Bolinha Restaurante’s take on Brazil’s national dish will leave you very happy and very full.

By Max Bonem
Updated July 12, 2017
Photo by Max Bonem

Feijoada, a traditional black bean and meat stew similar to cassoulet, is Brazil’s national dish and is beloved by all, regardless of background or class. It’s a feast that evolved from a dish developed and eaten on plantations, where slaves cooked with what was available—i.e. pigs ears, tripe, and trotters. To this day, feijoada’s popularity continues across Brazil and when you visit São Paulo, the country’s commercial and cultural capital, there is one place you must go for feijoada, Bolinha Restaurante.

If you bring feijoada up with anyone in São Paulo, Bolinha is usually the first restaurant mentioned. Uber drivers, hotel concierges, chefs, literally everyone you speak to, they're all huge fans. While there are many other restaurants serving feijoada, Bolinha is the elder statesman and has been doing it right for more than 50 years.

Located in the upscale Jardins neighborhood, Bolinha is a local institution and has been serving Paulistanos and Paulistanas since 1946. While it once offered pizza and a number of ‘a la carte’ items, Bolinha introduced feijoada to their menu in the 1950s and it took off. For the next twenty years, Bolinha became famous for serving its feijoada, which is traditionally only available on the weekends, on both Wednesdays and Saturdays. Then, in 1976, the restaurant started serving it daily and ever since, Bolinha has held a special place in the hearts and stomachs of Paulistanos and Paulistanas.

Feijoada is a dish that is never made the same by two different people and while the base of black beans, onions, garlic and bay leaves is standard, the meats that are added are completely customized to the cook’s taste. At Bolinha, the kitchen adds 10 different cuts of pork to the dish, including ribs, ears, trotter, sausage, tongue and belly. All of this is then cooked slowly over a wood-burning stove.

While you wait for your cauldron of feijoada to arrive, a range of snacks is served, including pão de queijo, (a traditional cheese bread made with tapioca flour), bacon and torresmo (Brazil's version of chicharrons), which the server will continually refill while you wait. Then, the feijoada arrives accompanied by white rice, couve a mineira (Brazilian collard greens) orange slices, and farofa (toasted cassava flour). If you’re going for the traditional version, you’ll also receive a pork chop, additional sausage and fried bananas.

Once you have your plate of rice, feijoada, greens, orange slices, farofa and a bit of pimenta (Brazilian hot sauce) for a touch of heat and acid, the goal is to eat all of it together. After you’ve stuffed yourself, the traditional post-feijoada activity is to take a two-hour nap, which is why the dish is traditionally served on the weekend. Seriously, everyone in São Paulo will advise you to do so and you’d be a fool not to.

While Bolinha continues to serve feijoada seven days a week, it’s really not a dish you can or should enjoy on a daily basis. However, it's the staff’s attention to detail and sense of hospitality, along with their adherence to the traditional feijoada recipe, that brings a smile to every single Paulistano and Paulistana's face and causes an elongated “mmm” sound as soon as anyone mentions the Bolinha name.