Monday, November 22, 2010

Rodízio - An Etiquette Manual

For someone unfamiliar with how the rodízio system works, entering a Brazilian churrascaria for the first time can be an intimidating experience, especially if one doesn't speak Portuguese. The first impression is likely to be that the restaurant is enormous (some have as many as 400-500 places) and that there is a tremendous amount of noise and activity. There are diners bustling to and from the salad bars, there are wait staff serving drinks and clearing tables, and there are a number of men, known as passadores, who carry a large spear full of meat and a very sharp carving knife and who move from table to table slicing cuts of meat off their skewers at diners' request.

Those diners who are cognizant of the etiquette of rodízio already know exactly how to act and how to get good service in a churrascaria. For those readers of Flavors of Brazil who haven't already learned proper rodízio behavior, here is a small manual of etiquette to guide you through your first visits to a churrascaria. Within a short period of time, you should be able to dine with the churrascaria "experts" and never make a false step. There's no gold star to win, only the confidence to sit back, relax, and eat your way to meat heaven.

Rodízio - An Etiquette Manual

The Table - When you sit at the table in a churrascaria, you will notice a few differences from standard restaurant table settings. First, next to each place setting, usually on the left, is a small salad plate on which has been placed a pegador, a set of tongs similar to ice tongs. This utensil will be used to hold a slice of meat as the passador slices it off the skewer and then to transfer it to your dining plate. The passador has the skewer in one hand and a large carving knife in the other, so without the diner's help, the grilled meat will fall to the plate and create a mess. Therefore, it's essential to cooperate with the passador by using the pegador to help him. You might also notice a small round token, about the size of a beer coaster in an English pub, near your place at the table. It's green on one side and red on the other. There might be the Portuguese word for "yes" - sim - printed on the green side, and "no" - não - on the red side, but that's not always the case. This token is used to indicate to the passador whether you are interesting in being offered more meat, or whether you are either taking a breather or have finished. If you display the green side, you're still in the game, if you ahve the red side showing, he'll pass you by.
Proper use of the pegador

The salad bar - All churrascarias have a salad bar in addition to the meat provided by passadores. They vary enormously in size and variety of options, but there will inevitably be much more than you could possibly eat. Return visits to the salad bar are allowed, often encouraged. It's much better to take a smaller amount on your first visit, then return for seconds or thirds as long as your appetite holds up than it is to overload your plate on the first visit. It's considered impolite to leave uneaten food on your plate, so don't overdo it to start off. Take a small amount, then return for more later. Do not take your original, empty, plate back to the salad bar. This is considered rude. Leave it at your table, and while you're visiting the salad bar, it will be whisked away by a bus attendant. Use a new plate for every visit to the the salad bar.

Meat service - When the passador comes by he will offer you what he has on his skewer by name, in Portuguese of course. Usually the passador has only one cut of meat on his skewer - occasionally two, but never more. You can indicate by word, by smile, or by gesture if you want some. He will hold the skewer vertically, and begin to cut a thin slice, and then stop. He has stopped to wait for you to grab the slice with your pegador. Only when you've done so will he cut the slice loose. So if you've said yes, be ready with your pegador - otherwise the passador will stand there for a very long time waiting for you to spring into action. You can indicate by pointing to various portions of the meat if you'd prefer a piece that's more rare or well-done. If you have no idea what's being offered, but are brave and/or curious, indicate you want a small piece to sample. If you find it totally inedible, place it discretely at the side of your plate, and it will be taken away when your plate is removed. It's considered impolite to ask for a big piece of meat unless you're sure you'll eat it all.

Table service - You'll be seated at the table by a hostess or maître d' and that person will often take initial drink orders. Subsequently, a waiter or waitress will serve the drinks and take any additional orders. If you'd like to see a wine list, ask at this point. The waiter or waitress is also the person to ask when you want the bill or check (a conta) at the end of your meal. Passadores only serve meat, and will not handle drinks or the check. If there is any sort of problem, the table waiter or waitress is the person to speak to, or if necessary the hostess or maître d'.

Tipping - Tipping is handled the same way in churrascarias as it is in all Brazilian restaurants. A service charge, normally 10% is added to your bill, and this is the only service charge you need pay. It will be shared among all the staff, so it isn't necessary to tip waiters, waitresses, or passadores individually. If you pay in cash and receive some small coins in change, you may leave them on the table, but it's not obligatory to do so.

That's rodízio etiquette in a nutshell. It's really not complicated, but since so much of it is unwritten or unexplained, I hope readers of Flavors of Brazil will find it useful when they begin to discover the bounty of the Brazilian churrascaria.

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