Sunday, January 17, 2010


While we do have a significant number of Mexican restaurants, other Hispanic cuisines aren't so readily represented here in the islands.   In particular, I really have no inkling what South American cuisine is like.   I have naturally always assumed that the cuisine would be very similar to Mexican food, but this is a huge fallacy. French food and Italian food have next to nothing in common.   Chinese food and Japanese food are just as dissimilar.   In fact, I really hate the term "Asian".  At least when we were called "Oriental", there was some exotic, mystical appeal to it.   But, when I'm on the mainland and they call me "Asian American", I always feel like, "Chinese and Japanese are so different, what you cannot even tell us apart??".  I would much rather be called, "local Chinese", or more simply "Pake" will do.   It really annoys the hell out of me.   So by the same token, thinking that all the Latin American cultures are the same does them the same discourtesy.  Unfortunately, since they have very little representation here in the islands, we don't really get the opportunity to explore and get acquainted with their various cultures.

While there are few South American restaurants, we cannot say that they have had no influence in our culture.   In fact, it was gauchos and Mexican vaqueros, who came over to train our local paniolos when cattle was first introduced to the islands.   Because of this, the paniolo methods and tools are very still more similar to the gauchos than to the cowboys of Texas.  Because of their excellent training, the original paniolos (like Ikua Purdy) would consistently out-rope the Texas boys in competition (something they don't like to talk about). 

Fittingly enough, when the Ward 16 complex first finished construction, we had a restaurant called Gaucho Grill.  Like Compadres, it was actually part of a small California chain.  Unfortunately, also like Compadres, most of that chain has closed including the one at Ward.   But for a while we had the opportunity to enjoy Argentina style asado in our own backyard.   Of course, being part of a California based chain, I always questioned the authenticity of the Argentine flavor.  But then again, being steak, it isn't exactly a complex dish.  I'm pretty sure the steak itself was not imported from Argentina, so that leaves only the seasonings to convey the true Argentine flavor.  When I visited Gaucho Grill, the skirt steak that I had was as tender and juicy as expected.   But I was a litlte disappointed in flavors weren't all that distinguishable from any other Western style steak place.   For the most part, steak stands on its own, and unless you're doing teppanyaki, the beef flavor doesn't change all that much.   Of course Argentina is famous for its vast quantities of flayed carcasses being grilled over open flame, so the skirt steak was probably representative, if not entirely accurately, of their cuisine.   When I think of gaucho cuisine though, I just can't help but think of Goofy describing gaucho lifestyle in his 1942 short, El Gaucho Goofy, a segment from the Disney classic Saludos Amigos.   With bread and meat protruding from each side of his hand, and naught but a knife in the other to eat with (1-2-bite-cut-chew), Goofy simultaneously conveyed both humor as well as the mouthwatering nature of the food.  To me, that will always be what Argentine cuisine is all about.

The only other major South American cuisine that we had in the islands, was in the form of a Brazilian barbecue, otherwise known as a churrascaria.   If you've never been to a churrascaria, it is basically a buffet, where a never ending line of waiters come to you with huge rapier like skewers loaded with meat.  They slide you off a piece or cut you off a portion to enjoy until the next waiter comes along with the next type of meat.  It's a huge meatfest, with different cuts of steaks, chicken, sausages, pork, and lamb, enough meat to gorge any voracious carnivore.  You're left feeling really heavy, stuffed full of meat, meat, and more meat.   In Hawaii, this meatopia could be found in McCully Shopping Center, at a place called Tudo de Bon.

Tudo de Bon was brightly lit and clean, but not really adorned with Brazilian decor.   Instead, they focused letting the food convey the authenticity.  Going to the bar for the side dishes, the most unusual (and very Brazilian) thing they had was a ground up powder called farofa, that you would sprinkle on your rice or dip your meat into.   To me the farofa didn't really add much flavor, so much as a powdery, mealy texture which to be perfecty honest I didn't really care for.   But it was the most authentically , and uniquely Brazilian thing that they offered.   The rest of the bar included various pastas and salads, which may or may not have been really Brazilian, but certainly weren't as memorable.   Of course the most memorable thing at Tudo de Bon was the meat.   There was tons of it.   Like the skirt steak at Gaucho Grill, I really didn't taste seasonings that really differentiated it from any other grilled meat, but it was all very succulent and tasty.   I tried to find similarities to Mexican food, but there really weren't any in any of the spices.   I tried to find similarities to our local Portuguese food, knowing how big an influence the Portuguese had in Brazil, but the closest thing they had were sausages that were similiar but not really the same as our own Portuguese sausage.  They really just grilled it to bring out the natural flavors of the meat itself.   While they had so many different types of steak, it was really the chicken drumettes, the sausages, and when they had it the bacon wrapped turkey that I liked the best.  After eating sirloin (picanha) tri tip, ribeye, filet mignon, and even lamb, all the red meats kind of blur together.   But it was a great experience just to have them bring everything by on those huge skewers.   The only problem was that they were really slow.   Whenever we went, it seemed like they only had one waiter (who actually bore a striking resembalance to Sylvester Stallone) going back and forth with different skewers.  I think it was this lack of proficiency in running an efficient restaurant that lead to their closing.  Sadly, they took with them our only window into Brazilian cuisine.

Latin America has never been really high on my travel list, so I don't know that I'll ever taste the truly authentic cuisines of this region.   But, the absense of Gaucho Grill and Tudo de Bon did leave me curious for more. If only my Brazilian friend, Simone, knew how to cook, I'd be all set.

1 comment:

  1. Remind me to take you for Venezuelan Arepas, Brazilian Feijoada, Peruvian Ceviche/Tacu Tacu de Mariscos/Aji de Gallina, Mayan Pollo Pibil, Salvadorean Pupusas, and of course...Mexican Al Pastor tacos up here when you come visit. or better yet, i'll cook some of it for you when i come home.