17 Meats and a Fried Banana

Brazilians love their meat. As the world’s second largest beef producer and it’s largest beef exporter, there’s no shortage of red meat. Nor of chicken, pork, or lamb either. Given its status, you’d think visitors would be prepared for a simple visit to a local churrascaria, aka steak house. But have you ever considered how much meat you could savor at one sitting?

The challenge was presented to Thomas M., fresh in from Atlanta, GA. It was his third night in Rio de Janeiro. Thomas is a junior at University of Pennsylvania majoring in international relations. He’s here on CIEE’s fall ’19 Liberal Arts program, keen on learning Portuguese to compliment his Spanish language skills and taking classes alongside locals at CIEE’s partner school - Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro.

The first thing you need to understand about a churrascaria is that it’s not just meat. Upon arrival we were invited to fill our empty plates with 20+ selections from a salad bar. From sliver-thin strips of zucchini drizzled with cheese and olive oil, to bowls of garden-fresh greens, the options were mouthwateringly colorful and would have made an ample meal. But this is Brazil, and vegetables alone do not a meal make. Thomas made the tactical decision to keep the first-course light. Smart man. 

While we were enjoying our salads, servers delivered dishes to accompany our meat. Onion rings. French fries. Fresh salsa. Casava flour - known as farofa to locals. Fried bananas. They also handed out a cup-sized paper-circle to each diner. One side was green with the word, mais obrigada meaning, keep that meat coming; the other, red with the words, não obrigada – meaning, please stop presenting me with this delicious meat, I’m about to burst. 

I heard the sizzle before I saw the giant skewer of meat that landed, steaming before me. The server quickly sliced two thin pieces and was off to the next diner. We started with roasted chicken then in what seemed like three-minute intervals had pork ribs, pork sausage, beef with cheese, pork with cheese, candied pork, barbecue pork, chicken hearts, filet mignon, top round, bottom round, and the coveted, picanha, aka rump steak. When I looked up and asked Thomas if he was keeping track, he said he lost count at 9. But I hadn’t. We were on the 11th meat course and – while the pace had slowed – the meat was still coming.

When the plates were finally cleared, (and the dessert tray presented!) we had been proudly served 17 different meat courses. Thomas had availed himself to every course – even the chicken hearts. “It was great!” he said. “I wouldn’t do this every day, that’s for sure. But I’m really glad I didn’t eat lunch today.” 

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