If you live here you definitely have one. I’m willing to bet that we all have at least five or six. Between the three or four we have received as gifts and not yet used (still sitting in a closet), the several in the kitchen drawer currently in rotation, and the four or five well worn and soiled towels since moved on to the household cleaning buckets, we are probably currently tossing around more than a dozen panos de prato in our apartment.
Re-purposed from previously-used cotton sack material, the pano de prato (kitchen, dish or ‘tea’ towel) is ubiquitous in Brazilian homes. You can pick them up cheap, in their most basic and plain style, on the street from the guy selling them in various sizes and weaves for about $R2 a pop. They work great for exactly what they are intended.
What tickles me is how many versions of the towel you can find. Some are simply crocheted around the outside edge to let you know it is for your dishes and not your floor. Others have been delicately embroidered with geometric patterns or kitchen images. Home sewing machines have moved grandmas everywhere to secure appliqués of every happy description, dressing up the sack cloth.
In nearly every tourist town we visit there is an older guy (usually more than one) sitting on the sidewalk or on a planter’s edge in the central square with a display of panos de prato embroidered (most certainly by his wife back at the house) with a “Remember such-and-such” on them for sale as souvenirs.
Our re-gifting drawer, filled with things we were given but now plan to give to other unsuspecting recipients, is brimming with beautifully painted, embroidered or crocheted towels that come our way on a regular basis.
The painted ones look great, but all that acrylic paint would seem to run at cross purposes to the need for the towel to actually dry a wet plate.
In any event, the humble dish towel is a cute feature in every Brazilian kitchen. They are work horse dish towels that turn to decent floor rags when they get too grey for next to the sink.
I use a bleached and sterilized one to strain my soy milk meal when making my own tofu.
Simple joys: turning something old into something new. Being practical in just the way your mother taught you – and her mother taught her. Never throwing anything away. And keeping it all so cheerful.
The pano de prato. It’s quintessentially Brazilian.