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Once upon a time, three brothers decided to immigrate. They left their hometown, an extremely poor city called Canindé, in the northeastern state of Ceará, went to Rio de Janeiro and started working in construction. They built a lot of brick walls, ceilings and roofs. Then, after two years of hard work, they decided to open a bar where they would sell roast chicken, northeastern food and grilled pork ribs.

That bar, officially called Roda Viva, became known as Três Porquinhos (Three Little Pigs) when a customer connected the image of the three brothers working together with the classic children’s tale. Today, 40 years later, only two of the brothers (Antonio and Jorge) remain, but the bar stands firm as ever against the bitter winds of the financial crisis in Brazil. That crisis has kept locals from fancy restaurants and clubs but has drawn them to simple, inexpensive botequins –traditional family-run bars – like this one.

“We are packed as never before, counting money every night,” Antonio says, half-joking. Economic hard times aren’t the only reason people are flocking to the bar, of course. Três Porquinhos is one of the few botequins in Rio that has mastered cooking the perfect galeto –tiny, tender three-month-old chicken – over traditional coal-fired grills (made of bricks, naturally).

That grill apparatus inside the bar is worthy of a visit. It’s a masterpiece of jeitinho, the world-famous Brazilian way of improvised engineering. From 5 p.m. onward every day, the device produces delicious pieces of chicken on wooden skewers – the better to be eaten without utensils – which customers devour inside the bright, cheery bar or at the tables out on the sidewalk. Those pork ribs get cooked low and slow on the same grill and are served with lemon sauce and toasted manioc flour.

Saturdays are when the grill gets a real workout. Every week, the brothers prepare a feast of regional food, with delectable specialties from the Brazilian northeast like baião de dois, a dish of rice, beans, carne de sol (typical sun-dried meat) and bananas cooked in butter. These little pigs really know how to cook.

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