Flash in the Pan 

Thumbs-up down south

In last week’s installment, Chef Boy Ari led his ragged band of fellow World Social Forum attendees out of the midnight chaos of the youth camp, through the streets of Porto Alegre, Brazil, to the gates of Garcia’s Churrascaria (open till 7 a.m.).

Inside the restaurant, Chef Boy Ari, in his butchered Portuguese, convinced the waiter that we were not going to partake in their churrasco until we inspected the kitchen. Next thing you know, CBA is following the waiter, and the rest of the gang is following CBA, into the blasting hellfire furnace where the meat sizzles on skewers.

The hum and the heat, like being inside the engine room of a ship—the sound of splattering grease, the smells compelling the salivary glands to juice. These are the sensations of home for Chef Boy Ari. On any continent of our delicious planet, walking into a restaurant kitchen with notebook in hand is like climbing into the saddle of my favorite horse. Yeee-haw!

The cooks looked somewhat astonished at this band of gringos walking down the narrow kitchen. But when you’re a gringo in Brazil, you get used to the stares. We gave our hosts the thumbs-up—a ubiquitous gesture anywhere in Brazil. Our thumbs-ups were returned in kind.

First we passed the salad table, where the many cold offerings and condiments are dished out. Then we passed the deep fryers, where strips of polenta were immersed in boiling oil. Then, the skewers, slowly turning over the flames. It looked pretty good to me. I gave that raised eyebrow, open-palmed expression that says “what do you guys think?” to the gang. They nodded eagerly. I nodded to the waiter, gave him the thumbs-up. He gave me the thumbs-up. It was a deal.

Churrasco is Brazilian barbeque. The heart of Brazilian churrasco is here, southern Brazil, homeland of the South American cowboys known as gauchos. Watching the various savory items dripping their grease into the flames, I couldn’t help but remember my buddy Knucklehead, the Texan Bar-B-King of Stevensville. I wished he could have been there to sample the goods.

Well, Knucklehead couldn’t be there, and neither could you, dear reader. But that’s why I’m there—to eat all of these things on your behalf and tell you about it. This time, I’ve got nine pardners who will back me up on every lip-smacking word.

We sat down at the table, ordered beer and caipirinhas, and proceeded to examine the menus. At this point I should point out that the caipirinha, the national libation of Brazil, was recently named the hippest drink in the world by E Magazine, ousting the incumbent margarita. A caipirinha is made from cachaça, a Brazilian sugar cane alcohol, mixed with crushed lime and sugar. If you can’t get any cachaça, you can use vodka. Then, technically, it’s a caipirosca, which is still pretty hip.

We then proceeded to order meat and whatnot, after which the waiter asked if we needed any mayonesa with our meal. At this point, my sources tell me, I had a shit-eating grin on my face. “Why yes” I replied, in my finest butchered Portuguese, “I think we do.”

First to arrive, after the drinks, were the still-sizzling, domino-sized chunks of deep fried polenta, sprinkled generously with grated parmesan cheese. All around, we noted that these morsels went quite well with both beer and caipirinhas.

Then came the chorizo, 10 of them on a single skewer, which was placed point-down in the center of our table into a specially-designed skewer holder. It looked like the skewer was stabbed like a dagger into the table. We passed around the skewer, and each of us took a melt-in-your-mouth chunky sausage.

Then came the mayonesa, which was when Chef Boy Ari learned that in Brazil, mayonesa is the word for potato salad. It was accompanied by pickled beets and onions, sliced cabbage, and tomatoes. We partook of the mayonesa, and it was not a problem.

Then came a skewer of 12 chicken hearts. To our collective surprise, Zeca, who never missed an opportunity to eat chicken or profess his love for their meat, chickened out. “I’m not going to eat chicken hearts” he said. “That’s gross.” Au contraire, dear Zeca.

Next came a skewer of picanha, beef loin, followed by two skewers of xixu, or mixed skewer of chorizo, chicken, picanha, pork, tomato, and onion. By this point, more and more drinks had been ordered and guzzled, and we were a blood-and-booze-drunk crew of belching, grease-slurping gringos in gaucho country.

Our party was joined by some telecom union members from Minas Gerais, a state in central Brazil, who had come to the World Social Forum. Together, we toasted the forum and all the good people who had come. Then we traded obscenities regarding a certain politician with “W” for a middle initial. After hand-shakes and back-slaps, we parted ways with thumbs-up all around.

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: flash@missoulanews.com

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