pm till 1 or 2 am. Christmas presents are opened at 9 pm for the kids and midnight (25th) for adults.

Secret Santa is huge between families in Brazil and its usually a funny game to play. Christmas is time to catch up on what's happened through the year and make a few plans for the year ahead.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are from Christmas. Like here, everyone brings their famous dish. Some are family members are experts and some dishes the kids avoid eating at all cost. The whole family comes back the next day for Christmas day lunch to eat all the leftovers.

Which dishes always have to be on the Christmas table and why?

Christmas dinners must have a turkey of course (grandma is in charge of that); glazed ham (my uncle is an expert of that one), rabanada (a type of french toast: my mum makes the best one); poached stoned fruits to go with all the protein; and steamed rice with currants, carrots and nuts; plus special types of farofa toasted cassava flour with caramelised onions and herbs).

We do a lot of salads with fruit, poached chicken, and slaws as Christmas, just like here, is very hot.

Champagne, Brazilian beers and caipirinhas are must have beverages at Christmas parties.

What’s the secret family Christmas recipe?

Oh yeah, nearly 90 percent of my family would say my uncles Glazed Ham is a must have, and it is usually the first thing to run out and never makes Christmas day lunch. Everyone has got the recipe, but he is the master at it. Nobody can get it nearly as good of when he makes it.

Are you game to share it so we can have a touch of Brazil at our Christmas table?

I am sure my uncle would be proud if I shared his recipe with the world.

Bruno's Uncle’s Baked Christmas Ham

Ingredients –

  • 1 leg ham
  • Around 40 whole cloves
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons grain mustard
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 100ml honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Method -

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Remove the skin from the ham leaving the fat on.
  3. Score the fat with a knife in a criss-cross pattern and then place the cloves all over the ham
  4. Mix all ingredients and then brush evenly over the ham.
  5. Bake in the oven for approximately 1hour or until golden brown, basting about five times during cooking. 
What is your favourite dish on the Christmas table?  When do you open your Christmas presents?  Please share your family's traditions below.  

Disclaimer: Thanks to the Brazilian Tourism Board Embratur for sharing Christmas in Brazil.Visit Brazil has more information.