Parilla! Rodizio! More beef!
Many people in the United States think of Latin America, or even South America, as being a homogenous land and culture. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of the vast distances. Bogota and Santiago are 4000 miles apart, 1000 miles more than between Montreal and Mexico City, and we certainly don’t lump these two climates and cultures together.
Neighboring countries in South America also have their pronounced nuances. Uruguayan tango is distinct from Argentinean (It’s largely in the kicking, don’t ask myMEGusta to explain), and Brazilian samba differs from them as much as a Viennese waltz.
Of course, this also applies to foods. Take barbecue for example, looking at, and tasting, the difference between Brazilian and Argentine/Uruguayan barbecues. (Yes, they share that as well as the tango.)
Argentine and Uruguayan barbecue is a lot like you’ll find in Spain, no surprise given that these Spanish speaking countries have so many other similarities. There, meats and sausages are grilled over open fire on grills called parillas.
Menu options are by cut, and the meat portion is cooked to order. Two of myMEGusta’s favorites are vacio (flank steak, often available in a half portion) and short ribs. The way to get to taste a selection is to go with a group, everyone ordering something different, which they will cut into portions in the kitchen or at the table.
Recent tastings included parilla barbecues at the Narbona Winery near Punte del Este, Uruguay, and at a polo horse breeding farm near Buenos Aires, Argentina, the home of many more wonderful parilla dinners.
The Brazilian rodizio, or churrascaria, on the other hand, uses skewered meats and either horizontal or vertical grills. The skewers are then paraded through the dining room so that individual pieces are sliced off. They then head back to the grill to keep warm and, depending on the cut, cook some more. The name of the game is to taste as many different cuts and flavors as you can, taking an ounce of this and an ounce of that.
Lunch at the original Fogo de Chao restaurant in Rio was delicious; they have branches in the United States, and other places like Plataforma in New York City feature the same type of menu: skewers and a giant salad bar with everything you can imagine. Servers roam the room armed with many, many kinds of meat and sausage (and usually some plank grilled salmon). Everyone gets a disk, red on one side and green on the other. If the green faces up, every roving skewer will be offered to you; if on red, they walk on by.
Here, the green side is facing up!