Friday, May 4, 2012

On The Road - Belém (Pt. 3) - The Three Cornerstones

The cuisine of Amazonian Brazil, and in particular the cuisine of the city of Belém, is complex and elaborate, even in its most traditional form. Ingredients are transformed almost beyond recognition. In fact, a single ingredient might show up in various metamorphic forms in the same dish. Giant fish are reduced to bite-sized chunks or smoked, dried and grated, nuts are ground into flour, leaves are cooked for a week without stopping to eliminate their poisons, and fruits are dried, pureed or distilled - all in the goal of increasing the flavor on the plate (or banana leaf) that arrives at the table.

No matter how much manipulation and reformation is going on, though, it's clear that the entire culinary culture of Belém rests on three basic types of foodstuffs. Almost every dish, savory or sweet, will have at least one of these groups in its ingredient list, many have two, and often all three groups are represented in a single dish.

Pato no Tucupi
These three groups of food which rest at the bottom of Belém's pyramid of ingredients are manioc in all its many forms, the animal life that abounds on and in the fresh waters of the Amazon River basin, and the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables to be found in the world's largest rain forest. Take, for example, the region's most iconic and famous dish, Pato no Tucupi (Duck in Tucupi). This marvelous and marvelously complex dish consists of river duck (pato) cooked and served in a broth of tucupi (wild manioc root which is peeled, grated and juiced, then cooked to eliminate the toxins) enlivened with the surprisingly anesthetic leaves of the jambu plant, native to the rain forest. All three food groups are represented in a bowl of Pato no Tucupi - manioc in the form or tucupi, riverine duck, and jambu, the exotic harvest of the jungle.

In upcoming posts Flavors of Brazil will highlight each of these categories of food as we explore the cuisine of Belém. But next up, there's the recipe for Pato no Tucupi.

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