Late last year, when we introduced some friends visiting from Canada to the Thursday night crab ritual, they exclaimed in shock when the bowl of crabs arrived at the table - "Yech! Their legs are hairy!!" And true it was. But once we explained that the hair doesn't come off and that in fact if you dip one of the legs into the delicious broth the hair helps to bring the broth to your mouth they began to relax and to enjoy the meal. But it was a definite culture-shock moment, that first sight of the hirsute crustaceans.
The overwhelming majority of crabs served on these Thursday night blowouts is a species called (in Portuguese) caranguejo-uçá. Caranguejo is the Portuguese word for crab - any crab - and uçá is a Portuguese adaptation of the species' taxonomic name (Ucides cordatus). Uçá crabs are small, about the same size as an adult human hand. The species is one of two known as mangrove crabs, as their unique habitat are muddy mangrove swamps. The animals live on and in the mud, burrowing in when the tide is high and scuttling about when the tide is low. They are very important to the ecology of mangrove swamps, which are plentiful along the northeast and north coasts of Brazil.
|crabs on a string|
For tourists coming to our city it's essential to try the Thursday night crab feast at least once - it's an important part of local gastronomy. Leaving Fortaleza without eating Caranguejo-Uçá is as heinous a gastronomic crime as leaving New Orleans without eating a Po' Boy sandwich, Naples without sampling pizza in the land of its birth or Vancouver not having indulged in wild Pacific sockeye salmon. Don't do it!