Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Motel Menus

Brazilians love to hear the many, mostly apocryphal, stories of American tourists who arrive in some city in Brazil without hotel accommodation. During their search for a place to sleep these hapless travelers spot a large sign MOTEL atop a nice looking building so they decide to check it out. When they ask the desk clerk what the price is, they're shocked by how low it is, so they decide to confirm it before checking in. They ask the clerk, "Are you sure it's only R$30 (about USD $15) per night?" The clerk replies, "Per night? Of course not, that's the price per hour."

The word motel, in most parts of Brazil, does NOT mean simple roadside accommodation where you can spend a night or two while on the road. What motel does mean is an establishment which rents out rooms by the hour, presumably for people to have sex. People sleep in hotels, people sleep with each other in motels. Motels range from the very basic to Las Vegas-style luxury with circular beds and mirrors on the ceiling. Some are grotty, but many are spotlessly clean with fresh sheets on the bed and thick towels in the bath. Motels can be found in every Brazilian city, from small towns to metropolises. There's little social stigma attached to using motels.

We're not sociologists here at Flavors of Brazil, but it seems there are a couple of main reasons for the popularity of motels in Brazil. First, it's usual for a family's unmarried children to live at home with parents even into their 20s, 30s and 40s, so there's really no place else for young couples to spend private time together. Second, commercial sex (prostitution) is big business in the country, and many professionals use motels to meet with clients. Also, clandestine sex outside the marriage bond is fairly common, so married men or women use motels to meet with their lovers.

Whatever activity it is that couples get up to during their stay in a motel, they often get hungry and thirsty. Room service is available in the better class of motels where one can order champagne, wine or cocktails delivered to the room, as well as a range of things to eat from simple snacks to gourmet dinners. Even grotty downmarket motels will have beer and packets of chips available for their clientele.

Next week, on June 12th, Brazilians celebrate their own equivalent of St. Valentine's Day, a day called Dia dos Namorados (Lovers' Day). In preparation for that big event, which is probably the biggest day of the year for motel operators, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, one of São Paulo's largest daily newspapers, sent Josimar Melo, one of their food critics, out to some of the city's motels to critique the menu and food service. The resulting article is both informative and amusing.

In his article, Sr. Melo was surprised to find that Asturias, one of the most expensive, luxurious motels, had the worst food.  (Click on the link above to visit the motel's website). Prices were high (steak with potatoes and rice for two cost nearly USD$50), the menu itself was tattered, and worst of all, the plate the dish was served on arrived wrapped in plastic!

Lumini Motel
His experience in another motel, Lumini, was exactly the opposite. The menu was created by Ana Soares, a consultant to many of São Paulo's better restaurants. In this motel, the food arrived on a cart covered with white linen, there were cloth napkins, and the plates of food were served under cloches. He found the menu interesting, with items such as chicken with Brie sauce, accompanied by risotto milanese (USD $20) or bacalhau (salt cod) with arugula and fresh vegetables (USD$25).

He also visited and evaluated other motels and found their offerings fell somewhere between these two in terms of quality, service and price.

From this article, it would appear that it's not only the circular bed or the mirror on the ceiling that keeps motel clients coming back. Just like in the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons, it's what comes out of the kitchen. Next week, on Dia dos Namorados, we're sure those kitchens will be serving up a lot of food for energy-depleted Brazilians in the nation's love motels.


  1. Spot on James! I'm laughing here trying to imagine the scene of a respectable family arriving at the front door of a motel in Brazil, trying to get a room! :)

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