People always ask me how is the food in Brazil, and I always say it’s the same as in the U.S.: pasta, chicken, burgers, potatoes… But that’s because I grew up in the Southeast. In Manaus, we still had all of that, of course, but my aunt made sure we also tried all of the typical things from the Amazon and their diet consists of mainly three things: fish, fruit, and whatever they can make from the manioc root.
Pirarucu is the largest fish of the Amazon and one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, growing up to 10 ft. long. At our boat tour of the Amazon, we saw them being spearfished and my aunt prepared a baked one for us with lots of olive oil and herbs: delicious. On a different day, she cooked another fish, which was even more interesting. The ribs of the tambaqui are so big, we ate them with our hands, just like pork ribs.
To accompany every meal, there is always something made from manioc. Also known as cassava or yuca, this starchy root has many uses, but it needs to be prepared correctly or it can be toxic. If dried and made into small sized little pearls, it is called tapioca and can be eaten as a snack. Then from the flour, you can make different cakes, breads or a white crepe topped with fruits or maybe just butter. Toasted manioc flour is called farofa and served as a crunchy side dish. You can also fry it and eat it like French fries, and make into a broth for tacacá, a soup with shrimp. There are so many more dishes made from manioc, that potatoes take a secondary role as a starch in the Brazilian Amazon (but certainly not in its native Peru).
Fresh fruit markets are everywhere in Brazil, including on the side of the road, like the one we went to on our way to Café Regional (typical brunch place). We saw lots of fruits, including tucumã (a small orange fruit from a palm tree) and cacao (yup, the fruit they make chocolate from). At Café Regional we tried tapioquinha with tucumã, two different kinds of manioc cake, and fruit juices, like passion fruit, and cupuacu, which ended up being the boyfriend’s favorite fruit in Brazil. The fruit itself is not very edible, but the white pulp is made into juice, jelly, mousse, candy… It is considered a superfruit, much like another Amazonian fruit that is more popular in the US: acai. This one is a berry and the most common use is for juices and smoothies eaten with granola, bananas, and condensed milk. Good news: Whole Foods sell frozen acai juice in the US.