Many houses in the region have their own Churrasco pit in their back gardens or incorporated into an outside wall with decorative tiles around the edges. They’re used for any occasion, but mostly celebrations, political rallies, and get-togethers. Across Brazil, lunch is the main meal of the day, with lighter dishes being served later on in the evening.
To my brothers and I, these cowboys were unreal and exciting – dressed in pantaloons, flat caps with chin straps, ponchos draped over their shoulders, neckerchiefs and boots. They were like nothing we had ever seen before, apart from in cowboy films.
There were further surprises in store at the Churrasco restaurants where we ate on huge outdoor patios filled with lively guests. Here the waiters dressed as Gauchos, moving around the tables with large silver spits overflowing with a variety of barbecued meats, again seasoned with rock salt and carved straight from the pit.
A typical Churrasco meal begins with a glass of caipirinha (Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime) served with a nugget of grilled sausage (linguica) on a cocktail stick. Each patron of the restaurant was given a coaster to use as a traffic light-style signal; the green side was shown when you wanted more meat carved for you and the red side when a breather was required, or to signal you were replete!
For three boys with eyes bigger than their bellies it was impossible to decline the chance to try so many different varieties of meat – the huge list included varieties of linguica (sausage), different cuts of beef; sirloin, rump, T-bone and fillet, pork chops, tenderloin and finally chicken thighs, drumsticks and even chicken hearts, all neatly lined up on a skewer. To accompany all this meat there was (thankfully) always a very extensive salad bar, with tasty delights like palm hearts, marinated grilled vegetables, couscous, kale and roasted beetroot, to name just a few.