A Taste of Brazil

Last night, my husband and I went out on a date. The kids were having a sleep over at their grandparents’ place and my husband and I actually managed to go out with each other. That’s right. We actually went out on a date together! Hurray!

Instead of meeting up at the ubiquitous Town Hall Steps, which is the place to meet anyone in Sydney’s CBD, we met up in the back streets of Mona Vale which in located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, about an hour’s drive north of the CBD. This is where my husband changes buses on his way home from work and I found a park around and around the corner. As it turned out, getting a parking spot wasn’t much of a problem . Even though it’s school holidays, Mona Vale wasn’t a thriving metropolis. Although to be fair, it is winter and this is a beach area. You’d have to be some kind of lunatic, a surfer or a kid to go swimming at the moment. It’s totally freezing and I’m actually starting to wonder whether we’ll be able to go ice skating on the Hawkesbury River soon. Despite those lying weather reports of daytime highs around 18 degrees celsius, it is definitely sub-zero here and icicles are dangling from the rafters.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since we’ve been out for dinner in Mona Vale and weren’t sure what to expect. We found a Lebanese place down a side street which looked interesting as well as the usual Thai and Indian places. The Thai place is very good (or at least it used to be) but I wasn’t in the mood for Thai. We were on a special night out and Thai felt a bit ordinary. We have Thai so often at home, that it’s now on par with baked beans on toast. I wanted something exotic which would not only tickle my taste buds but was also festive, lively and surrounded by people. I have spent the last week looking out at the sea and as much as I love the view, I needed to see some faces.

There were probably good places to eat out in Mona Vale but the overall atmosphere didn’t appeal and so we headed for Newport, which is the next beach down when you’re heading north towards Palm Beach. As we drove down the hill and hit the main drag, I remembered the Brazilian barbeque place we’d been wanting to try and that was it. We were going Brazilian.

Braza is what is what is known as a churrascaria, which means they barbeque meat in the traditional Brazilian way developed by the “Gauchos” or cowboys on the pampas in Southern Brazil around Rio Grande do Sol. The meat is generally marinated overnight in sea salt, garlic and lime and then it is roasted on a spit over a coal fire. Meat was traditionally sliced off and the Gauchos ate their fill. In keeping with this, the restaurant is “all you can eat” and provedores move from table to table offering beef, lamb, chicken, prawns, sausage and for the more adventurous, even chicken hearts.

Of course, we knew none of this when we walked in off the street. That’s one of the benefits of Google…being able to do your research and actually sound like you know what you’re talking about despite being ignorant. We had no idea what to expect and were totally impressed with what turned out of be a cultural and culinary adventure. We were two humble Australians without a passport or plane ticket, touching down in Rio experiencing World Cup soccer fever and the tastes,flavours, sounds and traditions of Brazil.

Initially, like when you try anything new, the whole Brazilian experience was a little overwhelming. The waitress was Brazilian with a strong accent and the menu was quite foreign, talking about this thing called “churrasco”. I read that it was “all you can eat”. I understood all about that from my high school “chew-and-spew” Chinese experiences where friends competed over who could down the most sweet and sour pork without exploding. Aside from that and a few of the side serves, the rest of the menu was foreign, different and very authentic. We were no longer in Newport. We were now tourists in Rio struggling with a foreign language, menu interspersed with English but fortunately a very helpful waitress appeared and came to our rescue. I don’t know whether she sensed our uneasiness but straight away she asked us whether we have been there before. Phew!!! She walked us through the menu. We order and almost immediately our sides appear and a Brazilian dude in a t-shirt, which I later learn is called a provedore, turns up with some huge king prawns on a plate. I’m sold. They are delicately cooked with a subtle flavour which I love but can’t place. I have so much to learn before I can become a Masterchef, or even write well about food and cooking. It’s not as easy as it looks and takes real talent.

We are three-quarters through dinner and starting to consider statements like “elegant sufficiency”, “riding the porcelain bus” while conjuring up images of medieval feasts and of course, that immortal scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, where Mr Creosote regurgitates gallons of minestrone with unforgettable force repainting the room. All these thoughts( or should I say warnings), are going up and down between my head and my stomach when drumming heralds the arrival of the much anticipated Brazilian dancers. When it comes to describing dancing, I really am attempting to write in a very foreign tongue. I love dancing but unlike singing, it’s not something I can do in the privacy of the shower without causing myself grievous bodily harm. So from what I can glean from Google, these dancers were doing the Samba and are referred to as Sambistas. Goodness knows what you call their luxurious, towering headpieces made of intensely colourful feathers and their itsy-bitsy teeny weeny bikinis which jingle jangle as they move rapidly yet smoothly like well-oiled machines. However, the drumming and the dancing certainly created the kind of electric, festive atmosphere I was looking for on our special night out and the place was packed.

By the end of the dancing, I was really reaching the end of my culinary road. Or, to be really honest, I had passed that point and was saving that very, very last rather borrowed space for something extra special and superlatively scrumptious.

That’s when the provedore offered us some of the barbequed pineapple, telling us that it was “good for digestion”. It didn’t take much encouragement to twist my very malleable, rubber arm. This pineapple, which had seemingly drenched in sugar and cinnamon before barbequing, was absolutely scrumdidillyumptious. Yum! Yum! Yum!

I think it is a measure of a truly excellent restaurant when you can be so completely transported beyond your current reality and into another world, even for just a few hours and be some place else. That’s what we experienced at Braza.

As the saying goes, we’ll be back.

Given all the excitement of the World Cup currently being held in Brazil, why don’t you get into the spirit and try a Brazilian Restaurant near you.

Xx Rowena

Featured image Source: Classic picanha cut of beef, sliced at a churrascaria, photo by Nikchick/Flickr Creative Commons License.

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