Friday, July 29, 2011

Espetinhos - The Kebabs of Brazil

At any public event which is likely to draw a crowd, anywhere in Brazil, at any time of day or night, any season of the year, there'll  at least one person (and likely many more ) standing at a small charcoal grill, vending espetinhos. Espetinho is a Portuguese word which means "little skewer" and is the word that Brazilians use to describe what is known in English as a kebab. Espetinho vendors seem to have an extra-sensory ability to spot the time and location where they're likely to find trade. When one sees a few espetinho vendors setting up their grills on a street corner, or at the edge of a public square, you can be sure that in short order the space will be filled with a hungry crowd and the smell of grilling espetinhos will perfume the air with the smell of grilled meat.

Espetinhos can be made from many things. The most common are simple skewers of spiced beef or chicken. (There are Brazilian jokes about what the meat on a espetinho really is - they call it filé meow.) There are other varieties of espetinho, however, made from sausage or hot dogs, from shrimps or cubed fish, or even from queijo coalho, a Brazilian cheese that doesn't melt and so can be grilled.

Espetinho vendors normally offer their customers some type of hot sauce to spice up the kebab as well as farinha, the crunchy, almost sandy manioc flour without which Brazilians seem incapable of eating meat. Besides the kebab, they'll definitely have a styrofoam tub of beer on ice. For fairgoers, carnaval participants, sports fans or open-air concertgoes, an espetinho or two and an icy beer makes a perfect snack - just what you need to keep the party and the energy going.

Espetinhos are not expensive. In fact, they're often very cheap - just a real or two will get you a good-sized espetinho of chicken or cheese, with beef being just a bit more expensive. They're stand-up food par excellence and are eating directly from the skewer without silverware. It takes only a minute to eat one, and if you're still hungry after there's always another one being fired up on the grill, so you'll never wait long for seconds. They're good all day long, but at their best at the end of the night - just what you need at 3 am to get you home at the end of a long night's partying.

Because they're cooked through, espetinhos are usually sanitary and safe to eat. It's best, though, if you want to try an espetinho to choose a vendor who has a steady flow of customers and who is selling fresh-cooked skewers. Avoid those who have little trade and who have pre-cooked espetinhos sitting at the edge of the grill. You'll be glad you did.

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