Destination Rio de Janeiro, third travel to the former capital of Brazil.
A delicious, homemade meal at the little restaurant of eighty-five-year-old Dona Elsa.
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Day 4, 16.00
We arrived in the traditional neighborhood of Santa Tereza. We all had enjoyed the tram ride very much; it was a unique experience, and we were amazed by breathtaking views of the city of Rio. Passengers entered and left, like bees in a beehive. We sat until the final stop in the center of Santa Tereza. The tram would continue some more time, before it would take a turn and return to Lapa. Some tourists were about to stay in the tram until Lapa. The tram fare of 80 centavos is more than worth waiting for a long time!
Example of a salad: red onions, palmite (marrow of the palm tree),
We walked around a bit, we tried to find a restaurant that was still open. But alas, all restaurants had closed their kitchens, their doors. Lunch time was already over for more than one hour. We asked some bystanders if they knew some simple restaurant here, which would still be open. Most of hem had no idea. They all named the restaurants that we already had seen: they were closed. We were more fortunate with another bystander: he knew an interesting restaurant. Comida caseira da Dona Elsa. Freely translated as: Brazilian homemade food by a housewife named Elsa. Comida caseira is much different from á la carte, much different from a buffet. Comida caseira is what is cooked that particular day. Simple, but very nutritious, and above all, very delicious meals. Many Brazilian housewives really know cooking very well. Besides, I know some Brazilian men who also are excellent cooks.
It was not that easy to find Dona Elsa’s Restaurant. Because it was not a restaurant, but a simple house. We had to follow another entrance in order to enter her house. Her son attended us. Indeed, Dona Elsa is a very good cook. And she was able to cook for us. We thought that her son must be in his forties, how old must Dona Elsa be then? After a short while, Dona Elsa shuffled in the room. Her tanned face showed many wrinkles. Her hand felt weak, but it also gave us a feeling of energy and zest for life. She directed her son to the kitchen and she started to stir in the pans. She told us that she was eighty-five, and that she still receives many guests every day. Also foreign guests. Now she was feeling weaker, her son was helping with the heavy pans. She didn’t use the size of pans you and I would have in our kitchen. Her pans and kettles were huge, with a volume of at least 5 to 10 liters.
She still had to cans of beer in the fridge. Her son opened them for us. Julia, Marina, and a took our seats at a simple wooden table. The table was covered with a plastic cloth, which reminded me of the plastic cloth that my grandparents were using at their farm in the Netherlands. They had a very colorful cloth. And they had their warm meal, served in soup plates, at noon. Back to Santa Tereza. Also here, it is common to have the warm meal at noon. Also here, Dona Elsa served our meal in soup plates. What was our meal? There was a salad of large tomato slices and onion rings. There was white rice with brown beans, served with farinha (manioc flour), together with a very juicy chunk of beef. I know many people who have trouble to digest this kind of stewed meat. The delicious meat was cooked in a stew with laurel, clove, and several spicy herbs.
“Se Deus quiser”
We really enjoyed the homemade meal. Dona Elsa, was very generous with the portions: each of us received a full soup plate. The ladies had big trouble to eat all of it. Since I was quite hungry, I emptied the plate with ease. It was already five-thirty when we gratefully thanked Dona Elsa for the delicious meal of four reais each. We expressed our best wishes to her and especially good health, ‘se Deus quiser’. With God’s Will. A standard expression in Brazil. Another common expression is ‘graças a Deus’: Thank God. Devoted Brazilians don’t dare challenge their fate, but leave it to the mercy of the Creator.
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom