23 Apr 2010

Brazilian: Churrascaria vs. Rodizio

Brazil_CuisineYou’ve probably heard the interchangeable terms of Churrascaria and Rodizio. It is actually very simple to put them in the right context. Rodizio is the general term for the style of service of prix fixe price menu where food servers bring an offering of food to each customer several times throughout the meal, until the customers signify that they have had enough. Rodizio style is served in a Churrascaria, which refers to the establishment for grilled/barbecued meat, where the passadores (meat waiters) serve the food at your table with knives and skewer. Churrasco, roughly translated in Portuguese, is the cooking style of barbecuing or grilling different cuts of meats. Next time you’re in Brazil, you can ask for directions to the best Churrascaria in town with style. The locals appreciate when you understand both terms well, which coincidentally have become part of globalized household vocabulary.

In the early 1900’s, German and Italian immigrants settled in Southern Brazil in the area known as the Pampas, or High Plains. The Pampas soil is rich and fertile – the land is and has been ideal for the raising livestock as well as the harvesting of bountiful of fruits and vegetables.

After the long awaited harvest of plentiful gifts from the nature, the new settlers would gathered twice, as did the Pilgrims and Indians centuries before in North America, to celebrate and to show their gratitude for their good fortune from God. Just like the Thanksgiving celebration, fresh fruits and vegetables were prepared and served at a communal table where everyone would participate. Also, tantalizing cuts of beef, chicken, pork and fish would be seasoned and barbecued on skewers over open fire pits by the ranchers, who were known as gauchos. They then carried the freshly cooked meats to the tables, and sliced juicy portions off the skewers on the plates. Each was free to choose from any or all of the meats.

As the population grew, the people in the Pampas began opening restaurants based on the same traditional feasts, offering the same style food as did the gauchos, but with the added quality of European style service. The concept caught on quickly, and has now become a permanent fixture of Brazil. This style of restaurant is known as Churrascaria.

Believe it or not, I had my first taste of Rodizio in Singapore, out of all places. I was working in Singapore then, and a Brazilian friend told me about this establishment and he said this place receives many rave reviews. So we decided to investigate and seek the truth. One Friday, after a long week and never-ending work, 24-hour fast, and over an hour cab ride, we were finally there. My skepticism was answered by confident passadors who graced the floor with their individual meat sticks. Over three hours later and several pounds of meat, we both agreed that this place even beats some Rodizios in Brazil. My friend gave his seal of approval and nod of satisfaction, and coming from a Brazilian, what more could I ask?

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