Fans defy the rain at ‘Rock in Rio do torresmo’, in Santos

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I went down the mountain with the promise of finding, in Santos (SP), the biggest pork rind festival in Brazil — as if there were many pork rind festivals out there. Oops, isn’t there a lot of them anyway? I couldn’t find official IBGE statistics, so I turned to Instagram.

Of the 14 profiles titled “Festival do (or de) Crackling”, the @festivaldotorresmooriginal, the one I was referring to, is the one with the most followers: 247 thousand souls. So maybe it’s even the biggest in Brazil, the Rock in Rio do torresmo.

THE Sheet Bruno – a great photographer and very nice people, but a vegetarian – was added to the agenda, so I would need to recruit the driver Cássio to help me deal with an abnormal volume of pork. The expectation of the organizers of the festival, which runs until 10 pm on Sunday (4) in Arcos do Valongo (the port area), was to sell 10 tons of pork in the four days of the event.

The weather was cloudy on Saturday morning (3) in São Paulo, and much worse in the lowland around lunchtime, when we arrived. Drizzle, wind, cold. The festival takes place in a walled space, but almost entirely without a roof.

Surprisingly, the Santos masses were not intimidated by the water and planted their feet on the wet ground to secure their fair share of pork rinds. The Arcos do Valongo were crowded with people in capes, with umbrellas, in hoodies, and the occasional sucker like me, in shorts and a T-shirt.

The queues were big. Some of them huge. I decided to face the mother of them all, at the Leitão de Gravata tent — a brand by chef Adan Garcia, poster boy for the Crackling Festival. In addition to pork rinds, there was the Paraguayan pork: the bichão almost whole, spread out on a double grill, the kind that close, like the ones for roasting fish, only gigantic.

Right in front of us in line, Angela Oliveira, 62, improvised a cap out of a grocery bag to keep her hair from getting soaked in the 52 minutes we spent standing in the drizzle that turned into rain, until she received the food in styrofoam lunchboxes.

It is more than enough time to talk about the other attractions of the festival. Nobody is crazy about having a four-day festival with only cracklings. As with all such events, there were hamburgers and craft beer – a good excuse to take the Stanley glass I bought to test for the trip for a walk. Sheet.

Musical attractions would play all day. We only had time to listen to the first band, some guys who made metal versions of national rock hits from the 1980s. “Uma Noite e Meia”, by Marina Lima, with a devilish guitar solo.

More food: French fries with things on top, Minas sweets, German sausage sandwiches, ribs on mesmerizing rotating skewers and a very curious ice cream served in a churro cone. I decided to be funny and started lunch with an alligator sausage skewer (R$18). I do not recommend.

It could be tilapia, it could be chicken, it could be anything in there. The crackling was in several stalls, as a protagonist or supporting player. From oblivion, next to the colored egg, in the greenhouses of the most vile pubs –greasy, withered, ugly and even hairy–, he rose to the status of popstar of informal gastronomy.

Renowned chefs, such as Rodrigo Oliveira, from Mocotó, helped to rehabilitate the crackling. The festival that makes a bunch of people go out in the rain in Santos is repeated every weekend in a different city. Or more than one.

From September 8 to 11, it takes place simultaneously in São José do Rio Preto (SP) and Volta Redonda (RJ); the following week, in Itaboraí (RJ), Franca (SP) and Mogi das Cruzes (SP).

The pork rinds, apart from being really delicious, surfs a pork hype that only exists because the price of beef has gone insane. At Swift’s online store, a kilo of beef sirloin costs between R$69.96 and R$369.97; pork sirloin ranges from R$24.96 to R$29.96.

And crackling is not a monolith, it has its styles and aspects. “You can divide the pork rinds into meaty and crunchy”, teaches chef Marcelo Corrêa Bastos, from Jiquitaia restaurant, one of the great names in national pork rinds.

“The meaty ones, as the name says, come with a hunk of tender meat.” In the crunchy ones, which are more common, the meat is drier and the sensation in the bite is the big thing. There is still the skin-only pork rind, usually called pururuca.

It’s all pork belly, with more or less fat. But you can make cracklings from other animals. I’ve had cod skin cracklings at a bar in Rio and, at the festival in Santos, I tried chicken skin cracklings (R$25). Both tasted like oil.

Making a good frying is not that simple. Mauro Ferrari, from Cozinha dos Ferraris restaurant, is another graduated torresmista. “I season it with salt and pepper and put it in the fridge to dry a little,” he says. “Then it bakes at a low temperature and goes into the fryer before serving.”

After 52 minutes in the rain, I grabbed the lunch that I would share with the motorist Cássio: tropeiro beans with roast pork (R$ 60), half a portion of meaty pork rinds (R$ 28) and a portion of crackling (R$ 25).

We went to the covered part of the festival, but all the tables were full. We ate standing up with plastic forks, wet as elephant seals. The crackling was ok, not too crispy. The crackling, very good, dry.

The tropeiro beans were the best food of all, moist, well seasoned, with succulent chunks of pork. I just can’t say that the show, in general terms, was better than staying dry and warm on my couch.

Santos residents, perhaps descendants of dolphins, did not seem to be bothered by the rain. Sunday will be another day of wet crackling and queues!

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