Brazilian churracarias are among the liveliest restaurants in the United States! There’s a sense of controlled chaos with waiters buzzing around the tables while bearing large skewers of grilled meats, which are sliced off the skewer upon the diners’ request. There’s also an open grilling area where the grilled meats tempt passersby and diners alike, as well as a salad bar to balance the guilt of meat indulgence.
But such a dynamic vibe can also be intimidating for first-time churracarias diners. How do you order from the menu when there appears to be none? How do you call the attention of the waiters? What will you order?
Let’s answer these questions so that your first churracarias such as in Fogo de Chao, experience will be memorable for the right reasons.
Ordering Is Easy-peasy
When you enter a Brazilian churracaria, you will first choose a table – and it’s the regular table-and-chair set because you’re essentially in a steakhouse, albeit Latin American style. On your table, you will see a paper disc mounted on a stick or other similar sign. You will use it to signal the waiters, known as passadors, to come to your table or to keep their distance while you eat.
The sign has two sides – a green side meaning “go” and a red sign meaning “stop”. It’s a simple yet effective system that even the most clueless diner will find easy to understand. When you flash the green side, a passador will come to your table and slice your preferred meats and then stop at your say so.
Tip: Use the little tongs provided in gripping the meat while the passador slices it. Place the sliced meat on your plate and dive in.
Eating To Your Heart’s Content
But with chefs cooking your food and waiters serving it. Depending on the churracaria, you may be served with bread like pao de queijo or warm cheese popovers; these are gluten-free because these are made from manioc starch.
In most churracarias, the whole meal is already a set menu so there’s really little need to worry about ordering from the menu. The passadors offer several different cuts of meat including beef, pork, and bacon-wrapped chicken, even chicken hearts and salmon. The beef itself comes in several cuts from filet to sirloin so there’s something for every meat eater – and the chicken hearts are a must, too, if you’re the adventurous type.
Grilled meats may be the star attraction in a Brazilian churracaria but there are also other choices. The side dishes are served in generous portions, too, such as the usual onion rings and French fries favored by the American palate. But there are also Latin American favorites, such as fried plantain, black beans with a sprinkling of farofa (i.e., similar to bread crumbs), and yucca, all of which are starchy but tasty.
Just in case you’re feeling guilty about the meat indulgence, don’t worry because there are also vegetable options. The typical Brazilian churracaria has a salad bar that offers a wide range of hot and cold vegetables via the salad bar. You can fill your plate with the vegetables or get as little as you need without worrying about other diners’ views.
Everybody’s in a churracaria, after all, for the juicy, succulent, and flavorful grilled meats so whether you get vegetables or not isn’t a big deal. The relaxed ambiance also means that nobody’s really watching whether you’re forking generous amounts of meat into your mouth or eating it in dainty bites.
When you’re surrounded by too much delicious food, you will be tempted to indulge until you’re exploding with food! But don’t do it because you will suffer afterwards, mainly with indigestion as there’s only so much food your body can digest. A few tips to remember:
- Come with a moderate appetite. You don’t want to come nearly full because you will miss out on the fun, but you shouldn’t come so hungry that eating everything seems like a good idea. You still want to savor the delicious flavors of the grilled meats by chewing thoughtfully on them instead of scarfing them down.
- Listen to what your body is telling you. You may still want to eat more meat but your brain is sending warning signals – listen to them. Your stomach will thank you for it.
- Fill your plate only with the food that you can normally eat. You have the choice of adding a few more slices later on anyway.
While soft drinks, wine and beer may be offered in a churracaria, you may want to give the truly Brazilian churracaria a chance by ordering caipiriñha. It’s a drink made from distilled sugar cane juice so its kick comes from its alcohol and sugar content. As for the dessert, you may also order Brazilian-style flan, banana pie, and papaya with ice cream.
You will thoroughly enjoy your first Brazilian churracaria experience when you know these things. You will even come back again and again because it’s such a great experience, especially when you have your family and friends along for the ride.