Surprising Culinary Delights in Belém
After living in Los Angeles for several years and having almost every type of food imaginable at my fingertips, I admit I’ve become a food snob. While I love rice, beans, and fruit, Brazil hasn’t always been the best to me in regards to cuisine, but the north has really stepped up the game and there’s been some definite surprises. I’m sure there’s still more to discover since the northeast is supposedly the heart of the Brazilian kitchen.
Açaí – At Its Origins
You can’t talk about the best foods from Brazil without mentioning this fruit. I love when Brazilians ask if I’ve ever had açaí; the news hasn’t arrived here that parts of the U.S. (definitely California) are obsessed with this berry for its supposed magical weight-loss abilities. That being said açaí has always been better in Brazil and, here in the north, where the berry has its origins I’ve had the chance to eat/drink it in a variety of forms. Sorry, this is not for weight loss!
With tapioca (another traditional food here) and tons of sugar.
Brewed inside my beer.
Made into a delectable ice cream concoction by the sorveteria Cairu (Purportedly the best ice cream in Brazil).
I even saw açaí in its raw berry form for the first time — not so tasty.
We tried this in Roraima and were dreaming of it all the way on the boat so, of course, our days in Belém included a tacacá stop. It’s not the most appetizing looking dish but this soup is an infusion of salt, onion, garlic, cilantro, and the broth mixed with mandioca gum. You eat it piping hot with shrimp and the Amazon secret ingredient jambu. There was also a tacacá pastel available at Amazonas Beer, which is apparently delicious, but they were all out when we got there.
This is another indigenous recipe you can taste in the north also involving shrimp. It also doesn’t look very good photographed, but it’s the taste that counts. Mandioca leaves are prepared for a week to get rid of the poisonous elements and then served with rice, farinha de mandioca, and pimenta (finally a place in Brazil that likes spicy food!).
Cachaça de Jambu
Doesn’t matter how many caipirinhas you’ve had, this is a whole new spin on cachaça that’s unique to the north. Jambu is an Amazonian herb — native to Pará, Amazonas, Acre, and Rondônia — that’s widely used in the cooking. It’s also poisonous if you don’t happen to process it the correct way.
It was actually invented in Belém at the end of 2011 by the owner of the Bar Meu Garoto, Leodoro Porto, so that’s where we went to try it. Even with its recent invention, the drink is starting to spread out to some other states.
The shot itself is served up with a chaser that’s a kind of meaty sauce. After a sip or two your lips become numb and after 4 shots we were wasted (or at least Phyllis was). This is definitely a must before leaving Belém.