Brazilian barbecue opens in Hong Kong, and it's a meat lover's dream
The city's first Brazilian barbecue is up and running and its head chef is all fired up
Meat threaded onto skewers and cooked over charcoal is one of mankind's most common dishes, be it Indonesian satay, West African suya or a Moroccan brochette. One theory even suggests that eating meat cooked over fire gave humanity the intelligence to become the planet's dominant species.
Perhaps it's not surprising that a Brazilian scientist is a co-author of the hotly contested theory that a raw food diet isn't sufficient to build a big brain.
One of the country's national dishes is churrasco, a variety of meats grilled over charcoal, similar in style to an Argentinian asado. Barbecue is not just a dish but a social event, and restaurants known as churrascarias are very popular.
While the key ingredient is beef, diners can also expect pork, lamb and chicken to be given the grilling treatment and served in a uniquely Brazilian way, the rodizio system. Servers walk around, carrying sword-like skewers of meat weighing up to one kilogram apiece. Turn the coaster on your table to green and expect a visit from a server who will slice the meat on to your plate. Turn the coaster to red and you will be left alone to eat and digest.
Although some hotels have held regular Brazilian dining promotions, organisers were always too worried about losing servers' fingers to have the grilled meats sliced at the table.
That makes Braza Churrascaria Brazilian Barbecue the first in Hong Kong to deliver this style of dining.
Dining Concept's latest venture, which opened last week, carries on a South American theme for the venue. It used to be the group's Mayta Peruvian restaurant, which was also one of the first of its kind in Hong Kong.
Braza's chef, Diego Fernando Sanchez, has been training staff to slice the meat properly for a week and, he says, "so far there have been no accidents".
Sanchez, who has been in Hong Kong for only a month, is from Bogota, Colombia, and most recently worked in Dubai at Richard Sandoval's Toro Toro restaurant. Sandoval is one of Latin American cuisine's most ardent evangelists, promoting it through a book ( Modern Mexican Flavours), TV appearances and a chain of restaurants across the world that serve, Argentinian, Brazilian, Peruvian and his native Mexican food.
Sanchez has worked in Peru and Argentina, although not in Brazil. "But I worked with Brazilian chefs," he says.
Of course, Braza is not all about the meat. The bread basket might sound normal - garlic bread and cheese bread - but in the Brazilian style the former is made with an aioli and the latter with tapioca flour.
The bread comes with a selection of traditional appetisers that includes potato and chicken croquettes, fried banana and farofa, a dish made from toasted cassava flour.
The next course is a buffet containing salads and cheese and cured meat. Perhaps it is all about the meat.
Next comes, er, the meat. Diners choose from cuts of beef, pork, lamb and chicken.
The beef - top sirloin, sirloin, flank and short ribs - is marinated in onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaves.
"Top sirloin is the most traditional," says Sanchez. Theirs is highly suited to lengthy marinating and grilling.
The lamb in the form of rump or rack has just about as complicated a treatment. The rump is marinated in mint, oregano and English mustard while the rack soaks in mint, orange, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and mustard seeds.
If beef and lamb seem too rich, the alternatives are pork and chicken.
This is vegan hell.
The churrasco style of dining is more associated with the south than the north of the country as the areas bordering Argentina and Uruguay are where Brazil's gauchos or cowboys roam, tending cattle and slaughtering the odd one or two for dinner.
It's no surprise, then, that the accompanying starch is a take on rice and beans. Carreteiro is a type of garlic rice, and feijoada is another iconic Brazilian dish made from black beans.
Ingredients for desserts also show tropical, southern Brazilian roots. Cocada is a coconut mousse and dark rum jelly garnished with a sweet cookie, and brigadeiro is a truffle-like chocolate bonbon coated with toasted peanuts.
How to mix a great caipirinha
Brazil's national cocktail is made from its national drink cachaça, a sugar cane juice spirit. At Braza, barman Manuel Saavedra not only uses the spirit as it comes, but infuses it with fruit.
Those flavours include kiwi, lychee, mango, pineapple, strawberry and watermelon.
Lime is the predominant flavour in the classic version of a caipirinha and Saavedra says that thorough muddling is the key to making a successful drink. He also suggests mixing and matching flavours. "Cachaça matches every kind of food, so you should make your own cocktails," he says. Here's his classic caipirinha recipe:
Two teaspoons white sugar
Plenty of ice
Short length of sugar cane
Two highball glasses
Add the sugar to the cachaca and then add the halved lime and muddle thoroughly. Stir well after you've extracted as much lime juice as possible. Strain into another glass. Add ice and stir again. Garnish with sugar cane.