Thursday, June 18, 2015

Brazilian Churrascaria, Discovering Centro and Meeting an Old Friend

Saturday, June 13, 2-15
Brazilian Churrascaria at Conference Banquet, Discovering Centro and Ipanema Again

            Saturday morning saw me consume a heavy breakfast of fruit, croissants stuffed with blue cheese and ham, coffee and passionfruit yogurt. I showered, dressed and off I went back to the Windsor Florida Hotel to attend the penultimate session of the day—a panel featuring economic development in Kerala, India, and another by Prof. Ashok Malhotra of SUNY, Oneonta, that interested me immensely. They were just as absorbing as I expected them to be and I felt fully gratified about having listened to four inspiring speakers.

Discovering Centro and Praca XV November:

We were then all free until 2.00 pm when the concluding Conference Banquet was to be held. This allowed me to take the Metro from Catete station to Centro as I used my guide book to take a Walking Tour of the area known as Praca XV November. The area is filled with Portuguese churches each representing the glories of what is known as Brazilian Baroque. I popped in and out of several, then found myself in the maze of little by-lanes behind the main avenues where Rio has not changed in centuries. The architecture is highly reminiscent of what I see in Mapuca and Panjim in Goa--it is the colonial Portuguese aesthetic at its best. And although faded with age and lack of maintenance, it is still hugely appealing to me.

             Going through the Arcos de Telles (the only existing arch from Portuguese colonial days) and the Trevasso Commercial, I found myself in the huge square known as Praca XV November.
In the center of the square is the imposing equestrian sculpture of Dom Pedro II who made Rio his royal temporary capital and whose shadow (literally!) looms largely over the city.
And to my delight, being a Saturday morning, there was a flea market in progress. Now I can never resist the sale of antiques—so there I was, browsing through make shift stalls selling everything from old china, glass, porcelain, medals, coins, maps, fabrics and linens, cameras, light fixtures, etc. It was great fun to trawl through the stalls but nothing caught my fancy and before long, I was skirting the Paco Imperial—the main administrative building dating from colonial times and looking for a bus that would take me back to the hotel.
Off to the Brazilian Churrascaria at Porcao Ipanema:

            It was in about half an hour that I reached the hotel in time to join the rest of the conference party headed for the Metro station to get once again to the ritzy streets of Ipanema for the concluding Conference Banquet. We were a jolly lot in the train for, by this stage, we had gotten to know each other well and felt like old friends.

            Teresa, our liaison person, led the group to the restaurant called the Porcao Ipanema—supposedly one of the best restaurants in the city, for Brazilian barbecue that is known as Churrascaria (this type of meal is also well-known in Argentina and there are a few restaurants of this kind in New York City as well). We were led to a private room in which all 30 of us were accommodated and there, while drinks orders were taken, the thankyou speeches and gifts were delivered. It was all great fun and amidst much cheering and heckling, the deeds were done and the eating began.

            First, we were directed to the Salad Bar to take our pick of the offerings—and there were countless delicious salads featuring a mixture of fruit and veg. On a side table, my heart leapt at the sight of Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, which is a thick pork stew made with black beans and sausages. It is eaten with a variety of fixins’ that include steamed rice, wilted greens, polenta and a variety of sauces and toppings with which I was unfamiliar. I was told not to leave Brazil without trying this dish—so I was delighted at the opportunity to taste it…but sadly, I was not much impressed. The Goan Sorpotel which was also a derivative of Portuguese colonial rule over India is, if I may say so, far more scrumptious! Still, I wasn’t going to spend a long while making comparisons because meat awaited table-side.

And by golly, it just kept coming. Every style of barbecued meat from beef (sirloin, chuck, T-bone, etc) were brought to the table together with pork, lamb, sausages and chicken. Before I knew it, my plate was full and I felt utterly overwhelmed as I stared at a plate that represented the worst side of gluttony. That was when I started refusing any more table-side offerings and focused on finishing what was placed before me. This place is a carnivore’s paradise and were I as crazy about grilled meat as some people are, I might have done justice to it. As it was, I have to say that I missed the American barbecue or steak sauces that we find on our tables, the mustard that one finds in France and the horseradish sauce that is found internationally. The meat was wonderfully succulent but a tad too ‘natural’ for me. We had a array of desserts to choose from and I went for the Chocolate Cake—but I have to admit that I was bursting by the time dessert arrived and would gladly have passed on it.

Coffee and Conversation with an Old Friend:

            Since I found myself at Ipanema once again, I thought it wise to call a local Brazilian gal that I had known a long time ago in New York. Ana-Teresa was once married to a good friend of mine called Vivian, but with the end of their marriage, our brief friendship also ended. Since she had returned to her native home in Rio, I felt it wise to make contact with her and was delighted to discover, from our phone call, that she was absolutely thrilled to hear from me after almost 15 years.

            Ana-Teresa told me to wait for her at the restaurant as she would come in search of me. Right enough, an hour later, we had an affectionate reunion and, at my request, we went on a long walk through the chic streets of Ipanema and caught up on the intervening years. I badly needed to walk off my big meal and she was willing to oblige. About a half hour later, we found a Starbucks and popped in there for a seated chinwag. While she had a coffee (I passed as I had simply no room), we continued our long conversation. It was as if all that time and distance had never happened.

But about an hour later, with darkness having fallen swiftly over the city, we parted—she gave me a ride to the metro station in her car and carried on her way—suggesting that I pick up Hawaianas (the Carioca word for ‘flip flops’) from a shop called Hawaiana before I left Rio as they are famous for their beach footwear and make a very light and sturdy souvenir. I thought it was a great idea and resolved to return to Ipanema on Monday.

            Back on the underground train, I was at my apartment by 8.00 pm when I sat down to a do a bit of reading for a book assignment on which I am working. I spend the next couple of hours deep in my reading and at 10.00 pm, got ready for bed.

            It had been a very productive day and I was proud of how much I was packing into each of my days in Rio.

            Until tomorrow, Ciao!             

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