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Sep 08

Anaesthetic Soup – Tacacá

As part of a project to review the best restaurants in Rio, I have been eating a lot of food from the North of Brazil recently (when I say ‘the North’, I am essentially referring to the states of Amazonas and Pará).  

Amazonas and Pará are the two largest states in Brazil, covering 2.8 million square kilometres (if this area was a country it would be the 8th largest in the world).

 

Although these states comprise 32% of Brazil’s total area, they contain just 5.6% of the population, being largely covered by the Amazon rainforest. By virtue of it’s size and inaccessibility, this huge tract of rainforest still holds an air of mystery – it is home to 67 uncontacted tribes, as well as countless animal and plant species that have not yet been discovered/described by science.




So when I decided to start a little culinary Amazonian exploration, I was hoping to make some weird and wonderful discoveries. And so far I have not been disappointed.  Today let me tell you about a bizarre, mouth numbing soup called Tacacá [ta-ka-KAH]. This delicious, golden soup contains large dried shrimps, tucupígoma de mandioca and jambú.  

Tacacá: a classic soup from Northern Brazil that does strange things to your mouth!



Tucupí [too-coo-PEE] is made from a specific variety of madioca (cassava) called Mandioca Brava (Angry Mandioca). The mandioca is grated and squeezed, producing a juice which at this stage is poisonous (hence angry) due to high levels of cyanide! The juice is then boiled and fermented to produce a distinctive yellow sauce with a great, acidic flavour. Interestingly, Australian Aborigines carry out a very similar process on an otherwise poisonous root vegetable that they call ‘Cheeky Yam’. 


Goma de mandioca is really weird. It’s hard to describe this goo without it sounding disgusting and to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that it isn’t disgusting. It is a clear, tasteless gloop with the consistency of thick mucus. Yes, that does sound bad doesn’t it? Well, it is certainly strange, but doesn’t really bother me and luckily it seems to sit at the bottom of the bowl, so if you wanted to avoid it you could just avoid digging too deep with your spoon. 


And finally, Jambú [zham-BOO]. Unspectacular to look at, this leafy plant with its yellow, bobbly flowers must be the strangest ingredient of them all. It has a strong anaesthetic effect, so that after you taste its pleasant leafy flavour you will then notice your lips and tongue tingle and feel distinctly numb! As well as a culinary ingredient, jambú also has medicinal applications and its numbing effect has led to another of its names, Toothache Plant. 

Jambú (Acmella oleracea) – its unspectacular appearance belies a remarkable effect (image).



Put all these crazy ingredients together and you have a soup that is not only delicious, but that should also satisfy the most voracious appetite for something suitably weird from Amazonian Brazil. 


[Note: For anyone expecting the results of my interview with The Bread Man, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a little longer. The Bread Man has gone AWOL! I have no idea what all his customers are doing for breakfast right now, but I’m sure he’ll return before long and as soon as he does I’ll be grabbing him to finish off my questions. In the meantime, I need a new alarm clock!]

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6 comments

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  1. Adam

    In 2009, I lived in Pará for 3 months and ate these foods. Jambú is great (especially on pizza)! Word to the wise, don't try Amazonian style açaí. It's warm, runny and bitter.

    As for Bread Man, somewhere the Bible says "man does not live by bread alone". If he starts out with lots of bread and ends up with nothing, does that make him the bread-winner and the bread-loser?

  2. Tom Le

    I have seen some weird Açai items on the menus of Amazonian restaurants recently. One place offered it with "jerked beef" – seriously?

    Regarding the Bread Man, I'm starting to worry I scared him off – haven't seen (or heard) him for a couple of weeks now :(

  3. Pequena

    Hi Tom, thanks for the link, this is definitely one for the weird list! Although itlooksdelicious. Not sure I'm convinced about the goma de mandioca though, and it even sounds a littlebit surplus to requirements in this dish, but hey, I'd be willing to give it a try. Where exactly did you eat this?
    By the way, acai and jerked beef sounds utterly disgusting! I dare you to give it a try and write a post about the outcome :-)

  4. Tom Le Mesurier

    Hey Pequena – the soup as a whole is really yummy, but you're right, the goma de mandioca is a bit yucky.

    In the interests of research I may just take you up on that dare. I've also been meaning to try the aubergine juice they sell at my local juice bar – just hope I can keep it down! ;)

  5. Charlie Anderson

    Hi Tom, I just had this soup in Manaus at that little stand next to opera house, Tacacá da Gisela in Largo de São Sebastião. IIt was so good and so unexpected that I had to find out more about this and stumbled upon your website. Now I want to review your entire website as I am looking for great restaurants in Rio. Thanks, Charlie

    1. tomlemes

      Hi there Charlie – I think my first taste of tacacá was also up in Manaus too and I was instantly intrigued! If you’re still up in that neck of the woods, keep an eye out for cachaça de jambú – now that is one weird drink! Apparently in the north they serve it with a small cup of soup! Some of my readers from Pará have also told me about a cocktail up there called Jambucy which sounds pretty amazing! Have fun man :)

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