One might think that the last thing anyone would want in the muggy heat of an Amazonian afternoon is a steaming hot bowl of soup. But if one thinks that way, one's not from Belém. For Belenenses (inhabitants of Belém), a bowl of tacacá cures all ills and soothes the soul like nothing else. It also tides one over until dinner quite nicely.
So what, exactly, is this soup that's so much a part of Belém's identity? For readers who've been following these recent Flavors of Brazil posts on the foods of Belém it won't be a surprise that the basis of tacacá is manioc. The broth that is at the center of tacacá is seasoned tucupi (the liquid that results from squeezing grated manioc root), thickened with manioc starch, also known as tapioca. The broth is enlivened with with a dash of hot chili peppers preserved in tucupi. Cooked in the broth are leaves of the anesthetic jambu, which deadens the mouth and makes the tongue tingle, and dried shrimp. That's all there is to it - spicy broth, jambu leaves and a few shrimp.
But to call tacacá simply a soup with a few shrimps and some greens is to sell it short. A well-prepared tacacá is marvelously delicious and a true end-of-the-afternoon pick-me-up. The spicy liquid, the tingly sensation in the mouth and the rich, salty tang of the shrimp awaken all your senses without leaving you feeling full or over-satiated. It's just what you need to carry you through the end of the day. It's the chicken soup which nourishes the soul of Belém.