Tempo de leitura: 14 minutos
Já precisou levar estrangeiros a um rodízio? Já precisou dizer “rodízio” em inglês ou, pior, explicar como ele funciona? E picanha? São poucas as pessoas que não passaram por pelo menos uma dessas situações. Não basta traduzir “churrasco” por barbecue e achar que está tudo bem. Para resolver esses e outros problemas afins, reproduzo o artigo do Prof. Michael Jacobs publicado na revista New Routes. Barbecue in Abundance é um texto leve, agradável e muito bem-humorado, características marcantes do trabalho deste autor inglês que mora no Brasil há mais de 30 anos. Como de hábito, comentários são bem-vindos. Bom apetite!
BARBECUE IN ABUNDANCE
by Michael Jacobs
So, you think a cook out, an open-air barbecue is the tops? I seem to remember my friend’s barbecue on one of my, lately infrequent, trips to the UK. Two lamb chops and a bit of greenery? And the American attempt – some burgers and sausage? Lots of ritual and bonhomie but, as George the Elder was wont to say “Where’s the beef?”. Remember, and compare.
For the first-time visitor to Brazil one of the initial gastronomical surprises is bound to be the introduction to a rodízio barbecue. The word rodízio is one of those which I find extremely difficult to translate. So much so that I won’t even try. Actually, it’s not that it’s difficult to translate; it’s impossible. At least it is if you’re looking for just one word to describe it. If it were just hard I’d give it a try and hope for the best. But after living in Brazil since 1967 I know I can’t do it so I won’t even attempt it.
Suffice to say that it’s an all-you-can-eat affair. Now, try to imagine all the prime cuts of meat you can eat for a fixed price served sizzling, steaming and smoking on your plate and you can just begin to imagine it for what it is, and what wonders you’re in for when you take your place.
For starters, take the meat itself. But when I say for starters I don’t mean ‘starters’ as in appetizers, I’m just starting to talk about the event. That kind of starter. And an event it is. It’s never just a meal. Comparing a rodízio to a meal is like comparing a Ferrari to a car – my car. I invite you now to accompany me on a brief tour of a typical rodízio barbecue. Well, perhaps not so typical, as I’ve chosen as my guideline an up-scale place not far from my home. It’s good. Really good.
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Beef cuts include picanha (more about that in a minute), rump steak, filet steak, strip loin, hump (Yes, hump from Zebu cattle. It’s delicious, tender and tasty), ribs, spare ribs (I’ve honestly never understood nor figured out why they’re spare or what they replace), brisket, or bottom sirloin, top sirloin, tender sirloin (and the others weren’t?), and, well, sirloin. Lamb, not really a Brazilian favorite, but growing in popularity, is served with the traditionally British mint sauce. Lamb comes as shoulder, leg and ‘short French rack’ (nice touch that). For pork lovers there is sirloin, rib, smoked tenderloin, suckling pig with crispy crackling, sausage and – hold it! – wild boar. Chicken includes hearts and upper thighs with drumsticks. Fish is also available, eaten as an appetizer or main dish, in the form of smoked salmon and fresh cod. Oh, by the way, a word to those Americans who think chicken wings are the epitome of conspicuous meat consumption. Yes, you’ll get some prime chicken served with your rodízio, as I mentioned, but as for wings, just forget them. I’ve never really figured out why wings are considered such a delicacy in the US. I remember seeing a menu that went something like this: 12 Wings – U$ 6.00; 24 Wings U$ 10; 50 Wings U$ 12.00; 500 Wings U$ 20.00, and so on. I looked at the menu in amazement and remarked to my American companions “In Brazil we throw these things away”. I may be exaggerating, a little, and I know I am, but the wings seem to be one of the last things on a lot of people’s minds when chicken is around.
The word rodízio means something that swivels, circles, rotates, gyrates, that comes or goes round. In our case it’s the waiters who come round, and round, and round, and… Get the idea? They only stop coming round when you say ‘enough’ or simply collapse, prostrated through exhaustion brought on by SPS (Sudden Protein Shock). Quite often you’ll see someone, normally a dad giving the family their Sunday treat, just slide wordlessly off his chair into blissful oblivion under the table until the family, ready to leave, just scoop him up and shovel him into the car. But I’m getting ahead of myself (I’m writing this on Sunday morning. It’s about midday and I haven’t had lunch yet so that explains why I’m getting ahead of myself. I bet you would too if you were writing about all this on an empty stomach).
Let’s go back to the beginning. Rodízio barbecues began to catch on in the south of Brazil in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state bordering on Argentina and Uruguay. Gaúchos, the people of this state, famed machomen, have always been famous for their barbecues.
The custom spread and has now turned into big business. Indeed, many of the rodízio restaurants have waiters dressed in the typical outfits, or costumes, from Rio Grande do Sul. They represent imported labor as they very often do come from that state. Gaúchos is pronounced as /gah-oo-shos/.
The larger restaurants will normally seat hundreds of people at a time. You must remember however that my reference for this type of thing is always the city of São Paulo. You won’t get the same service, volume or meat in a small place like; let’s take the example of Caçu. Caçu is a town of about six thousand souls located in the interior of Goiás state. They probably don’t have an eating-place such as the ones I’m referring to here. The logistics just wouldn’t be applicable on that scale.
These emporiums of gluttony abound in Sampa – which is how São Paulo is sometimes affectionately termed – and custom reaches its zenith on Sunday lunchtime. These steakhouses, for want of a better term, are easily identified. First by the aroma of roasting meat which sometimes seems to waft over the place, across streets and parks, drifting lazily along whole city blocks, until finally hitting you in the nose and bringing more saliva to your mouth than Pavlov’s dogs. But if you’ve a bad case of the flu or blocked sinuses that day, you’ll still perhaps be able to identify the frenetic show. I’ve seen on occasion large colorful helium-filled balloons on sale at the door and even a small band, sometimes made up of clowns, will be tooting merrily away to call everybody’s attention. Sort of a “Roll up, roll up, and join the fun” type thing.
Whole families emigrate there for a few hours, and then bingo! There’s your day gone, as after eating out in this lavish style there isn’t much else you can do except go home, switch on the box, and crash for the rest of the Sabbath.
You don’t start with the main meat course however. First comes the salad with which you serve yourself at the abundantly stocked salad bar. Here it may come as a bit of a shock to some that you have to actually physically do something for yourself. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you’re still fresh and have an empty stomach, kept that way on purpose so that you can really stoke up with as much as possible. This is, mind you, the only effort you will have to make. The rest is done for you from then on, unless you want to waddle over and get more salad later on.
Ha! I’ve just had a thought. The type of salad I remember from my days in England. Watercress, cucumber, lettuce and a stick of celery spring to mind. “Don’t put too much salt on the celery” and the admonishment “It’s bad for you”, also seems to ring a bell. Once again, comparing that UK one with a Brazilian rodízio salad is like comparing a ‘hot’ day in England with temperatures in the “sizzling” seventies (that was actually a newspaper headline – “England sizzles in the seventies” – some years back) and a ‘warm’ day in Brazil with temperatures up to the mid 30s (Celsius). You will find the plain salad ingredients I just mentioned plus other pedestrian stuff but more exciting treats can and do include, at least in the more upscale places, an avocado salad with strawberry sauce, heart of palm soufflé, sushi, sashimi, baby tomatoes and carrots, asparagus, olives, quail eggs, Parma ham, shrimp, paella, squid stroganoff, sweet potato in molasses, a selection of excellent cheeses, some pasta, tropical fruits and a whole host of other goodies that depend on seasonal availability. So now you’re ready to take a load off, tuck in your napkin, rock and roll, or perhaps just roll. It rather depends on your biotype.
The waiters, seeing you tucking in the napkin and into the food, will now start to exercise their role in the pageant. They come at you, sometimes in droves, but normally at something like 20-second intervals. OK. I may be exaggerating on timing, but they do come awfully quickly. They offer their respective cuts, mostly served on long espetos, one after the other. (An espeto is a skewer in the shape of a fencing sword).
For the newcomer it is very hard to resist their blandishments and the temptation is to say yes to everything. This doesn’t mean you are greedy (you’re not, are you?), it just means you don’t want to offend the charming attentive waiter by refusing his kind offers.
But here a word to the wise. Don’t! Don’t accept everything that comes your way. Want to know why? It spoils the fun and believe you me, the waiters won’t be offended in the slightest. Plus the fact it will almost certainly curtail the whole eating experience, even more so if you try to keep up with the tempting offers by eating at a fast pace. By the time your fellow trenchermen are just getting into gear, chewing slowly on their carefully selected choice cuts, you’ll be looking round helplessly, stomach prematurely distended, wondering what to do now while everyone else is still looking forward to things to come. And you know it’s too early for coffee and liqueurs. This is a disaster. To avoid it just curb your impatience and let things happen in their own sweet way and time. Some of the places have a little ‘stop’ and ‘go’ thing on the table so you can signal to the waiters when you want or don’t want any more at that particular moment.
The best tip here is to take a little of everything that catches your fancy. If you’re a bit dubious about a certain cut, its readiness for your palate, your palate’s readiness for it, if it’s too over or underdone, or any one of a dozen reasons, just – echoing Nancy Reagan – say no (but with a thank you). And don’t you dare feel guilty about it. The waiters accept this with surprising grace and humbleness. I believe it’s part of the training where apprentices are given the least appetizing (that’s a misnomer actually. It’s all appetizing. The only difference really is that certain cuts are sometimes less popular than others. Alligator meat, wild bore and frogs served by some places falling neatly into this category. Sorry about the extensive parentheses) meats to practice on so that they can learn to deal with rejection while keeping their chins up and a stiff upper lip.
Now, one waiter who has worked his way up the cuts, so to speak, is the guy who brings the picanha. Picanha is considered the most ‘noble’ cut of beef. More about noble in a minute (or half an hour if you’re a slow reader). Back when I was in the meat packing business we would refer to picanha as cloak steak. I don’t know if that’s still true, because it seems there wasn’t a large demand for export, as to produce this cut the butcher apparently has to more or less destroy three other prime beef cuts. So I believe it’s not very well known outside of Brazil. (I could be wrong on this. I’m often wrong on many things, which my readers point out to me with unconcealed delight).
Picanha is normally served on the rare side and includes a capa (capa is a cover, or cloak. Whence its name in English) of quite thick fat. Naturally your personal physician wouldn’t want you to eat this so my suggestion is not to take him along with you. But I’m not here to give you dietary guidelines. All I want to do is tell you what’s nice. And picanha is nice. Picanha tastes nice. (I know, I know, I’m sounding like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction here). With a little bit of fatty ‘cloak’ it tends to taste even nicer. So what picanha can do for you is a gustatory equivalent of a night spent in bed with Cameron Diaz, to use a slightly sexual metaphor. I mentioned a little earlier the term ‘noble’ as applied to cuts of meat. Noble means prime really, but using it now will help you get used to Brazilian barbecue terminology, and I would say the sooner the better.
Speak up! We’re listening…
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