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).
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, tucupí, goma 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.