We recently celebrated my husband’s birthday by feasting at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian restaurant in Minneapolis. *close eyes, lick lips and savor. Mmmmmm.* A couple friends on Facebook asked what Brazilian food is like. It occurred to me that “Foods we love, from places we have lived” would make an interesting series of blogs. So let’s start with Brazil!
Fogo de Chao (literally “fire on the ground”) styles itself as a Brazilian steakhouse. We call it a “churrascaria”, churrasco being seasoned meat roasted over an open fire. It is served “rodizio”—pay one fee, and waiters bring spit after spit of different cuts to your table for you to take what appeals to you. They keep coming until you tell them to stop! (A similar chain in the US is Sal e Carvao.)
The choices at Fogo de Chao turned out to be pretty tame—various cuts of beef, pork and chicken, seasoned in various ways and all totally mouth watering. In Brazil I have been offered the fatty hump from the backs of Zebu cattle; chicken hearts crispy from the basting of their own fat; sausages with traditional Brazilian seasonings; and little balls of Mozzarella cheese, toasty on the outside, warm and creamy on the inside. (In Brazil they also have pizza rodizio, which is a lot less expensive! Waiters bring different kinds of pizza to your table, hot from the oven, and you can try them all.)
Fogo de Chao spreads a marvelous salad bar to entice you to fill up before the meats begin to come. It includes such treats as palm heart, artichokes, marinated mushrooms, and a mixture of minced onion, green pepper, tomato, parsley and lemon juice that is traditionally served with roasted meat. We asked for other dishes to be brought to our table—rice and black beans, farinha (toasted manioc flour with seasonings), fried polenta, cooked bananas, and melt-in-your-mouth cheese puffs made with manioc flour.
Churrasco in Mato Grosso do Sul, where my youngest was born, is a lot simpler. Kill a cow, dig a pit, build a fire and skewer long strips of meat on saplings to roast over the coals. Serve with boiled manioc root and the tomato relish I described above. If you have a lot of friends, you might need to kill two cows. This is most often done to celebrate a wedding, the New Year or a quinze anos (fifteenth birthday of a young lady.)
At my first real Mato Grosso churrasco I got to taste brains. The host had dug a pit, shoveled coals into it, added the head and covered it with more coals before burying the whole thing. After an hour or so, they dug it up and pealed back the skin. Someone sliced off a sliver of cheek muscle with the sharp knife everyone brings to a churrasco and offered it for me to taste. Then they cracked open the skull and began scooping out the brains. Brains reminded me of baby food—soft and creamy, but tasting of meat. Brains were not offered at Fogo de Chao.
Next week I’ll post some favorite recipes from our Brazil days. They can be done in a kitchen and do not require a pit or saplings. I promise!
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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