An empada is among the most popular street foods in Brazil. The pastry is available at food carts, fast food restaurants, and gas stations. It is a piece of stuffed bread that comes with various fillings such as meat, seafood, seasonal vegetables, cheese, and sauces. With similarities to other types of pastry such as a momo, calzone, samosa, or empanada, distinct characteristics set the empada apart from them, however.
The pastry or turnover variant occupy both a meal and snack role in Brazil. Large empadas often are served for dinner and feed several people. The smaller version is known as empadinha in Portuguese, translated into English as "little empada." The mini version is a popular snack food and are widely available throughout Brazil. People purchase them from fast food restaurants, street vendors, at sporting events, and as a grab-and-go option in markets.
Empadas are made with a outer crust formed from flour and butter. Dough is pressed into a round mold and filled. The top layer of the crust is sealed over the mold, and butter or egg white is brushed onto the crust. The empada is then baked. It can be served hot, warm, or cold, depending on personal preference.
It is a versatile food because of the many filling options available. Brazilians typically like to fill the empadas with seasonal or local fare. Traditional empadas can be stuffed with shredded chicken, olives, and hearts of palm, but other options extend to shrimp, fish, red meat, and any number of vegetables. Cheese options also are available and are usually open-faced instead of having a top layer of crust. Cream or tomato sauce also may be included in the combinations.
Olives hold a special place of honor in an empada. Traditionalists insist on including olives in the food regardless of the other fillings used. The Brazilian expression “olive in the empadinha,” meaning something that is necessary and beneficial, is thought to represent the importance of olives to the dish.
Empadas frequently are confused with empanadas; despite the similar names, the two pastries have different characteristics. Empanadas usually have a semi-circle shape instead of the more rounded empadas. They also are more likely to be filled with beef and have a harder, less flaky crust. The snacks also resemble, but remain distinct from, stuffed bread foods popular in other countries. These include Tibet and Nepal’s fried momos, Italy’s calzones, and Southeast Asia’s samosas.