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Manaus: a gastronomic and cultural experience

May 3, 2022

Manaus is an exotic city of almost 2.3 million inhabitants, capital of the state of Amazonas. Which is not a simple matter. The state of Amazonas, in the northwest of the country, with its 1,570,745 km2, is the largest state in Brazil, but it is larger than Peru (1,285 thousand km2) or Colombia (1,142 thousand km2), which are, together with Argentina, among the largest countries in South America. The state of Amazonas is more than twice the size of Spain.

Manaus is a unique city, very hot and with high atmospheric humidity. Extravagant, dazzling, exaggerated. From the time of the exploitation of rubber by the bloodthirsty rubber barons, who enslaved the Amazonian Indians, its fabled history was carved out, which had its peak in the Amazonas theater, inaugurated in 1896, for opera performances in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon jungle. On that day, the opera La Giocondia, by Ponchielli, was staged. The riches derived from the exploitation of rubber, a strategic raw material for the nascent automobile industry, provided for everything: electric trains, electric arc lighting, the first photography workshops, the first movie theaters throughout Brazil. Nothing was spared in the construction and decoration of the Teatro Amazonas: Carrara marble, giant chandeliers from Sévres, Murano glassware. The film Fitzcarraldo, by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, shows the gigantic effort to build this luxurious theater in the middle of the jungle.

The same happened with another of its great attractions: the Río Negro Palace, built between 1903 and 1911 by Waldemar Scholz, a German rubber merchant. When the sale of Brazilian rubber declined in the face of fierce competition from cheaper Asian rubber, the merchant was forced to sell his palace to avoid economic ruin. And the building passed to the state administration to become first, the seat of government, and then, a tourist building to remind national and foreign visitors of the cruel history of rubber exploitation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Apart from Manaus, there are other thriving cities in the state of Amazonas: Manacapuru, Tefé, Itacoaticara, Parintins. Since 1965, in the last week of June, one of the largest folkloric festivals in Brazil, the Parintins Festival, has been held in this last island city, on the right bank of the mighty Amazon River, 420 km from Manaus. Three days of dancing, music, theater and fireworks, enlivened by the competition between two teams, the Boi Garantido, dressed in eye color, and the Boi Caprichoso, dressed in blue.

Manaus is also an excellent opportunity to enjoy Amazonian delicacies, perhaps the most authentic in the country, which tell the story of both the native indigenous heritage and the thriving mix with the culture of African descent, the mestizo and the white settler. Manaus does not enjoy the gastronomic fame of other Amazonian cities, such as Belém do Parábut it does have good restaurants, both popular and located in the Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market (where you can taste the great variety of Amazonian fish: tacunaréjaraqui, surumbim, matrinxa, pacu, and the pirarucu or paiche), as well as haute cuisine, scattered throughout the city, some located near the main architectural attractions such as the Teatro Amazonas or the Palacio de Río Negro. Among them are Acaí and Companhia, Canto de Piexado, Delicias Caseiras, Restaurante Giratório, Cafeteria do Largo, restaurant Balzeiro, Sabor a Mí, Domus, Tambaqui da Banda. The most representative dishes of the Amazonian gastronomy are, as in other parts of the Amazon, expressed in its regional products and in the cultural ancestry of its culinary agents:

  • tacará (a light soup with cassava or manioc and jambú, the lip-numbing herb that is highly esteemed throughout the Amazon),
  • pirao (manioc flour dough),
  • el pato no tucupi (duck with tucupi, watercress and toasted manioc flour),
  • pirarucú en casaca (fish with green plantain, flour, raisins, boiled eggs, olives, etc.),
  • bolo de macaxeira (a thick cake made with manioc flour, covered with chocolate or jam),
  • copoazú pudding (a dessert made with copoazú pulp, butter, eggs, wheat flour, sugar),
  • tapioquinha (cassava starch pancake, topped with some fruit pulp or jam).

Everywhere, one gets copoazú (Amazonian white cocoa), tucupi (poisonous liquid extracted from the processing of the yucca brava or bitter cassava, which is detoxified by gentle and prolonged cooking), manioc (cassava) and its derivatives such as tapioca (starch or flour from the cassava root), acaí (deep purple drupe of the palm tree, which is used in the processing of the cassava root) and other products such as the manioc root. Euterpe oleracea) and succulent freshwater fish, some of which are very large.

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