Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ceará's Iconic Dish (since 1958) - Peixada Cearense

Jangada at Mucuripe beach
Map from 1629 showing Ponta Mucuripe
At the eastern end of Fortaleza's 3 km seaside promenade known as Beira Mar is a fishing community called Mucuripe. Although it is now located in the middle of a touristic strip of hotels, restaurants and bars, the harbor at Mucuripe still shelters hundred of jangadas - the primitive rafts on which Brazilian fishermen have gone to sea for centuries. There is a thriving fish market located right on the beach, there's a small Catholic church, and there are two of Fortaleza's oldest and most well-known seafood restaurants.

The first seafood restaurant in Mucuripe was opened back in 1958, when Mucuripe was a separate village, by Alfredo Louzada de Souza. He named the restaurant after himself, and in later years added the nickname he earned from the fame of his most famous dish - Alfredo, O Rei da Peixada, or The King of Peixada. The restaurant is still flourishing today, as is the next door restaurant owned by Alfredo's son, Marquinho. It's called, naturally, Marquinhos Delícias Cearenses.

Together, father and son have created a dynasty of seafood restaurants in Mucuripe, and in the process have made their common signature dish, peixada, the most famous and sought-after dish in the state of Ceará. Tourists in the millions arrive in Fortaleza every year, and many of them arrive already have already decided that they want to try peixada during their visit. Almost every restaurant in the city that offers seafood has peixada on the menu, but for the original recipe in its original location, one has to go to Mucuripe.

Alfredo didn't invent peixada out of the clear blue sky. Fish stews and chowders are common dishes all along the coast of Brazil, with local variations in every region. But it was Alfredo who codified the ingredients for peixada cearense, and today his recipe is almost universally recognized as ur-peixada.
Afredo's peixada is centered around thick-cut fish steaks from any of a number of local species cooked in a broth with a good dose of coconut milk, augmented by pieces of cabbage, tomato, potato, green pepper and whole hard-boiled eggs. Obligatory accompaniments are plain white rice and fish pirão.

Peixada is a substantial dish and a meal in itself. And for many who eat it, whether in Ceará or far away, it's the one dish that carries with it the history and flavor of the once-upon-a-time seaside fishing village that was Mucuripe.

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