Remembering Fofa

Editor-at-large Ednilson writes...

In Porto Alegre, there was a Uruguayan hole in the wall with no hygiene certificates that served up some of the finest slop in southern Brazil’s capital city. The story went that Costa and Dario, two Uruguayan sailors who worked on a Greek transatlantic merchant ship, ended up in Porto Alegre in the late seventies after a bender. Eventually, they came upon a tiny tobacco shop in the seedy Cidade Baixa neighbourhood, run by a fat man known only as Fofa. In 1982, they bought the store and turned it into a Uruguayan restaurant with Dario in the kitchen and Costa front of house and decided to name it after the old proprietor. With few alterations of the interior decoration since then, their Uruguayan labourer’s fare served with ice cold beer - strictly Uruguayan Norteña or Patricia - eventually developed a cult following.

They were renowned for their hostility towards customers and winning permission to eat at one of the few basic tables was a careful game of politics involving knowing a regular and being quick-witted about the local football teams. They would rarely look anyone in the face.  They only spoke Spanish or Portunõl. I was fortunate - Costa once announced that I possessed an 'amusing laugh', before turning back to fetch me an ice cold bottle of Norteña. It also helped that I supported Internacional and not the other local football team Grêmio. 

Costa would spend the entire evening chain-smoking Derby cigarettes behind the counter and scowling at passers by while listening to old tango CDs. Meanwhile, in the ‘open-plan’ kitchen, Dario crafted his greasy recipes, a skill he learnt while cooking for Filipino sailors in the merchant navy.  For the most part, the menu consisted of variations of beef steak with sides and there were never any frills.

Fofa menu

Hygiene was always an after thought in this haunt, which must have pleased Garufa their old dachshund greatly. On steaming summer nights in Porto Alegre, a barely functioning electric fan would sometimes be propped up on your table. I once saw a man get stabbed in the street in front.

Nonetheless, most of the enjoyment of dining at Fofa was from attempting to engage Costa and Dario in conversation. Listening to their curt treatment of customers was worth more than any Michelin star.  They closed a few years ago. I miss their suspiciously spartan menu. I miss them.