The Amazonian gastronomy of Brazil can be studied taking into account these four main aspects: its geographical context, the cooks or Chefs, the ingredients and the typical dishes.
A vast setting for a great gastronomy
Brazil is one of the largest (8,547,804 km2) and most populated countries in the world (210,147,125 inhabitants). The Amazon region of Brazil occupies about 60% of the total area of the Amazon basin.
The large Brazilian Amazon region, which comprises nine states (Amazonas, Pará, Amapá, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Roraima, Acre, Tocantins, Maranhao), is home to some 21 million people. The most important cities of the entire Amazon region are located there.
Some of them are also among the most important cities in South America, and even in Latin America. This is the case of Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, with 2,145,444 inhabitants, the most populated city in the entire Amazon basin.
It is followed by another Brazilian Amazon city, Belém do Pará, capital of the state of Pará, with 1,485,732 inhabitants. Of the 10 most populous cities in the Amazon basin, with more than 370,000 inhabitants, eight belong to Brazil.
Only two are not: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, capital of the state of Santa Cruz, in the Bolivian Amazon, with 1,441,406 inhabitants, and Iquitos, capital of the Loreto region, in the Peruvian Amazon, with 377,609 inhabitants.
Brazilian Amazonian gastronomy in search of identity
In these two Brazilian Amazonian cities, Manaus and Belém, the heart of Brazil’s popular Amazonian gastronomy is concentrated.
In the popular markets of these two cities, one finds great cooks of popular extraction working in small and sometimes uncomfortable open spaces in the big markets.
Chefs dedicated to Brazil’s Amazonian gastronomy
The cook Lucilene Goncalves Torres, known as Dona Lucia, who, amidst loud laughter, greets people with affection and serves exquisite typical food from the tables of Dona Lucia’s Barraca, located in the Ver-o-Peso market, in Belém do Pará.
Doña Lucía is perhaps the most representative cook of this great market. Lucia won the award for best cook at the market in 2016. Two years later, in 2018, it won the National Dólma Award, and the trophy for the best popular restaurant in Belém.
Lucía’s cuisine is made with fresh ingredients. Every day at dawn, at the dock of Marajó Bay, where the Guamá and Acará rivers meet, he receives fish, fruits, vegetables and condiments brought by his long-time suppliers, who have been his friends for more than a decade.
And it begins to make its food, which is a mixture of its cultural roots, derived from the Amazonian miscegenation, where the knowledge and flavors of the indigenous, black, mestizo and white settlers’ cuisines are interrelated.
Haute cuisine of Brazilian Amazonian gastronomy
The other Amazonian cuisine, the haute Amazonian cuisine, is cooked mainly in the kitchens of Sao Paulo, which, with its metropolitan area, reaches 22 million inhabitants to be the largest city in South America and the largest financial center of Brazil.
There, in this immense city, closely linked to the Amazon region, the most renowned Brazilian chefs work with Amazonian ingredients, which they transform using avant-garde culinary techniques.
It is a cuisine with great presence in the city. Chefs such as Alex Atala, Helena Rizzo, Ivan Ralston, Bel Coelho, Rodrigo Oliveira, Morena Leite.
But there are not only great Amazonian cuisine chefs in Sao Paulo, but also in many cities such as Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, and even in cities like Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where Paulo Machado lives, one of the most renowned Brazilian chefs, who also directs his own Food Research Institute, and is one of the standard bearers in the promotion of Amazonian cuisine in the world.
The most recognized worldwide is chef Alex Atala, who elevated Amazonian cuisine to its highest place, in times when almost no one spoke of it, even in his own country, where the Amazon was a distant legend that appeared only in books, but not in national geopolitics or intermingled with daily life.
Just three decades ago, the Amazon became part of Brazilian life and gained strength in large cities such as Sao Paulo, which, without being Amazonian, became its sounding board.
Atala’s temple is his restaurant D.O.M., from where the boom of Amazonian haute cuisine began, which he later extended to his other restaurants: Dalva e Dito and Bio.
Atala advocates, from them, a cuisine with fresh ingredients, native to the Amazon region, that is sustainable from an environmental perspective and respectful of nature and the rights of the indigenous groups that inhabit it. noted in an interview that:
“We always tend to value more what comes to us from outside, but the product from here, natural and little manipulated, is healthier, boosts the local economy, integrates production and consumption, and gives cultural value to the food.”Alex Atala
Atala is always researching new Amazonian products and is tireless in defending the survival of the Amazon, which is being deforested at an impressive rate.
The last time I heard him, at the Mesamerica festival in Mexico, he was obsessed with saving pirarucu or paiche (Arapaima gigas), the largest fish in the Amazon and one of the largest in the world, and in the search for Amazonian mushrooms that could be used in cooking.
Atala animates and directs, since 2013, with several partners, the ATA project at the Pinheiros Municipal Market, the largest market in Sao Paulo, which created the ATA certification that seeks to showcase and value Amazonian products, establishing urban marketing channels that allow any cook or housewife to access them, paying fair prices for the communities that produce them in the Amazon:
“Consumption has to be planned,” he says…The popularity of these ingredients and increased consumption will generate more demand and many just want profit without concern for sustainability. We have to be careful.”Alex Atala
ATA develops actions related to mushroom production with the Yanomami groups, pepper production with the Baniwa and pequi oil production with the Kizedje community, or with indigenous groups that consume the saúva ant.
Atala’s initiatives benefit the continuity and expansion of Amazonian gastronomy, while improving the income of the producing communities, respecting the sustainability of the forest and the way of life of indigenous and mestizo peoples. But Atala is not the only one.
From her restaurants Maní and Mandioca, she successfully develops new proposals of Amazonian cuisine with avant-garde techniques, achieving international notoriety that earned her the recognition, in 2014, of the best female chef in the world.
Son of successful chefs who owned the Ráscal chain of Mediterranean cuisine, and who managed in his restaurant Tuju, with his own effort and creativity, to position himself as one of the great chefs of the world, receiving two Michelin stars.
Trained in New York and Europe, from her restaurant Clandestino, recreating her Brazilian roots and cultural identity.
In his efforts to exalt Brazilian cuisine and popularize it in his restaurant Esquina Mocotó, following in the footsteps of his father who imposed a style of Brazilian cuisine in his emblematic restaurant Mocotó.
With his restaurants in cultural centers, showing a friendly face of great cuisine linked to the cultural traditions of his country.
Together with his wife Marta Seco, creators of the group El Paraguas, which has several restaurants: Ten con Ten, Ultramarinos Quintín, Numa and Amazónico, created in 2016, which has earned him many international recognitions. Or Fred Tibau, o….
Or many more, in a long list of excellent cooks committed to the Brazilian Amazonian gastronomic culture.
And the great chefs of Manaus, such as Mauricio Acuña, at the Patria restaurant, or the inexhaustible and extraordinary list of chefs of Belém do Pará, the popular culinary center of the Brazilian Amazon, with the outstanding presence of the brothers Felipe and Thiago Castanho, with their two great and beautiful restaurants Remanso do Bosque and Remanso de Peixe, of haute cuisine , or the many restaurants in Belém, headed by that wonderful cook Dona Lucia, with her famous Tacacá, or the other very good restaurants of Amazonian cuisine, such as Lá em Casa, Portinha, Raizes da Amazonia, Bar Meu Garoto, Emporio Amazónico, Estacao das Docas, Saloba aloca, and Tacacá da Dona Maria, on Nazaré Avenue, with its emblematic Tacacá dish.
Ingredients and mixtures of Brazilian Amazonian gastronomy
An important ingredient is the indispensable jambú (jambú or Pará watercress, Acmella oleracea, is a vegetable whose leaf, when bitten, anesthetizes the lip, produced by a substance called escipilantol).
Tucupi is also the name of a culinary preparation that appears as a broth of bitter, spicy or not, with dried shrimp, manioc gum and jambú leaves.
10 typical dishes of Brazilian Amazonian gastronomy
1. Pato ao Tucupi or pato no tucupi:
Duck cooked in a sauce made from tucupí, which is the poisonous juice extracted from the bitter yucca in the process of making cassava or yucca starch (which is cooked to eliminate its concentration of hydrocyanic acid), and seasoned with achiote or saffron.
To use it as a condiment, jambú is cooked for a long time in salted water and then drained. The duck is roasted, cut into pieces and boiled together with the sauce called tucupi in Brazil, and yare in other Amazonian countries such as Venezuela and Colombia.
It is an indigenous broth served in clay bowls to keep it warm. It is a dish offered by the tacacazeiras in the streets of Belém or Manaus, in the Amazon. Tacacá has as ingredients tucupi, jambú leaves, cooked tapioca gum, small yellow peppers, dried shrimp, tapioca, basil, cilantro, onion, garlic and pepper.
3. Manicoba :
The name of the dish probably comes from maniva, which is a dough made from the cooked leaves of cassava. This dish is prepared in a clay pot. The cassava leaf is cooked for a long time, several hours, to bring out its flavor. Then add black beans, pork meat, and serve with white rice, manioc flour and chili to taste.
Soup containing okra, shrimp, basil, chicory, fine dry flour, palm oil (or dendé). The okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is boiled together with basil, chicory and shrimps. The flour is added. Puree and add the palm oil. This dish is part of the food heritage of the African people brought to America as slaves.
Cooked with a mixture of seafood and fish, onion, bell pepper, tomato, coriander leaves, palm or dendé oil and coconut milk. This is how they make it in Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, but in the state of Espirito Santo, in the south, they substitute palm oil for oil with achiote.
6. Rice with pequi:
It is a very popular food in Brazil. It contains pequi(Caryocar brasilense), a yellow fruit with a strong smell and flavor, which is cooked with rice and oil, seasoned with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, parsley and chives. In some cases, when you want to add a protein, it is cooked with chicken (frango), then it is called frango com pequi.
7. Pirarucu cooked in Pará nut milk:
Preparation made with pirarucu and Pará nut milk. The pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) is a freshwater fish, the largest in the Amazon, and the Pará nut (Bertholletia excelsa) is the fruit of a gigantic wild tree. From the fruit, which contains crescent-shaped seeds, milk is extracted, with which the fish is cooked.
A very popular sandwich in Manaus, consisting of French bread filled with coalho cheese, fried banana and tucumá (palm tree). The tucuma is the yellow-orange, oval fruit of a palm tree (Astrocaryum vulgare), whose pulp is oleaginous and yields an oil.
Dessert made with corn, milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, butter, salt, and sprinkled with cinnamon on top before serving.
10. Copoazú cream:
Dessert made with copoazú pulp, cream, condensed milk, ice and cinnamon. Copoazú(Theobroma grandiflorum) is also called white cocoa, which contains more pulp, with a slightly acid taste, than seed.
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