Friday, July 23, 2010

Needlefish (Agulhinha) - A Perfect Snack at the Beach


Brazil's beaches range from desert isle-style isolation to the mass of humanity that is an urban beach on a Sunday or holiday. Unless one is absolutely the ONLY person on the beach and it's miles from the nearest inhabited community, there will be at least one beach bar selling ice-cold beer, soft drinks, fruit juice and a variety of snacks and meals. Brazilians tend not to take coolers full of supplies to the beach, they buy food and drink there - spending the day in the sun or in the shade of a palm thatched barraca or under an umbrella, keeping cool with dips in the sea and cold beer, and eating small plates of food.

Much of the food served at a Brazilian beach comes from the sea. Fish and shellfish dishes are particularly appealing within sight and sound of the waters from which the main ingredients came. One of the most popular beach snacks consists of small fish which have been simply cleaned, breaded and fried, served crispy and salty and eaten whole. In Northeastern Brazil, small specimens of the family of fishes known (for obvious reasons) as needlefish (directly translated into Portuguese as agulhinhas "small needles") are one of the most commonly served in this style and are particularly loved by local beach-goers. There are numerous species of needlefish, ranging up to 3 to 4 feet in length, but the ones that are served at the beach are more likely to be in the range of 3-4 inches.

Served on a hot day on the beach, accompanied by a beer that's colder than freezing, needlefish make a distinctively satisfying snack - one that's entirely appropriate to time and place, and one that's very evocative of the lifestyle of the praia (beach in Portuguese).

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide a recipe for making this dish which can easily be adapted to almost any small fish.

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