Beef lands in fluttering slices on a plate as Toshiei Masuko expertly carves pieces out of what must be a few kilograms of meat impaled on a metal skewer at Servitu, a Brazilian restaurant and import food shop in Hamamatsu.
I place a piece in my mouth and its distinct flavor colonizes my tastebuds. It is the flavor of churrasco, a simple style of barbecuing salted meat over a charcoal fire.
“Our food may be pretty cheap, but it tastes great,” said Masuko, smiling with a carving knife in his hand.
The Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which kicked off last week, has put Brazilian cuisine in the limelight. Take this opportunity to listen to some Brazilian immigrants like Masuko, who have worked hard to bring the tastes of their home to the Japanese palate.
Churrasco has its roots in the Pampas plains of southern Brazil, where vast grasslands once teemed with cattle and a large number of European immigrants settled. The simple style of grilling is thought to have originated from the way local gauchos, or cattle ranchers, skewered hunks of meat on their sabers and roasted them over a campfire.
Aside from beef, Masuko’s restaurant also serves up pork, chicken, sausages and even pineapple slices, just like the churrascarias in his home. Some houses in Brazil even come with built-in churrasqueiras, ovens dedicated for grilling meat, which come in very useful for large parties and other big gatherings.
Churrasco’s lively form of table service, where waiters carry large hunks of meat from table to table and shave it directly onto your plate, is said to have started over 40 years ago at a restaurant in Brazil. This all-you-can-eat style of service, which only stops when customers declare that they have finished, is now well established in restaurants in Japan as well.
Born in Sao Paolo, Masuko, now 65, arrived in Japan in 1988, shortly before Japanese-Brazilian laborers began migrating en masse. Having heard his father describe how wonderful Japan was, Masuko was inspired to move to the country, which was in the midst of an economic boom at the time.
While toiling away in factories, Masuko began to notice that other Brazilians who arrived later were struggling to adapt to life in Japan. He opened Servitu in 1992 after feeling that the least he could do for fellow immigrants was to give them a taste of home. As a pioneer, he would also lend an ear to the troubles of his fellow countrymen.
After the global financial crisis in 2008 triggered by the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, many Japanese-Brazilian temp workers were laid off and chose to return to Brazil. However, Masuko decided to put down roots in Japan instead to help out those who chose to stay behind.
To most Japanese, churrasco is a byword for Brazilian cuisine. “Which is exactly why it’s such an important kind of food for bringing Japanese and Brazilian people together,” Masuko said.
Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Masuko even did a churrasco cookout in Fukushima Prefecture with a group of friends. He aims to use Brazil’s iconic food as a gateway to popularizing his country’s home-style cooking among Japanese people.
“Why not try some of our other dishes?” Masuko said.
A five-minute walk from JR Hamamatsu Station. The restaurant is currently offering Brazilian homestyle cuisine, with nearly 70 items on the menu. An all-you-can-eat course for 90 minutes with drinks will be available on weekdays for ¥1,200. Churrasco all-you-can-eat for 90 minutes available strictly via reservation for ¥3,000. Call (053) 458-8577 for detail.
Recipe for churrasco
Culinary researcher Saeko Togashi shared a simple recipe suitable for Japanese homes. Togashi was born in Sao Paolo and came to her ancestral home of Japan at the age of 20. For the past 30 years, she has run Kitchen Liveca, a cooking and confectionery school where she teaches Brazilian home cuisine among other programs.
Ingredients (serves 6 to 8):
1 large cut beef (1-1.2 kilograms)
3 cloves garlic
6 to 7 tbsp coarse salt
½ tbsp black peppercorns
1. Quarter onion, crush garlic, thinly slice lemon. Mix the ingredients, 2 liters of water, salt and peppercorns before marinating beef. Leave the meat in the fridge for one night when you use a shoulder cut, or two nights for a shank cut.
2. Lightly dab away excess marinade on the meat and drizzle a little bit of olive oil. Grill it for about 30 minutes in an oven set at 230 C to 250 C.
3. Once it is ready, slice off the meat on the surface. Mop up excess oil on the remaining portion of the meat before roasting it again. From the second round, grill the meat for a shorter time at a lower temperature. Keep doing this until you have no more left.
* The meat is often eaten with molho sauce, which is made from finely chopped tomatoes and onions, seasoned with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
* This recipe uses an oven instead of skewering the meat. The marinade is used to allow the seasonings to come through when grilling with an oven. For the most authentic experience, make sure you slice off the meat as thinly as you can.