Cuisine Spotlight – Churrascaria

Churrascarias are one of the best places in the world except if you are a vegetarian. Even so, there is usually a nice salad bar to enjoy but that is not the main reason why you come to a churrascaria. The beauty of a churrascaria does not just lie in the meats available and how they are grilled to a tender and juicy conclusion, but it is also the fact that you can eat these meats to your heart’s content. As much as you want, you can choose how full you can get and how much you want.

While barbecue places are ubiquitous around the world, The Brazilian churrascaria is honestly a special option among the competition and is among the best in the world in terms of both the quality of the meats and the quantity of them. Other unique aspects of the churrascaria is the card or the coaster in green or in red which is used to signal to the waiters or servers if you would like more meat or if you are bowing out after loosening your belt due to fullness. The thing to keep in mind is that the green is similar to ‘go’ or ‘more meat, please’ and the red indicates that they should skip your table as you need to rest a bit or even take a nap because you are too full to continue.

While the ‘Fogo de Chao’ churrascaria or steakhouse is a very popular chain in the United States, Brazil, and around the world and whose name carries weight for being the most popular or the most expensive churrascaria depending on who you ask, there are more options out there than just this particular place. If you are going to really enjoy the churrascaria, you have to try out a few of them in where it all began: Brazil.

Why go to Brazil to experience churrascarias? Well, it’s not the only reason why you should go to Brazil of course but it is a major reason why to do so. I found the meats to be more varied, the churrascaria to be more laid back, and the servers seemed to serve you quicker at the beginning and then drop off so you can finish what’s on your place first. You have to be quick too because you may end up taking a bigger or a longer piece of meat if you are not quick enough to grab the meat with your fork.

I also found the salad bar to be included in the final fixed price with only drinks being extra, so I definitely think that since churrascarias are so prominent in the major cities of Brazil, you are likely to find a good one for a good price. Since there are many more churrascaria options in Brazil, you can try different ones to compare and contrast. You simply don’t have that option back in the U.S. since it’s more of a specialty place than something that is native to the local culture.

The ‘Rodizio’ style culture adds to the flavor of the local churrascarias as well where it’s an all-you-can-eat affair at a fixed price and for which differs by night and by time of day as well. The different meats are cooked on an open flame or from a rotisserie grill and they come to you with the skewer of meat when it is done. The meat options range from beef to pork to chicken and sometimes more exotic meats depending on where in Brazil the churrascaria is. The ‘Rodizio’ option in Brazil also extends to Japanese sushi restaurants and to Italian pizza places making an all-you-can-eat option not just limited to barbecued meats.

As if the salad bar was not enough for you, you will get a seemingly large amount of side dishes to choose from. The side dishes include sweet options like fried bananas or savory options including collard greens, black beans, rice, French fries, fried potatoes, etc. In churrascarias, there may even be a dessert bar with cakes and assorted sweets like ice cream if you still somehow are still hungry even after the salads and the meats have been digested. Rodizio-style churrascarias began in the middle of the 20th century and have only gained in popularity since then; spreading throughout Brazil and now in many different countries around the world.

The most popular cuts of meat are definitely the following: Filet mignon chunks wrapped in pieces of bacon, sirloin steak, rump cover (picanha in Portuguese), and roast beef. Those kinds of meat are bound to be the most popular and those servers skewering them are going to be quite busy, both day and night. Also, popular meats that are not beef include turkey chunks wrapped in bacon, beef short ribs, rack of lamb, pork ribs, ‘chorizo’ or Spicy pork sausage. Grilled dark meat chicken is also a reliable item but that is not the only part of the chicken to be served.

When you think of eating a chicken, you think of the thigh, the leg, the wing, and the breast. You do not think of its heart but in a churrascaria, the chicken heart guy who serves it knows he may be turned down a few times per night but it’s possible he will get some lucky customer to try it out. I have had the chicken hearts before and while they are small and chewy, I found it to be not that bad surprisingly. I just had to reminds myself before eating these chicken hearts that they would taste exactly like chicken.

Hopefully, you will get the chance to try out a great rodizio-style churrascaria in Brazil sometime. If you cannot make it to a churrascaria in Brazil which is likely considering world events right now, look up the ones closest to you via Google. It is a worth a drive or a train ride or even a special trip to have a day at the churrascaria. Created by the ‘gauchos’ or cowboys of southern Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, this popular South American style rotisserie place is famous for a reason and has been around for a few centuries now. What started with a few hungry cowboys roasting meats over an open flame to nourish themselves after a hard days’ labor has become a global phenomenon and has put Brazilian rodizio culture on the world map.

Cuisine Spotlight – Feijoada

Feijoada: The National dish of Brazil. It is delicious, fulfilling, savory, and tasty. There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe this scrumptious plate of goodness. While also prepared in other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world such as Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, Brazilian Feijoada is more than just beans and pork. It has a little bit of everything to make it a unique dish that has protein, carbs, and even sugar to satisfy one’s taste buds. The Brazilian Feijoada was born in Recife and developed in Rio de Janeiro but has now spread across the entire country reflecting its status as a beloved national dish.

From Salvador to Sao Paulo and from Recife to Rio, every Thursday and/or Saturday, the hearty Feijoada dish is prepared for families and friends to enjoy together. While there is some variation in terms of what is to be offered on your plate, you can definitely expect to find a big clay pot bubbling with black beans, different pork and beef parts including oxtail and tripe, as well as tongue perhaps. In the Northeast of the country, the clay pot can also include different vegetables such as kale, potatoes, okra, carrots, etc.

The side dishes can vary across the country, but it is quite common to serve couve, a kind of collard greens dish that is chopped up and stir fried adding to its overall flavor. You also can have chicken steak with fried yucca (mandioca) as well as fried plantains (bananas) as a kind of dessert or sweet tooth necessity if you still have room. To mix with the black beans and the couve, you also have cooked white rice, which is nicely mixed together with the meats as well to create a beautiful plate of both Brazilian history and culture.

To clean your palate afterwards, some fresh orange slices can also be added to the plates offered in order to help with digestion. Beforehand, usually, you will be offered a cup of savory black bean broth, kind of like the soup, to slurp down ahead of the feijoada, which can also be added to the dish if you so choose to. Of course, you have baked pieces of bread as well that can soak up the juices and the broth to add on to an already gigantic plate of heavenly food.

What you need to keep in mind about Feijoada before diving in is that you need to eat it on an empty stomach and to clear your schedule for the day because chances are good that you will need a nap and a glass of water after diving in. For those of you who get the ‘meat sweats’, it’s good to take your time and eat slowly. The Feijoada dish is very heavy so it’s good to relax, have a beer or caipirinha, talk with your friends, and make sure you pace yourself since you will be likely not to do anything else for the rest of the day.

This is not a national dish for vegetarians and Brazil is not the easiest country to be a vegetarian in. You can have Feijoada without the pork parts and the beef stew, but it is really not the same in my opinion. Vegetarians can join in on this delicious dish, but they are definitely not getting the same experience as meat lovers sadly enough. I do love that Feijoada is only offered once or twice per week showing that it’s kind of a national pastime to have it specifically on a Saturday and then you can take the rest of the weekend off as you will probably need to after gaining a few pounds or kilograms.

You can have Feijoada for lunch or for dinner, but it usually is only eaten one day a week. The only thing you should really plan to do after eating Feijoada is perhaps watching the big football match of the weekend and perhaps relaxing with a few glasses of water. You can compare it to the Colombian dish of Bandeja Paisa in a way, but the amount of different foods represented in Feijoada is definitely impossible to beat. You could compare it to the ‘soul food’ cuisine of the Southern United States but there’s still no dish from the American South that quite compares to Feijoada. Similar to the traditions of ‘soul food’, there is a complicated and rough history behind the beginnings of Feijoada which just goes to show how resilient people in very difficult situations regarding food can make a beautiful, tasty dish out of almost nothing or the scraps made available to them on purpose. In order to really know Feijoada, it’s important to dive into the history of the dish as well and what exactly makes it unique to Brazil.

From what I have learned, the origins of Feijoada are up for date but since this kind of stew with pork and beans was quite popular among European settlers, it can be inferred that it was brought over by the Portuguese during the colonization period. However, it seems that the dish was expanded upon by the slaves in Brazil who would add other ingredients such as the couve, the arroz (rice), and the mandioca as these were other foods available to them. Gathering all of these foods together and putting them as a mixture on a big plate would be a hearty yet simple meal to have when it came time to preparing it before or after a long day of work in the fields or farms. While slaves were restricted to rice and beans, special occasions such as holidays allowed them to get different pork parts or beef parts considered less desirable by their masters and to throw them together in a stew to help them feed themselves and get more protein as they worked in the kitchens. From the kitchens to the fields to the cities, Feijoada has earned its status as the national dish of Brazil.

Feijoada is very much a creative and improvisational dish where you have to do the best you can with what you have and put it all together when you don’t have much time to prepare a flashier meal. What Feijoada lacks in flashiness, it more than makes up for it in the sheer number of flavors and food groups the dish makes up. Between the rice and beans, the meats, the greens, and the after-meal delight of an orange slice or a shot or two of cachaça and you will definitely be satisfied with one of the greatest meals you could ever have in Brazil.