The river is little used for long-distance travel today, as it has been damned extensively and, for long stretches, is no longer navigable. The territory it travels through is a bit of a backland and one of the most conservative and traditional parts of Brazil, where old ways and customs still hold.
|The São Francisco and water taxi from Dona Gilda's restaurant|
For centuries, families that lived on the banks of the São Francisco river caught crayfish in their millions in small wooden traps baited with coconut meat. Dona Gilda's crayfish suppliers still use the same kind of trap, but as Dona Gilda says where they used to regularly trap 22 lbs (10 kgs) of crayfish a day in a single trip, now they're lucky to catch one tenth of that. But there is still enough crayfish being caught to supply the restaurant's needs and the catch is considered sustainable at current volumes.
Her stew, which is traditional in the use of coconut milk and the seasoning combination of green onion and cilantro, can be made with shrimps instead of crayfish if you cannot source crayfish at your local market or fishmongers. But if you do find crayfish, there's not a better way to serve them than Dona Gilda's pituzada.
RECIPE - Crayfish Stew (Pituzada)
1 lb (500 gr) crayfish
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 large onion, cut into thick slices
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (500 ml) coconut milk
2 whole eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
chopped green onion, green parts only, to taste
chopped cilantro, to taste
annatto powder to taste (can substitute sweet paprika)
salt to taste
In a large saucepan heat the olive oil, then add the onion and carrot and fry for about five minutes, or until the onion is softened and transparent but not browned. Add the tomato and cook for about another minute, then add the potato slices, coconut milk and annatto or paprika. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the whole crayfish, cover the pan and cook for another five minutes. Add the whole eggs and heat them through, then remove the pan from the heat.
Pour the contents of the pan into a deep serving dish and serve immediately, accompanied by white rice. Be sure to place another deep serving dish on the table for the crayfish shells.