Culinary Excess Raised to Exalted Heights
Cariocas eat as they dress and party – with an enviable sense of abandon, calories be damned. It is this national love of excess that has made rodizio and feijoada the centerpieces of traditional national cuisine. Cariocas have a special affection for their steakhouse-style churrascarias, and Marius, for years the best place in town for rodizio, is an all-you-can-eat carnivorous festival, where succulent barbecued meat is the primary draw. Rodizio, or “rotation,” refers not to the preparation of the meats but the type of service: A troop of waiters carrying skewers of sizzling char-broiled meat circulates in search of empty plates upon which to slice off every imaginable cut of beef, chicken, lamb, and pork. (Pace yourself: The filet mignon always seems to arrive last.)
Churrascarias are not the place for animal-rights activists or vegetarians, although Marius’s long list of side dishes includes great onion rings, french fries, and dozens of salads. It’s amazing to watch the young and hungry who pack this beloved institution of gluttony, seemingly unconcerned that Ipanema and thong bathing suits await them. Perhaps they stop eating twenty-four hours in advance, since they all find room to order the huge crystal goblets filled with Marius’s excellent desserts.
Rodizio is a fun way to spend Friday night with all of your friends, but the great national banquet of hearty feijoada stew is best eaten with your boisterous family at the house of your Brazilian grandmother, who has spent all morning Saturday preparing it. For those who must resort to reliable alternatives, the elegant Petronius, in the Caesar Park Hotel in Ipanema, has long been considered the best spot in Rio. They offer a delectable spread of this folkloric stew, based on black beans and traditionally reserved for lunch Saturday – presumably so one could then sleep it off all day Sunday. Light it’s not (nor particularly attractive); the great Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes said that a feijoada is not complete unless there is an ambulance ready at the front door. More an event than a meal, feijoada is a fun dish, served up in huge black pots containing dried meats, bacon, salted pork, ribs, and different kinds of sausages. All of this is accompanied by white rice, farofa (manioc flour), kale, and oranges. Hotel restaurants like Petronius will usually hold off on certain pig parts (ear, tail, and trotter) unless otherwise requested.