Thursday, December 2, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 5) Tarioba

The coastline of Brazil's northeastern state of Maranhão sometimes resembles the sandy beaches of my state, Ceará, but more often is backed with muddy mangrove swamps and lagoons. That's bad news for tourists and beachlovers, but very good news indeed for lovers of shellfish, as these lagoons and swamps are havens for enormous numbers of crustaceans and mollusks of all types. On its upcoming visit to the capital of Maranhão, São Luís, Flavors of Brazil intends to sample as many of the local varieties of seafood as possible.

The cuisine of São Luís reflects its geographical position on an island which the open ocean on one side, and swamps and lagoons on the other. Traditional local cuisine is depends heavily by what is available in the waters that surround the city, and the city is renowned for shellfish preparations.

One of the most popular local shellfish is a clam-like creature called the tarioba. Known rather ungainlily in English as the giant false coquina, this mollusk has the beautiful scientific name of Iphigenia brasiliensis. I'm not clear as to why it's called a giant, as the average size is only 2.5 inches (6.5 cm). It can be found in Atlantic waters from the southern half of Florida to Brazil. However, it appears that as a food source, the tarioba is much more valued in Brazil than it is in the USA under the name giant coquina. A recipe search on the internet turned up only one recipe for coquina chowder, on the website of the Postal Workers of Southwest Florida. A similar search for tarioba recipes turned up dozens.

Flavors of Brazil loves clams and mussels, so when we're in São Luís, we'll be trying to track down the tarioba. On our return, we hope to fill you in on the gastronomic merits of this little "giant" bivalve.

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