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Worldcrunch

A Culinary Journey Through Secret (And Sometimes Hairy) Ingredients Of The Amazon

Follow this culinary expedition into the Amazon, as they meet with local producers and fishermen and are introduced to the deliciousness of stinging nettles and maniwara ants.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Discovering the secret recipes of Brazilian tribes

MANAUS - I would have never put nettle in my mouth if Raimundo Moura had not said "go on, eat it," handing me a green leaf that he had just picked up in his small organic farm, next to Manaus, in the Amazonas state in northern Brazil.

The stinging nettle is a hairy plant that irritates skin. "If you turn the leaf like this, it won't sting your mouth," he promised, showing me how to do it.

Fifty-six-year-old Moura was the first character encountered by our culinary expedition, whose starting point was the Manaus countryside. During seven days the group -a chef, a producer, a photographer, a cameraman and myself- travelled throughout the Brazilian Amazon by airplane, boats, motorcycle taxis and all kinds of transportation.

The goal of the expedition was to promote local food producers and showcase traditional ingredients that have been neglected. This was done in conjunction with the Tiradentes Culture and Food Festival, held in August in the southeastern Minas Gerais state.

The expedition also travelled to five other states, tasting lobsters in Cearà; raw-milk cheese in Minas Gerais; rapadura (a sugary sweet) and bottled butter in Pernambuco; beef jerky in Rio Grande do Norte.

In Amazon, Moura showed us jambu, chicoria, urucum and alfavaca. Everything is organic. He uses vinagreira, a kind of hibiscus, as a bactericide. Nettles keep caterpillars away. He sells part of what he grows on the churchyard.

We encountered the same visceral connection to the earth when we visited native Indians Mirion and Yossokamo, from the Tukuna Dessana tribe, next to The Rio Negro. They collect maniwara ants, a popular snack for locals.

To take them out of the ant colony,

I would have never put nettle in my mouth if Raimundo Moura had not said "go on, eat it," handing me a green leaf that he had just picked up in his small organic farm, next to Manaus, in the Amazonas state in northern Brazil.

The stinging nettle is a hairy plant that irritates skin. "If you turn the leaf like this, it won't sting your mouth," he promised, showing me how to do it.

Fifty-six-year-old Moura was the first character encountered by our culinary expedition, whose starting point was the Manaus countryside. During seven days the group --a chef, a producer, a photographer, a cameraman and myself-- travelled throughout the Brazilian Amazon by airplane, boats, motorcycle taxis and all kinds of transportation.

The goal of the expedition was to promote local food producers and showcase traditional ingredients that have been neglected. This was done in conjunction with the Tiradentes Culture and Food Festival, held in August in the southeastern Minas Gerais state.

In Amazon, Moura showed us jambu, chicória, urucum and alfavaca. Everything is organic. He uses vinagreira, a kind of hibiscus, as a bactericide. Nettles keep caterpillars away. He sells part of what he grows on the churchyard.The expedition also travelled to five other states, tasting lobsters in Ceará; raw-milk cheese in Minas Gerais; rapadura (a sugary sweet) and bottled butter in Pernambuco; beef jerky in Rio Grande do Norte.

We encountered the same visceral connection to the earth when we visited native Indians Mirion and Yossokamo, from the Tukuna Dessana tribe, next to The Rio Negro. They collect maniwara ants, a popular snack for locals.

To take them out of the ant colony, Mirion and Yossokamo use a sort of fiber called arumã. After being kept in a handcrafted basket, the ants are washed in water and soaked in an adobe pot with black tucupi, the juice extracted from mandioca-brava root and cooked on a woodstove.

Fatty and juicy, maniwara are eaten with a piece of beiju, a manioc-tortilla and a local chili. The prevailing taste is that of tucupi, but you can definitely feel the texture of the ants' legs.

Mandioca-brava

Sixty-three-year-old Manoel Gomes is from the Bela Vista community. He refuses to take the "doctor's medicine:" when his body aches, he mixes snake fat with açaí berry roots.

Gomes picks mandioca-brava, a kind of manioc, in the yard behind his house, next to where the pigs are kept. His daughter peels, grates and presses the manioc. Part of it is fermented in water and transformed into puba flour. Sometimes, she uses rainwater, which is also used for drinking and washing.

Puba flour is cooked on a iron pan until it turns yellow and crunchy --the so-called farinha d'água, or water flour. It is commonly eaten mixed with gutted jaraqui, a small local fish.

Sustainable Pirarucu

Forty-seven-year-old Luiz Gonzaga, is the chief of the fishermen of Maraã, a poor village where there are more dogs than people. A local BBQ house has a big wooden table, placed directly on the soil, where different kinds of fish are served in a deep plate over a portable grill.

Gonzaga teaches other how to fish the pirarucu, the huge fresh-water prehistorical-looking fish whose meat is so tender that you will remember it forever. The fisherman has an important mission: to make sure pirarucu does not make it on the endangered species list: only 30% of the adult fish are allowed to be caught.

Tapioca And Tucupi

Janauacá lake is located next to Solimões river, the name given to the early stretches of the Amazon River. It takes one night by boat to get there. Chef Fabio Silva, from Amigos da Floresta tourism and food agency, cooked dinner for us. Steamed vegetables, tambaqui --a local fish-- baked in olive oil, and rice mixed with raw milk queijo de coalho, a local cheese.

In the morning, Zé Maruoca and his family greeted us as we arrived at Janauacá village. They showed us tapioca gum and tucupi made from the manioc they grow.

Back on the boat, 26-year-old chef Felipe Schaedler, from O Banzeiro restaurant in Manaus, prepared a "pirarucu trilogy:" three versions of the gigantic fish served fresh in coconut milk cream and nuts; smoked with deep-fried banana; dried with farofa, a popular Brazilian dish made of manioc flour.

Manaus

Manaus' open market seems endless. There are tons of bananas, watermelons, fish, flours and nuts. A short and fatty man whose name I cannot recall cooked us a delicious breakfast: manioc tortilla filled with queijo de coalho cheese and slices of tucumã, a local fruit.

Here, we met famous chef Maria do Céu Athayde, who showed us two recipes using local fish, baked matrinxã and deep-fried aruanã coated in breadcrumbs. She made us a lunch box to eat later in the airport, but I devoured it right there, standing.

A guide to local ingredients:

Tucumã - One of the most popular Amazonian fruits, round, hard outside and juicy inside, slightly sweet.

Chicória - A bush leaf with bitter taste, eaten either raw or cooked.

Tucupi - Juice extracted from mandioca-brava, sold pure or seasoned with pimenta-de-cheiro, a local pepper. It is the base for traditional local dishes like tacacá soup and duck cooked in tucupi.

Pirarucu - This scarlet fish is considered the largest fresh-water scaled species in the world --it can weigh up to 200 kg and reach up to 3-meters in length.

Farinha d'água (water flour) - Peeled and grated, mandioca-brava is soaked in water, mixed with fresh manioc and dried on a pan.

Farinha de uarini (uarini flour) - Also known as "ovinha," it is soaked in water until it turns into tiny balls that resemble fish eggs or couscous.

Jambu - The yellow saw-shaped flowers of this herb are used as seasoning for many traditional dishes in northern Brazil. It puts your mouth to sleep, literally.

Tambaqui - During the wet season, this scaled fish is one of the most popular items sold in the Manaus market. It gets its peculiar taste from the fact that it eats fruits that have fallen into the river.

Jaraqui - A favorite of local communities; this fish's thin bones become crunchy when fried.

Mandioca-brava - A bitter manioc. It is used for tucupi, tapioca and other kinds of flours.

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About this article source Website: http://www.folha.uol.com.br/

Founded in 1921, the "Sao Paulo Gazzette" became Brazil's leading daily in the 1980s by applying standards of openness and objectivity to its coverage of the country and Latin America as a whole.

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