So. You know how everyone says Brazilians love meat? Well, I’ve always thought myself a serious contender for the challenge of being “meated” out by a Brazilian meal, and was eager to try my hand at this lovely task. When L said to us we were going to the best Churrasco restaurant in Sao Paulo, I believed him. L is given to extravagant, yummy restaurants, as I learnt last week. And indeed, it didn’t disappoint – it was a feast of magnificent proportions.
To start, a bit of background:
Brazilians were the first to raise cattle in South America, imported from Cape Verde to São Paulo in the 1530s. Churrasco (pronounced shoo-RAS-koo) or Brazilian barbecue was the traditional staple food of the gaúchos or cowboys of Southern Brazil for centuries before it spread to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It has become very fashionable and there are excellent churrascarias (restaurants specializing in Brazilian barbecue) all over Brazil and around the world. These are called churrascaria de rodízio because waiters move from table to table bringing different types of meats on skewers from which they slice portions onto your plate. The meat was originally cooked over coals, usually in a pit dug in the ground, skewered in metal spits. The only seasoning was coarse salt and each gaúcho had his own churrasco knife which he used to cut pieces of meat from the spit. Almost any occasion can be celebrated with a churrasco: birthdays, christenings, political rallies, or it can be a simple get-together with your family and friends on the weekend. It has evolved into an elaborate meal, with different salads, sauces, and farofa accompanying the meats. We start with caipirinhas, served with nuggets of sausage skewered on toothpicks. The meats used most often are Brazilian sausages, different cuts of beef, pork tenderloin, and chicken.
It was so magnificent that actually have a system of eating, and I love eating, and I love systems. Upon walking in and being educated on the system, I decided I was in love. So… here goes.
Everyone sits down, and you start with the “salad” bar. The “salad” bar is easily as large as one and a half cars, and features 60 items of food – from salads as we know them, to sushi and sashimi, to different kinds of rices and potatoes, to thin slices of beef carpaccio, to antipasto, and black beans, lots of beans in general. So you start by loading up your plate with these offerings, which constitute a full meal in itself.
Then you get back to your table, and everyone has a little disc. One side of the disc is green, the other side is red. Now here’s the thing. You sit down, and in the time it takes for you to notice the disc and ask what it’s for, there are swarms (our table of 20 had 10 waiters servicing it) of men, with trays, giant skewers, carts, and platters of meat. 26 different kinds of meat, to be exact. Swarming around you. Being offered to you. And they are all just CARVING the meat onto your plate. Because HELLO, the GREEN LIGHT side of your disc is facing up!
This isn’t meat as Australians know it either. This is succulent, juicy, cooked to perfection, dripping in goodness, fat melting in your mouth, tender to chew, crispy skinned meat, giant cuts on trays, tender cuts on skewers, large cuts on trolleys. Every kind of main animal was represented, and then organized by CUT. And everything was carved into thin slices onto your plate so you were always nibbling on morsels that filled your mouth with happiness.
I mean, it was like I had died and gone to heaven.
The men are relentless too, even when you have red side of disc up, they still ask, glint in their eye, offering their giant hunk of meat directly under your nose to savour its aroma and imagine its taste in your mouth.
That last paragraph was so wrong and I don’t even care. The meal was THAT good!
So Sharon, as you may well imagine, was in some kind of feasting heaven. And this is a Roman style meal – made to last 2 hours or more. Not including dessert! So there we are, with Caipirinhas being sipped, and supping, in giddy happiness, over 2.5 hours. The Brazilians were SO impressed with me – I ate 3 plates of food all up, cleaning them all up. About 1kg of meat, by one of their estimations. And then finally, stomachs distended, lips smacking with the final tastes of the perfection, we ordered dessert.
The Mexican professor opposite me kept eating meat! And everyone was starting on dessert… And there he was, asking for more meat and getting it! so….. Sharon got jealous. Like, I stared at him, and had a mouth watering moment, and then got ACTUALLY JEALOUS and huffed. Like a petulant child, or Anita (whoever you can picture better!). And he noticed. And in a swoop of gallantry, got me one last plate, turned my disc over, and with authority waved the tenderloin man over to carve me some of them goodness. And Sharon ate more meat.
The Brazilians nearly fainted. They actually, nearly fainted. In fact, the waiters nearly fainted and so OFFERED to take me out the back to the grill to see where ALL THE MEAT WAS COOKED – about 100 burners of barbeque going at the same time (ohhhh so sexy). and then, ALL of them ran to take a picture with me and my trolley of meat and a giant sword to pretend to carve it all. fucking awesomeness.
After it all, I even managed a piece of flan for dessert. I totally earned my Brazilian medals that night, y’all. I wish I had photographed everything I ate that day. I cannot tell you how much i woke up the next morning, a happy happy girl. it was like ALL my favorite aspects of food and meat had come together all at the once. Gab, you should’ve been there with me.
If for nothing else, Brazil was made for me in terms of food. And I’m going back there for more, even if Kath and Anita run a combined effort to make me vegetarian for the rest of the year to make up for the giant carbon footprint I just made in the earth.