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What is an Empada?

By L. Burgoon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Nov 16, 2011

@jmc88 - You're in luck. It is actually pretty easy to make empadas at home. They are sort of like the personal empadinhas mentioned in the article.

Basically, all you do is take the dough and put it into a muffin tin, fill it with ingredients, cover with more dough and bake. I have seen a few different versions of how to make the dough. If you just search for "empada recipes" you will come up with plenty of results.

The ones I made, I used homemade dough that had flour, eggs, and butter. I have seen some recipes that call for puff pastry instead. I liked mine, but the puff pastry would come out with a little lighter, flakier crust. I think it would all depend on taste.

Like the article alludes to, there are tons of ingredient combinations you can used. I just make 4 empadas of 3 different fillings. One I made a really traditional empada with chicken, tomatoes, olives, and cream. For another I used shrimp as the main filling, and in the others I used a salami filling that I read about. They were all very good and would be great if you have people over.

By jmc88 — On Nov 15, 2011

I have never had a chance to eat Brazilian food, but if I ever find a good Brazilian restaurant, this definitely sounds like something I would enjoy. I especially love olives, and it is usually kind of hard to find dishes that have them. I really thought it was neat that Brazil has a phrase about olives in the empada.

How would you make your own empadas at home? I always like trying new things. Even though I've never had one, I'm sure I could come up with something close with a recipe. Could you just make it kind of like a pot pie with a pie pan and pastry crust on the top and bottom, or would that not be the same thing? Do they have special pans in Brazil that they use to bake the empadas?

By titans62 — On Nov 15, 2011

When I was in college, there was a great Brazilian restaurant where I got to experience a lot of authentic Brazilian food. I really like Brazilian food, because it is sort of a combination of Mediterranean and Latin American foods, both of which I really like. I assume the Portuguese had a lot of influence on the Brazilian cuisine.

Empanadas were always my personal favorites because I liked the harder shell, but the empadas were definitely good. They are unlike anything else that you can find, too. I am not even usually a fan of olives, and I still liked them in the empada.

By stl156 — On Nov 14, 2011

@Clairedelune - That sounds like a really good idea if you lived in a place that had enough customers that would be both interested in trying foreign food and eating healthy. My problem would be cooking the food!

I really wish there were more types of restaurants around me. I live in the south, so there isn't a whole lot of diversity. I have definitely never heard of any Brazilian restaurants.

I have had empanadas before, and they reminded me a lot of calzones. From what the article says, I think I would like empadas better because of the different ingredients.

By Clairdelune — On Nov 14, 2011

I'd like to see some fast food chains that served these empadas here in the U.S. Aside from the pastry crust, the fillings that go inside are fresh food, and not processed. They're a lot more healthy than hamburgers,fries, and hot dogs. No doubt, most Americans, including kids, would like some variety of empadas.

I'm sure empadas would be more expensive; if I had the money and business know-how, I'd start a business selling healthy food from other countries.

By sweetPeas — On Nov 13, 2011

I've never tasted empadas, but they sound incredible. The closest dish to them that I have had is calzone, which I'm really not too fond of - they are a little heavy for my taste.

But these empadas seem like they would be made from a much lighter pastry and oh wow, all the different varieties of meat, seafood, cheese and olives sounds so good. I'm going to have to find a good Brazilian restaurant real soon.

By tigers88 — On Nov 12, 2011

There is a Brazilian restaurant close to my house that serves incredible empadas. You can get them in all kinds of different flavors and they have both meal and appetizer variations.

My favorite is stuffed with chorizo, cheese, lime juice and chillies. It is every flavor imaginable in one bite. You have spicy, savory, creamy, sweet, sour and tangy. It is one of the best things I've ever eaten. When you order one along side a cold beer it makes for the perfect summer evening meal.

By summing — On Nov 12, 2011

I went to Brazil when I was in my 20s and I fell in love with empadas. I have tried to find a good one here in the states but nothing is as good as it was in Brazil.

I can remember I had one on my very first night in Rio. I was with a friend that had been living in Brazil for a few years. We went out to a few clubs and had a great time, spoke a lot of bad Portuguese and danced to some pretty crazy music. On the way back to her apartment we stopped and got her favorite kind of empada. It was stuffed with shrimp and this incredible creamy, spicy sauce. At the time it seemed like the greatest thing I had ever eaten. Looking back it probably was

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