The Cuisine of Cowboys
The word churrasco in Brazilian Portuguese is roughly translated ‘barbecue.’ But the churrascarias that dot the country’s food landscape are nothing like the BBQ joints of the American South, Korea or any other place where thick cuts of meat are fired up over a hot grill. Uniquely South American, this rotisserie-style version owes its origins to the Pampas, a grassland region shared by Brazil and Argentina. Centuries ago, rough and tumble gauchos (cowboys) would gather around fireside pits and roast meat over the glowing embers, thus giving birth to this holy grail of carnivorous cuisine.
A Brazillian churrasco; Sebástian Freire, Flickr
Although essentially a steakhouse, a Brazilian churrascaria is so much more. Here, every meat-lovers dream comes true with a staggering variety of beef, pork, sausage and chicken cuts impaled on long skewers and lovingly rotated and tended over a spitfire. Unlike barbecue in the States, you won’t find any sweet, tomato-based sauces on these giant espetinhos (kabobs); the cuts of meat are so superior that a little sea salt and herbs are all they need.
In these lively eateries presentation is just as important as the plate. Busy passadors, or waiters, flit around the tables carrying the long skewers of meat for your sampling. Indicating your meat of choice by setting out a card on your table, the passador carrying that delicacy will slice off a portion for you to try. Round after round, the endless parade of meat is presented and the only real question is: how do you keep from eating everything you see?
To accompany your carnivorous selections, make sure to order a caipirinha, a Brazilian drink similar to a mojito. Made from lime juice, cane sugar and distilled sugarcane juice they are a refreshing addition to the many South American wines undoubtedly on offer. Should you have any room left at the end of the meal, cap off your Brazilian culinary experience with a crème de papaya, a quindim, or coconut flan, for dessert.