Ellie Dyer and photographer Conor Wall find a taste of cowboy life at Samba Brazilian Steakhouse.

Faced with months in grassy plains with only cattle for company, legend has it that the gauchos of Brazil helped keep their spirits up with churrasco — a cooking style where meat cuts are barbequed over pits of glowing charcoal.

Over the years, the culinary art made its way to restaurants, called churrascaria, and gained popularity throughout the world. In 2012 Brazilian barbeque went one step further and arrived in Phnom Penh.

The opening of Samba on Sihanouk Boulevard provided a new experience for local diners, but also marked an expansion for a successful restaurant group that started in Singapore about 10 years ago.

“We can’t bring the whole of Brazil here, but we bring the best of Brazil here,” says owner Sebastian Koh, who also runs Samba in Vietnam and is looking forward to his first trip to Brazil, the country that inspired him, with a colleague later this year.

Though some modifications have been made to tradition in order to cater for an Asian audience, such as the provision of honey-roasted pork and a selection of seafood including calamari and shrimp, Samba’s roots remain clear.

One wall at the Phnom Penh eatery is dominated by an image of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer and, in keeping with the tradition, each diner receives a small round button to signify when they want to eat more. The green side tells staff to serve you cuts of meat — flipping it to the red side signals a full belly.

Both ingredients and cooking techniques are also traditional. Rock salt mixed with seasoning is imported from Brazil, while a rotating machine has been brought in from South America to cook beef ribs slowly over a low heat.

Though the restaurant offers a wide range of salads and side dishes, the main draw is undoubtedly its meat — imported from countries including the United States, New Zealand and Australia. The buffet (from $15.90 to $26.90 depending on the day and time) includes between eight and 15 types of meat, including sirloin and rump steak, ham, sausages and ribs that are cut at the table by staff working as ‘passadors’.

Glass divides the seating area from the giant charcoal grill, so diners can see food being prepared. Sauces are slathered onto skewered cuts with large paintbrushes before they are rotated above the warming coals.

Executive directors Peter Michel and Daniel Lira, who both hail from the northern city of João Pessoa in Brazil’s Paraiba state, have used their expertise to train Cambodian cooks in Brazilian techniques and are rightly proud of the quality of the restaurant’s produce.

“Our meat, we only buy it chilled, not frozen. That’s why all the customers like to taste our meat, because it is very juicy. They enjoy it so much,” says Lira. “It’s the way the chef cooks also … we know the way to cook for customers,” adds Michel.

Samba Brazilian Steakhouse
Villa 64 Sihanouk Boulevard.
Open from 11.30am to 3pm and 5.30pm to 10.30 pm daily.
Tel: 023 222 599

Find Samba Brazilian Steakhouse on AsiaLIFE