Last week, during Flavors of Brazil's exploration of Jericoacoara we spent a memorable Saturday afternoon sitting under the palms drinking "stupidly cold" Skol beer (as the Brazilians like to say, and eating an plate of piabinha. The word piabinha is the dimuitive form of the name of a species of fish known in Brazil as piaba. Although the piaba grows to a significant size, it's liked best by Brazilians when it's still small. During the spawning season, massive schools of piaba can be found all along the Brazilian coast, and they are netted in large quantities (the fishery is still sustainable, however, and the species is not considered threatened).
The Brazilian way to serve these tiny fish is whole - heads, tails and all. The best size is between 2 and 3 inches long, which means that each fish is only two or three bites. The piabinha are cleaned, dipped in a breading of farinha, the ubiquitous manioc flour of Brazil, and quickly deep-fried in hot oil. Served hot from the fryer, a plate of salted, crunchy piabinha, accompanied by a wedge of lime and tartar sauce, crunchy and fresh-tasting without a hint of fishiness, makes just about the best food to combine with cold beer that we can imagine. The crunch, the salt, the acidity of the lime, and the tender piabinha flesh all combine to create the perfect bar snack. Serving them on a beach like Jericoacoara's is just icing on the cake.