Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From the Rivers of the Rain Forest - Aviú

The Amazon, the world's largest river by all counts, is in fact not a river but instead a system of rivers. For most of its length, the main stream - one of literally thousands of rivers in the basin - isn't even called the Amazon in Portuguese, it's the Rio Solimões. Only when the Rio Solimões merges with the Rio Negro just below Manaus at the famous Meeting of the Waters is the name Amazon (Amazonas in Portuguese) applied to the river.

Some of the rivers that are tributaries of the main stream are among the greatest rivers on the planet in their own right. The Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon from the north, is by volume the second largest river on Earth, superceded only by the Amazon itself. Its length exceeds 1500 miles. The longest tributary, the Tocantins, is more than 2250 miles long and it only enters the Amazon when that river has almost reached the sea.

One of the major Amazon tributaries, called the Tapajós - a relatively small tributary at only 1200 miles long - is home to one of the most exotic and interesting ingredients in the Brazilian culinary larder. It's a freshwater micro-shrimp called aviú whose natural habitat is in the shallow quiet reaches of the Tapajós River. The miniscule aviú's size ranges from 1/2 inch (1 cm) to about 1 inch (2 cm) and it has long been a favorite food of local Indian tribes. When caught aviú may be eaten fresh or dried for storage and later consumption. One of the most common ways to eat aviú is in an omelet, and it can be added to rice to provide flavor and protein to that dish.

Clearly, aviú is an ingredient that can only be described as exotic - it's impossible to find outside its geographical boundaries, and the territory which in inhabits is near the South American pole of inaccessability - that is, the geographical point on the entire continent that most challenging to reach due to its remoteness and lack of accessibility.

Needless to say, here at Flavors of Brazil we haven't yet had the opportunity to taste aviú. Though it's on our to-be-tried list, I think it'll be quite some time before I make my way to the headwaters of the Tapajós in search of an elusive aviú omelet.

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