Sylvio Geluda, a blue eyed, carioca man resident of Leblon in Rio, stood near the cluttered granite counter of his apartment kitchen holding a bubbling pot in his hands. “ Stick your nose inside this pot and feel the spirit of Brazil, ” he said during my visit to his kitchen in Rio.
As we tasted the dish – a Moqueca de Patinha de Caranguejo ( Crab Leg Moqueca), we both agreed it needed more broth. I looked around his kitchen looking for hints of stock and saw no signs of it. “Is he gonna add water?” I though to myself. But instead, Sylvio quickly sliced some onions, garlic and tomatoes, added water to that pot, simmered gently and then transferred the broth to the pot of moqueca.
Although most of his cooking requires simple prepping, it delivers big flavors. Shrimp, veal, or chicken stock are unknown ingredients in his kitchen, but water flavored with aromatic vegetables more than compensate for them. Coconut milk is another huge ingredient used as a base in Brazilian cooking, and he added as well.
The dish showed a bright orange color, typical of our Brazilian stews. Unlike myself, Sylvio doesn’t get lost in a million recipes. When he decides to make something, it doesn’t take him hours of research. It takes on average less than 10 minutes for him to decide on a menu. I have lots to learn from him I thought, as I tried a second taste of his dishes.
With no gastronomic ambitions whatsoever, he developed his appetite for cooking through the foods of botequins in Rio.
“ Botequim is way more than a restaurant. It’s a way of life, it’s an obsession”, he said. He may not have been aiming to start a “botequim-club”, but he has a circle of friends who share the passion and for over 30 years maintain a boy’s-night-out with a mission to explore these eateries. Although most of his fellow adventurers reside at the so-called Zona Sul (a section of Rio), they don’t mind driving outside their comfort zone to places like Niterói and Zona Norte, where they find some truly exotic dishes.
This is how Sylvio discovered Purê de Abóbora com Carne Seca, in the company of Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of Brazil’s gratest musician. They used to talk about life over a few glasses of cachaça.
“ Years ago, all botequins were owned by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants; the wives were in the kitchen and the man ran the front of the house. As the generations past, their sons and daughters took over the businesses, and in a way, the true spirit of botequim was lost. It’s not that there aren’t any good botequins left these days, but things have changed. It’s not the same as 20 years ago”, he explained.
Linguiça, pork ribs with white beans, shrimp, pastel, moqueca, pork crackling, pumpkin puree with carne seca and feijoada– all part of botequim menus, are just some of the usual recipes prepared in his house.
He had already placed on my plate a large portion of it accompanied by farofa, exactly the way it is served in botequins. Watching him cook is deeply comforting. It reminds you of how intuitive and simple cooking can be.
There is almost always carne seca in his fridge, but what he does with it changes constantly. Shopping? He he does it all himself. His favorite places in Rio are Cadeg, Mercado São Pedro in Niterói, and Feira de São Cristovão, where he finds products from different regions of Brazil.
With a big family, Sylvio entertains as often as 3 times a week. As his interest for cooking grew over the years, he started to take some cooking classes, but the truth is that Sylvio is a self thought man.
What is his favorite botequim? “ It depends”, he said. “Bar Simpatia has the best choppe (beer) and pork cracklings. Pavão Azul has the best rice and beans. Bracarense… well, I love it but there too much buzz about it. I prefer the old days of Bracarense.”
In the next entry I will post an adapted version of Sylvio’s Moqueca de Patinha de Caranguejo.
Mercado São Pedro em Niteroi
Rua Visconde do Rio Branco, 55
Tel: ( 55-21) 2620-3446
Rua CapFelix, 110- Benfica
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: (55-21) 3890-0202
Feira de São Cristovão