Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brasilian Food - Dinner

As mentioned in my last entry, lunch is the main meal for Brasilians. In the evening, dinner (jantar—zhan-tar) is a less celebrated event for most. Ordinarily, Brasilians will eat a very light meal, consisting of bread and cheese, maybe some smoked meat, and a coffee for dinner. Now, understand, I am speaking from the perspective of having lived in small cities in Southern Brasil. In the larger cities, dinner is as large a meal as lunch for some. The main restaurants open for dinner traffic can be divided into about three categories: Churrascaria (shur-ask-car-rhea), which is a sort of Brasilian barbeque; Pizzaria; and Lanchonete. Let’s talk about the Churrascaria first…

A Churrascaria is a divine experience for meat lovers. The larger Churrascarias will charge you one price, not more than the equivalent of $10 US in most cases, to sit and eat as much as you like. The buffet at these meat houses is as famous as the grilled meats. The salads are beautifully decorated and delicious. You’ll find delicacies such as quail eggs, and there are several pasta and rice dishes to accompany your meal. Male servers will then come out and circle the restaurant, stopping by your table and offering you whatever it is on their long spear or platter. The choices seem to be endless. Most people have their favorites and can request that it be brought to them. By no means is this an exhaustive list of meats served; however, here are some of the choices: pork tenderloin, roast ham with pineapple, chicken hearts, chicken thighs, three or four different cuts of beef, including sirloin, rib, and filet mignon, pork sausages, even quail. The list goes on and on. Dessert is usually billed separately, but I have rarely seen anyone who, after eating all this food, has room for a dessert dish. A small table, usually at the entrance of the restaurant, contains complimentary liquors for your tasting pleasure. All in all, it is a unique and wonderful dining experience, but definitely not a place for vegetarians.

The next most popular evening spot to dine is the local Pizza House, serving pizza rodezio (rho-dee-zee-oh) style. Meaning, they come around to your table as they do in the churrascaria, only they serve up different flavors of pizza. They also bring around pasta dishes, french fries, and sometimes grilled chicken and steak. The Brasilians have some very different tastes when it comes to pizza, but once you get used to their style, it is one of the most enjoyable dining experiences you’ll ever have. Oh, did I mention that they also usually have a small buffet table with salads and pasta dishes to accompany your pizza all for one price, usually around $7 US. Almost sounds like I’m bragging, doesn’t it? Anyway, flavors, get ready: corn, shrimp, tuna, heart of palm (palmito), portugese (sausage, onions, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg), just to name a few. Of course, there are more recognizable flavors such as pepperoni, cheese and tomato, basil, spinich and ricotta, ham and pineapple. The most striking difference is probably the fact that they use very little tomato sauce on their pizzas. Oh, and included in the price are their dessert pizzas, my personal favorite. They have banana and cinnamon with a crumb topping, banana and cinnamon with a meringue topping, strawberry and chocolate, kiwi and chocolate, banana and chocolate, I think you see where this is going. Anyway, the most bizarre thing I have ever seen on pizza is ice cream. Yes, they take a slice of chocolate covered pizza and put a scoop of your favorite ice cream on top and serve it that way. I’ve never personally had room for that particular slice of pizza after sampling dozens of other sabors (flavors).

And finally, Lanchonetes. These range from regular small restaurants to free-standing trailers by the side of the road. What you can usually find here are porçoes (pore-so-enz) or portions such as a plate of French fries, fried yucca, calabreza sausage (akin to kolbasi) and onions with a ground yucca powder for dipping in, chicken hearts, or just a plate of green olives. All porçoes are eaten with a toothpick. Brasilians do NOT like to touch their food with their fingers. It is considered impolite. They either use a toothpick or fork for the porçoes, and hold sandwiches with a napkin wrapped around them. And be prepared, no restaurant that I have ever gone into, save for the ones using cloth napkins, have adequate napkins for cleaning up after eating…what they have are those little rectangle tissue napkins where you have to use a half container before your hands and mouth are properly wiped. This is merely an observation, not a complaint.

Other foods found at the lanchonete are typically x-saladas (which I discussed in the last blog about lunch), x-frango (chicken sandwich), and my favorite x-calabrezza (sliced sausage sandwich). When ordering most sandwiches, they automatically come with a slice of ham on top and the vegetables, so if you prefer it not to come out that way, be prepared to get odd looks when you ask for just a hamburger, cheese and bun. Takes them longer actually to make it that way because of the confusion, honestly. You’ll be asked over and over again, are you sure? Oh, and for those who really just crave a good old-fashioned American hamburger, there are McDonald’s restaurants in all the larger cities, but be prepared to pay a much higher price than for the traditional Brasilian fare.

Anyway, that gives you a good look at dinner options at least in the Southern part of Brasil on most any night. Next, I think I’ll finally tempt you with a little discussion about my favorite subject…dessert.

Till then, ciao!