Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brazil's Own Blue Plate Special - O Prato Feito

According to dictionary.com, a blue plate special can be defined as "a specially priced main course, as of meat and vegetables, listed as an item on a menu, especially in an inexpensive restaurant." The word has long been part of the jargon of American lunch-restaurants and diners, along with such gems as "Adam and Eve on a raft" for two poached eggs on toast, and "whistle berries" for baked beans. No one is really sure where the phrase originated but it has been found in the New York Times as far back as 1926, and by 1945 was already in the Oxford English Dictionary .

Brazilians are certainly familiar with the concept of the blue plate special, if not the name. In cities everywhere in Brazil, as soon as the noon-hour approaches thousands of blue- and white-color workers leave their posts and head for a nearby restaurant for a meal, usually the main meal of their day. CEOs and executives might dine in luxury at expense-account restaurants, but the vast majority of Brazilian dine at simple, economic restaurants that serve a decent meal at a decent price and not much more. Most of these restaurants serve something called a prato feito (often abbreviated to PF on menus and signboards) and in restaurants where PF is on the menu, it's likely to be the most popular choice day in and day out. It's Brazil's blue plate special. The literal translation of prato feito would be "composed plate", and for a Brazilian it means a plate including rice, beans, french fries, some sort of protein (beef, chicken, fish), a fried egg and salada. Salada is usually just a leaf of lettuce with a slice or two of tomato on top. a PF is heavy on carbohydrates and protein and noticeably lacking in greens or vegetables. When well made, though, it's tasty, filling and cheap. 

Because many restaurants host the same clientele every workday, or at least several times during the week, most restaurants have a weekly schedule of pratos feitos - the accompaniments don't vary, but the main protein does. Monday may be beefsteak, Tuesday fried chicken, Friday fish, etc. The price doesn't change from day to day, but there's just enough variety to avoid complete monotony in the PF.

If you're ever in the commercial center of a Brazilian city during lunch time, you should try a PF at least once. Look for a restaurant that looks respectably clean and orderly, but nothing fancy. Check for prato feito or PF on the signboard in front of the restaurant, and most importantly, look for a restaurant that is busy and with a steady turn-over. Your PF might not be the gourmet meal of your dreams, but it will be satisfying and tasty.  And it's an essential part of a Brazilian culinary adventure.

(The Brazilian pronunciation of prato feito is something like PRAH-too FAY-too. Or you can simply order one by saying the letters PF, pronounced in Portugues PAY EFFEE.) 

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