Brazilian Food Vocab

With Latin American Studies, I study mostly languages: Spanish and Portuguese with an attempt at Quechua once. This semester I am doing an exchange program in the Brazil with hopes to master Brazilian. Last month, I spent in Salvador da Bahia and found the vocabulary Brazilians used to describe their meals very interesting. It left me wondering how to translate some of these words and phrases. Translations are debatable but one thing I learned was that the words we use can change our relationships with food. Here are few Brazilian Food Vocab examples:

Tomar um Café

It literally means to take a coffee, but it makes more sense in my English thinking brain to translate it to something like “eat something and coffee will be present”. Breakfast is translated to “Café da manhã” (Morning Coffee), probably because most Brazilians have simple breakfasts of Bread and Coffee. It is kinda fun trying to do this in English: Did you apple jack yet? Did you bacon-egg up?


In addition, “o almorço” (lunch) most Brazilian meals seem to be called “lanches”. Most people translate this as “snack”, but I think “grub” probably would be a better word because sometimes their snacks are quite large for what I would consider a snack. For example, it common to call a hamburger (with all the works plus an egg, ham, corn…) a snack? Many fast food chains here are considered “lanchonetes” (Concession stands?). Thankfully when I ask Brazilians if a hamburger could be considered as lunch, they all look at me strange and confirm it is a snack. After thinking for a while, I thought maybe a better way to understand “lanche” is any meal what doesn’t include beans and rice.

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Estou com fome

It means “I am with hunger”. This one is subtle, but I think saying “with” or “without” hunger gives a different understanding about food for us English speakers. This reminds me of Michael Pollan’s great little book, Food Rules, rule number 46,

stop eating before you’re full: […]To say “I’m hungry” in French you say “J’ai faim”—“I have hunger”—and when you are finished, you do not say that you are full, but “Je n’ai plus faim”—“I have no more hunger.” That is a completely different way of thinking about satiety. So: Ask yourself not, Am I full? but, Is my hunger gone? That moment will arrive several bites sooner.

In the States, we tend to over eat. I wonder if our vocabulary was changed a little bit would we begin to eat less or at least more consciously? What kinds of changes would it have on your diet if you were invited to “drink”  breakfast? Go out to “snack” at Mc Donalds’? After you eat half of your plate, “Are you with hunger?”


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