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First Time Eating...   Brazilian Churrascaria

 

THE FOOD VIRGIN'S FIRST TIME

The first time I ever ate Brazilian Churrascaria, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Being what my father calls, a ‘meat-atarian’, having a bevy of Brazilian men bringing slow-cooked, flame-grilled meat to slice straight from their skewers onto my plate seemed like a dream come true.  Churrasco means ‘barbecue’ in Portuguese, but don’t expect tomato-based barbecue sauces- the different cuts of meat are so delicious, they’re often flavored just with sea salt brushed on with herbs

 

Tell us about your first time eating Brazilian

 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Brazilian churracarias typically seem like lively places.  If you look across the whole dining area, you’ll probably notice lots of busy Passadors- the name for these meat-wielding waiters- buzzing around the tables.  There will often be an open grilling area you can see, where all the meats is turning over the spit, and on the way to your table you might also pass a salad bar (more on this later).  Seating is at normal restaurant tables, but in addition to you normal silverware, you’ll also have a little pair of tongs and a paper disc that has some sort of ‘yes’ on one side, and a ‘no’ on the other.  Keep these handy- you’ll need them when the first Passadors comes to your table.

 

WHAT TO ORDER & HOW TO EAT IT

The first item to come out will be bread, and at Porcão in Miami, where I first experienced Churrasco, the theory that you can judge a cuisine by its bread is proven true; there, like most churrascos, they serve warm cheese popovers, known as pão de queijo.  Yum!  For gluten-intolerant people, another bonus is that they’re made from manioc starch, which comes from yucca root, not wheat or any other gluten grain.  

 

There’s no need to order anything as the whole meal is a set menu, so soon after you sit down, the Passadors will start to arrive tableside.  Each one will be offering a different cut of meat, with the choices being a lot of types of beef ranging from cuts such as sirloin and filet, to pork, to bacon-wrapped chicken, (for fish-eaters, salmon is often rolled around on a trolley).  The ‘try it, if you dare’ choice is the traditional Brazilian offering: chicken hearts, which look kind of funny, being so small on the large skewer. 

What will happen is this: The Passadors will first look at your paper disc.  If you would like them to come to serve you, keep the ‘yes’ side turned up.  They will likely then come over and ask you if you want whatever specific cut it is they’ve got.  If you say, ‘no’, they’ll go on to other tables.  If you say, ‘yes’, then they’ll start to slice off some meat for you.  Now here’s where the little tongs you have come in: Use them to grip the meat as it’s being sliced.  Put the meat on your plate, the tongs aside, and enjoy! 

You’ll also have a selection of side dishes: onion rings, french fries, plantain, yucca, black beans, and farofa (Brazil’s version of bread crumbs that you sprinkle on the black beans).  These are all fairly plain, starchy options, but tasty.  Some restaurants- Porçao is one- will automatically bring them all to you, while at others, you’ll order what you want from a side menu. 

‘So, where are the vegetables?’ you ask (or maybe your mother’s asking)?  Well, just when you thought you would never need to get out of your chair again, someone will walk past with a heaping plate of hot and cold vegetables, from none other than the salad bar.  That’s right: Virtually all churrascaria restaurants offer an unlimited salad bar as part of your meal, ranging from standard salad bar choices, to soup, to even unexpected things like sushi at some places.  “Usually people go first, but a lot of people who are meat eaters, or don’t like vegetables, they don’t go to the salad bar,” explains John Munoz, Porcao’s Manager.  Churrascarias are relaxed about whatever order you choose, so go whenever it suits you.

So the real question with Brazilian churrascaria, is, ‘How do you keep from exploding from eating too much food?’  The answer comes in that little paper disc that everyone gets (and can keep if they want to, as a souvenir):  Flip it over throughout the meal as your plate fills and empties.  “It’s like a traffic light so you can manage your plate how you want,” says Mr. Munoz.  Try to avoid saying ‘yes’ to everything, and ending up with a huge pile of uneaten meat on your plate.  Kids are especially prone to having eyes bigger than their stomachs, so pace yourselves accordingly (one trick is to flip your disc to ‘no’ early, letting your kids say ‘yes’ a bit longer because it’s fun for them, and then what they don’t eat, you can eat for them).  Passadors are quite experienced at what they do, so if you forget about using your disc like I did, they’ll likely figure out on their own whether your table is still interested in being served.

 

 

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WHAT TO DRINK

Early on, you’ll be offered a caipiriñha, which is a Brazilian drink similar to a Mojito, but sweeter and possibly more potent.  Made from lime juice, sugar, and cachaça- distilled Brazilian sugar cane juice- if the alcohol doesn’t give you a kick, the sugar will.  Other than this, Brazil does have its own brands of beer you might find in some restaurants, or you might want to order red wine, given all the red meat involved in the meal- try something Argentinian if it’s on the menu, to stay with a Latin American theme.   

For non-alcoholic drinks, soft drinks will be the most typical choice, although a few places might showcase some exotic Brazilian fruit drinks.

 

DESSERT & COFFEE

So how do you end a meal that leaves you feeling as bloated as an Ancient Roman after a bacchanalia?  Why, with a giant dessert, of course!  I’ve honestly never had the space for dessert, but the offerings will typically include a variety of cakes, including Crème de Papaya (a papaya and ice cream dessert), pudim de leite (Brazilian-style flan), and torta de banana (Brazilian-style banana pie). 

 

 They all look fantastic, so if you’re a dessert person, you might want to plan to save some space.  Otherwise, if you truly can’t fit it in, you’ll just have to come back and try again.  I’d love to tell you what they taste like, but I’ve honestly never saved space.  Normally, it’s all I can do to finish all the meat on my plate.

Coffee-wise, Brazil is a coffee-growing country, and that is the after-dinner hot drink of choice, whether served American-style or as espresso. 

 

THE LAST WORD

            A Brazilian Churrascaria is a great alternative to a steak house for people who want more variety, a livelier environment and, well, more meat.  Given that they’re typically ‘all-you-can-eat’ and include top cuts of meat, you can expect that they won’t be cheap.  They typically are well worth the cost, though.  Bring an empty stomach and a relaxed attitude.   

 

FAMILY-FRIENDLINESS

            Brazilian Churrascarias are great for families, as there’s no fuss over ordering, kids can have fun with the yes/no discs and deciding what meat to try, and the food starts coming out virtually right away.  It’s unlikely that they’ll disturb anyone else, as churrascarias are typically noisy places with lots of people walking around (either customers to the salad bar, or Passadors with meat).  The food is abundant, and ranges enough that there’s bound to be something available that every kid will eat.  You’ll likely see lots of Latin American families enjoying their meals there too.

 

BASIC BRAZILIAN CHURRASCO FOOD TERMS

Churrascaria/Churrasco- (chu-RAS-ka-REE-a) Portuguese for ‘barbecue place’ or ‘barbecue’.

Caipiriñha- (cai-pee-REEN-ya) Brazil’s traditional drink, made from cachaça, muddled lime and sugar.

Cachaça- (ka-SHA-sa) a distilled alcoholic spirit made from cane sugar.

Pão de queijo- (pow de kay-EE-ho) cheese buns; made from manioc flour (tapioca)

Passador- (PASS-a-door) a meat waiter

Rodízio- (rod-EE-zee-oh) means ‘in cycle’, as in, when the meat is in rotation around the tables

Farofa- (fa-ROW-fa) toasted manioc flour.  Use it to sprinkle over your black beans.

 

 

Add more Brazilian food terms to the list

 

CRITICAL DO’S AND DON’TS

Do

  • Try to remember to use your ‘yes/no’ disc.  This will help the Passadors know whether to come to your table or not.

  • Use your tongs to hold the slice of meat while the Passador cuts it.  Otherwise, it will drop onto the table.

  • Visit the salad bar.  It makes a nice break from non-stop meat and usually is well worth checking out.

  • Be polite to the Passadors.  Remember: These are men wielding swords!

 

Don’t

  • Say ‘yes’ to all the Passadors too soon.  Different cuts of meat come out at different times, so feel free to be choosy early on.

  • Say ‘yes’ to every Passador that comes along and end up with a pile of meat on your plate, uneaten.  It’s wasteful.  Try to pace yourself well, and don’t worry about saying ‘no’ temporarily to a Passador; they can always refill you plate later, once you’re sure you’ve got room for what they’re offering.

  • Forget to tip.  The best bet is to leave 20% and let them work out who it belongs to.  Typically each restaurant will have a system by which they split tips.

 

 

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RATINGS

Child-friendly Food (is it easy to find things that American kids will eat):  9.5/10

Adventure Level (how different is this from standard American food):  5/10

 

 

Rate Brazilian food yourself!

 

Eat where The Food Virgin eats in Miami- Porcao Churrascaria. 

 

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