Eat Your Heart Out in Maranhão
Ever since arriving in Barreirinhas, Phyllis and I have constantly been asking ourselves why everything inexplicably tastes so much better here. There’s no exquisite recipes or fancy spicing that we know of so we’ve just decided to quit wondering and savor the flavors. The northeast is littered in with fresh fruits, many of which don’t ever make it outside of Brazil, but cost next to nothing (or nothing) here. On our kayak trip along the river our host showed us the açaí trees with their palm like branches waving up in the sky and took us mango picking. I’m a fruit addict so this is kind of paradise for me in a way.
Mangos, of course, aren’t new to us, but there’s several varieties here and they are definitely the best ones Phyllis and I have ever tasted in our lives. We picked the ones that had fallen to the ground and ate them along the river bank, the juice dripping down our chins and the flavor so sweet it was almost like a mango syrup. Some of them can be picked when they are mostly green, but slightly ripened and eaten with salt, skin and all — it’s surprisingly good! It’s a good trick as we can now use mango in our travels without worrying about the mess!
There’s no way you can pass through the region without indulging in fruit juice. Guaranteed you’ll find some flavors you’ve never tried and leave you craving them when you’re not here (I already discovered this after my first visit to Brazil and I had to endure an entire year in Los Angeles without so much as a sip of acerola or cajú juice). There’s even more flavors up here and we’ve confused waiters by literally ordering just cups of juice: cajazinha, buriti, murici, graviola, cupuaçu, etc.
Being on the coast, we’ve also been regular consumers of the fruits of the sea. Our CS host and his friend literally prepared a fish in the backyard by roasting it over a makeshift coal bed they’d made out of bricks. The meat was lightly salted before they prepared it and finished off with lime after it was cooked and nearly killed us from how good it was.
After crossing the dunes, we stayed in Atins for a few days and hung out on the beach. Here we were invited to taste the local caseira cooking and ate fish, sting ray, shrimp, and these amazing little clams in some kind of strew. They were to die for.
While hitchhiking through Paulino Neves and Tutóia we spent most of the afternoon hanging out at a restaurant along the beach. A man walked by selling oysters and he prepared them right there for us with a salt/pepper mix and limes. It was something like ten reais for a dozen, so naturally we doubled the order. Delicious (though as I remember Florianopolis is the oyster capital of Brazil).
Then we had fish and probably the most delicious shrimp we’ve ever tasted. Who knows what it was cooked in, but it was super savory and accompanied by a simple tomato/onion/pepper relish and some bomb farofa. Farofa is farinha (mandioca/yucca flour) that’s been prepared with butter/oil and whatnot, making it soft, fluffy, and flavorful.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve become extremely lenient on vegetarianism (like I’m not vegetarian right now) and there’s a churrasco place about a hundred meters from our hosts place that has a ten reais buffet that’s economical and mouthwatering. Well, churrasco is normal in Brazil, but the sausage there is probably the best sausage in the world. Me thinking so isn’t much of a bar, but Phyllis is ready to marry a plate of this stuff and that girl is addicted to meat and declared it the best she’s ever tasted (and she just did a world trip so….)
You can, of course, accompany all of the food with cachaça and any of its fruit mixed forms. We’ve had it mixed in the classic lime/sugar caipirinha cocktail, naturally, and many other ways including with cajú (the cashew fruit – just don’t eat the nut, it’s poisonous until cooked and will burn your face off!) which makes for excellent juice in itself, a wonderful chaser to straight shots, or switched out for the lime in a caipirinha style.