Café Belô Food Review
Walking into Café Belô for the first time as a customer, I found myself both hungry and confused. There were so many people already seated, looking content with their orders and chatting away happily; I wanted to join them but I wasn’t sure how, as there was no host waiting at the door to show me to my seat. After standing in the foyer for a bit–all the while channeling my inner awkward girl at her first middle-school dance–one of the waitresses came over to me and kindly informed that because service iscafé-style, I was free to choose my own seat. I sandwiched myself in between a man eating by himself and a trio of older Brazilians–a prime spot for observation–and, that period of confusion mercifully over, made my way to the buffet area.
I had heard a great deal about the buffet from my fall-semester Portuguese TA, who outlined the eat-in all-you-can-eat and take-out pay-by-the-pound options for us before what was now my first trip to Café Belô. The buffet did not disappoint–I was able to grab two kinds of rice, feijoada (a pork and bean stew), chicken drumsticks, platanos maduros, and a chickpea salad that reminded me of my mother’s tablouleh.
Not long after I sat down with my findings, another waiter came around offering meat from a skewer–the rodizio-style service I had heard existed but hadn’t yet seen. Though I already had a sufficient amount of food on my plate, the arrival of extra meat combined with my inability to say “no” to good food caused me to smile and nod when he came around to my table. The rodizio waiter beganslicing off some of the steak on his skewer and stopped to let me grab it as he kept slicing, but as I had never formally eaten rodizio-style churrasco before, I looked at the meat blankly. Just as the first waitress had, he patiently explained the process to me, taking my confusion away with him as he moved on to the next table.
The food itself was well worth my earlier faux pas. My favorite dish was the chickpea salad, which also featured tomatoes, carrots, cilantro and a bit of vinegar to hold it all together. The feijoada and the chicken, the two meat-oriented buffet dishes, were also very good, but my best food decision was Café Belô’s signature feature–the churrasco. During the course of my meal, my rodizio man dutifully came back with the following meats: a very well-done but nonetheless extremely flavorful cut of beef, a garlic-rubbed cut of beef, my choice of pork or chicken sausage (I chose pork and never looked back), and the juiciest, most delicious rare cut of beef I have ever consumed. Needless to say, my tastebuds were throwing a party to rival any of Café Belô’s Friday-night dance parties.
In the midst of the food, there was much to observe at the tables surrounding me. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of single diners (myself included); the number likely has a great deal to do with the restaurant’s daytime café setup. It was clear from the beginning of my Café Belô experience that their clientele is mostly Brazilian; the waitress who led me to my seat initially addressed me in Portuguese before I made it clear, by my confusion, that I didn’t understand what she had been saying.. Despite this, I was not the only non-Brazilian in the establishment. At the table across from me sat a pair of older men, and as I ate, an older woman came and began to order her drink in English, as I had. The rest of the tables spoke Portuguese, and I managed to overhear snippets of a number of interesting conversations as I ate. The table next to me talked discussed the latest news from Brazil—mostly schools in Belo Horizonte and something about São Paulo—which definitely suggesteds that this table had a strong connection to Brazil, and which itself is typical of greater Boston’s Brazilian community.
I should underscore here that not being Brazilian certainly has no bearing on the service; the waitstaff is warm to everyone who sits down to eat. I find it fascinating, however, how much more familiar they sounded with the Lusophone clients. Ipersonally only have second-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be an immigrant to the United States, but I imagine the experience for a first-generation arrival is, in some ways, like walking into an unfamiliar restaurant. A first-timer to a restaurant can always return, however, and eventually shed all of his or her discomfort; with a first-generation arrival, one can live in the United States for decades, learn how to behave perfectly within the American cultural framework and still find certain aspects unfamiliar. Language–along with food, music, television shows–functions as a reminder of a place and time where one was completely comfortable. This, I have gathered, is why places like Café Belô are so important to the immigrant communities they represent.
Inevitably, my meal came to an end, and I paid–but not after noticing the dessert case, which sits seductively next to the take-out cash register. Of course, I had to pull out my debit card again for something to take home, and the rodizio waiter–with whom I had already developed somewhat of a friendly relationship–was waiting at the case to help me pick out my purchase. This time, there was no confusion–the flan was mine.
Curious? Check out our ethnography here.
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