Food on Swords

· culture ·

One of the things you soon discover about Brazilians (especially if you are a non-meat eater^1^) is that they love their meat. Nowhere is this love better expressed than at the churrascaria, where meat from an enormous variety of animals (including caiman and capybara) is grilled over a charcoal or wood fire on skewers. However, because they love meat so much, I'm fairly sure that Brazilians would regard the small wooden or steel skewers we're familiar with as suitable only for children. "Call that a skewer", they'd say, Crocodile Dundee style, "this is a skewer!", whereupon they would pull out something that looks remarkably like a medieval broadsword.

Another rather wonderful thing about eating out in Brazil is that sharing is the norm. No-one buys a beer just for themselves (or even a round of beer in individual glasses or bottles), rather you buy one or more large-ish bottles, ask for the requisite number of glasses, and share. Food is also often shared, and it's common to get a rodizio service in restaurants, whereby you pay a set price and they keep bringing a variety of food to the table which you share, until you're so full you beg them not to bring any more.

Rodizio is common in churrascaria too, with the added thrill of the waiters bringing around huge hunks of meat on the very same swords that they've been cooked on. It adds a bit of a frisson to the evening, as a sudden and badly-timed turn to one of your dining companions can imperil your ears if a waiter happens to be about to offer you a nice hunk of lamb.

That brings me to the 'appetite wheel'. One of the churrascarias (I've no idea if that's the correct plural) we visited had a little bi-coloured plastic disc on each table, which rotated in a holder, with one half red and one half green. The idea was that you displayed the green half when you wanted more meat, then turned it to the red half when you wanted to say, unlike Mr. Creosote, that you really didn't have any more room for even a 'waffer-thin mint'. Unfortunately, there was no symbol for "yes please, but only if it's not a mammal or bird", so I spent rather more of my time saying "Não, obrigada" than I felt was strictly polite.

^1^ Just before I left, we watched the film of Everything is Illuminated. One of the main characters, Jonathan, is a vegetarian travelling in Ukraine, and encounters a certain amount of disbelief when he declares his vegetarianism, the most common comment being "Is he ill?". Brazilians were much more polite, but the looks I got when I explained that I don't eat meat had many of the same overtones of incomprehension and concern for my mental and physical well-being.