TRAVELING TO BELEM
Belém (in the state of Pará) is at the mouth of the Amazon and is a major reference in a visit to the northern Brazilian Amazon. Belém helps you get a feel of what to expect in the Amazon basin. Belém, like Manaus (capital city of the Amazonas state) is a jumping-off point for those seeking Amazon adventures. It is also one of Brazil’s busiest ports — about 100 km upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. The river is the Pará, part of the greater Amazon river system, and the city is built on a number of small islands intersected by channels and other rivers.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN GOES TO THE AMAZON
Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite authors, I have read Kitchen Confidential numerous times, and his dry, intelligent sense of humor never gets old. Bourdain is also one of my favorite people to watch, his nonchalant personality completely fascinates me, and he is entertainingly analytical and curious. I’m hooked on his Travel channel series No Reservations, for a travel show, it’s so refreshingly un-touristy, but in a genuine way not in a “I eat weird things just to get ratings” kind of way.
On a recent episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Belém, Brazil to sample Amazonian fare found nowhere else in the world. During his visit to “the last great undiscovered culinary frontier,” Bourdain samples tacacá, jambu, filhote fish and other delicacies you will find basically nowhere else. Although, apart from the food, nothing seemed to go right during the episode: Bourdain threw his back out, the crew got sick, and they had major weather trouble. As always, Bourdain had some great one-liners during the episode. For example, on harvesting açaí berries, Bourdain said: “As much as I’d like to screw around in the jungle humping trees for berries — which is to say, I don’t really want to do that at all — I’ve got different plans for my final night in civilization.” On eating jambu (the green leaf that has a numbing effect), Bourdain said: “I feel so 80s! My lips are all tingly and numb.” On other celebrities who might appreciate jambu, he said: “I’m sure there’s a Lohan joke in here somewhere.”
JAMBU – “THE COCAINE OF SALAD GREENS”
Bourdain made a lot of jokes about jambo during his stay in Belém, once referring to it as “the cocaine of salad greens.”
Jambu is a leafy green used commonly in the cooking of the state of Pará, located along the lower reaches of the Amazon river system. It is also native to that region. It’s also known as agrião-do-pará which means “Pará watercress” and it is from this name that its English name “paracress” derives. Another name in English for this Brazilian native plant is “toothache plant,” due to the fact that jambo possesses an interesting medicinal property: the ability to alleviate toothaches. Jambu contains the compound spilanthol, which has the property of numbing toothaches and which is a component of a number of proprietary toothache creams and remedies. The anesthetic effects of jambu is part of the culinary mystique of the plant as well, and in Pará, chopped jambu leaves are added to a number of dishes not just for the flavor they have, but because of the numbing or tingling effect they have on the mouth. This effect causes a cooling feeling in the mouth as well. Jambu is also considered to counteract hot chile peppers by diminishing the burning sensation. In Brazil, culinary use of jambu is mostly restricted to the Amazonian rain forest. Outside this region it has limited use in cooking and gastronomy.
BELEM’S MERCADO VER-O-PESO
Bourdain made some great choices for the places he visited during the episode in Belém. Synonymous with Belém itself is the sprawling Mercado Ver-o-Peso (which in Portuguese means “see the weight” – derived from the Portuguese habit of weighing all merchandise in order to calculate tributes to the crown), which stretches out along the river:
Just as Belém is the gateway to the Amazon rainforest, the market serves an essential link between the city and the jungle selling not only fish but also holding an immense bazaar of Paranese specialties: an array o fruits you have never seen before, vegetables, live animals and artisanal products. The market is somewhat ramshackle and chaotic. Yet the colorful jumble adds to the adventure of wandering through the labyrinth of stalls where you’ll encounter exotica ranging from cobra teeth and pirarucu tongues (used by Indians as a kitchen grater) to herbal potions guaranteed to make you filthy rich or lucky in love.
Brazil nuts (Castanhas-do-Pará) are sold at every corner of the market. Men and women chop off the shell with large machetes, and sell them at 15 reais per kilo.
Aside from the gorgeous jumble of fruits, fish, spices, and ceramics, one of the most interesting sections is the area devoted to indigenous herbal remedies that will cure whatever ails you—physically or spiritually. The women who hawk these potions, known as mandingueiras, swear by the miraculous recipes that have been passed down through generations. They range from powdered vulture’s liver (great for a hangover) to the bottled genitalia of a boto, or pink river dolphin, which is purported to be a foolproof love potion.
NO RESERVATIONS GOES INSIDE BELEM
So, after watching the episode, I decided that if I ever make it to Belém (yes, it’s one of the few major cities in Brazil that I have never visited) that I would like to trace Bourdain’s steps and copy everything he did there. So, I coppied this from the Travel channel’s website:
WHERE ANTHONY BOURDAIN WENT IN BELEM
Tacacá da Duque
Av. Duque de Caxias, 994-1132 – Marco, Belém – PA, 66093-400, Brazil
At this small restaurant, Tony tries Maniçoba, a classic Amazonian dish. The base of this meal comes from the leaves of the manioc plant that have been ground and boiled for several days to remove the poisonous chemical hydrogen cyanide.
Ver-o-Peso Fish Market
Av. Portugal, 266-328 – Campina, Belém – PA, 66015-190, Brazil
The Ver-O-Peso Market is Belem’s grocery store. Tony and Amazonian chef Ofir de Oliviera picked out the Filhote Fish that Ofir would prepare for dinner.
Leitão do Mario da Vileta
Travessa Vileta, 2753-3099 – Marco, Belém – PA, 66095-740, Brazil
Tony and Felipe enjoy delicious pernil (pork leg) sandwiches at this popular street vendor. Eating the sandwich can get a little messy. The bun is full of pork, onions, lettuce, baby peas, mayo and a special sauce.
Tacacá da Dona Maria
Av. Nazaré, 758-942 – Nazaré, Belém – PA, 66035-170, Brazil
At the corner of Av. Nazaré and Vila Quintino is the street vendor who is reputed to have the best Tacacá in town. It is made up of tupuci, jambu, cassava starch, salted dried shrimp and peppers and is eaten with a toothpick.
This entire island is privately owned and is home to the Marajo Resort Park. Tony went fishing for the monstrous Pirarucu, went on a safari drive, a jungle walk in search of monkeys and also got a taste of water buffalo cheese.
Margem Esquerda Do Rio Guama – Cumbu Island.
This restaurant (acai farm) is located on the other side of the river from Belem and is surrounded by jungle. Tony learns about the acai berry from local botanist, Dr. Urano Carvalho.