Monday, December 26, 2011

A Dish Called Kaol

The counter at Café Palhares
In Belo Horizonte's bustling downtown sits a small diner by the name of Café Palhares. It's a small place, just  twenty seats around a U-shaped counter. Nothing much has changed since the diner was opened in 1938 by brothers Antônio e Nilton Palhares Dini. At lunchtime during the week, the diner's busiest time, a wait for a seat is inevitable, but no one lingers over a meal at Café Palhares, so the wait isn't normally too long. Most of those waiting to eat already know what they're going to order - exactly what most of those who are in the middle of their meal are eating - a dish called Kaol. There's a large sign on the diner's wall that states it quite simply: Ser mineiro é comer um Kaol. Translated into English it means "To be a mineiro (a resident of the state of Minas Gerais) is to eat Kaol.

Kaol doesn't look like a typical Portuguese word. In fact, until a few years ago, the official Portuguese alphabet didn't even have a K. But this dish is definitely Kaol with a K. It was baptized by a noted local bohemian and radical, and frequenter of Café Palhares, named Rômulo Paes. He created an acronym for the ingredients which make up the dish, starting with pre-meal aperitif, cachaça. Because he was a radical bohemian, he substituted K for the initial letter of cachaça, C. Next came A for arroz (rice), O for ovos (eggs) and finally L for lingüiça, a traditional Brazilian sausage. Cachaça, rice, eggs and sausage - Kaol.

Since the dish was first created at Café Palhares and baptized by Rômulo Paes it has become more elaborate, though the name hasn't changed at all. In the 1970s manioc farinha and a side of sauteed kale were added, and in the 1980s the kitchen began to throw on a piece or two of fried pork rind (torresmo). Today, the restaurant allows customers to swap lingüiça for other cuts of meat, such as roast pork, or even fried fish. Traditionalists will have none of that though, and swear by the original dish with its lingüiça.

The shot of cachaça is to be downed in one gulp before the arrival of the plate from the kitchen, but to accompany Kaol, a glass of icy-cold draft beer (chope) is traditional. Most diners don't find room for dessert after a full plate of Kaol, but there are a variety on offer.

The clientele at Café Palhares, to this day, is primarily downtown office workers and shoppers, though the fame of Kaol, and the growing number of gastronomic tourists in Brazil, mean that from time to time non-mineiros make their way into the diner. They may be non-mineiros when they arrive, but by the time they've finished their plate of Kaol, they've become mineiros at heart.

5 comments:

  1. Very well done. Exactly the way it is. Way back there it would be opened all night long and the Kaol was a treat at 5AM on the way home from a bohemian night. Every one should try!

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  2. Thanks for the compliment, Marcio!
    JAMES

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  3. I've just been watching about this cafe on Andy Bates Brazilian street feasts. I travel to BH now and then, I'm definitely going to check out this place next time I go.

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