North Brazilian Cuisine
Article available in: PT-BR
Last update: 14/12/2016
In North Brazil, long before the European discovery, Indians were already feeding on game, fish, roots, seeds, leaves and fruits from local rivers and forests. The gastronomy of the region, however, despite having had strong Portuguese and African influence over the centuries, is still based on that of the indigenous culture. This miscegenation did not only generate dances, legends, superstitions, festivals and other cultural manifestations. The racial mixture gave rise to the use of new ingredients, spices, scents, flavours, secrets and cooking methods that are very different from the usual ones, producing a very exotic cuisine.
Both Indians and black Africans who came as slaves consumed peppers in abundance. The Africans also ate seafood, guinea fowl and leftover meats cooked with the beans (which resulted in the famous feijoada). All this with lots of palm oil.
The Portuguese, in turn, were adept in agriculture and animal husbandry. They brought chickens, cattle, pigs and goats, and taught the natives how to cook and preserve food in salt and sugar, and to prepare preserves (salted and smoked meats and sausages), cheeses, pastries, cakes, pies, jams and liquors. They also introduced the use of olive oil into eating habits.
In spite of all the external influences of the other cultures, the Indians left in the country an unequalled inheritance. There is no lack of utensils of indigenous origin in the homes of the North: sieves, pestles and water vases or pots (made of clay, fruit peel, wood or animal hulls). One of the pillars of Indian food is cassava – the greatest indigenous contribution to Brazilian cuisine – with which various dishes are prepared, particularly beiju, a kind of thin tapioca held together by gluten through heating.
According to Lima (1999), there is “beiju-ticanga, made with soft cassava dough and sun-dried; beijuaçu, rounded and made of the same dough as beiju-ticanga and baked in an oven; beijucica, made of manioc dough in thin layers... caribe is the beijuaçu soaked and reduced to a dough, to which more warm or cold water is added, forming a kind of liquidy porridge that is eaten with warm water in the morning and with cold water at dinner; curadá, which is the big thick beiju made of moist tapioca that is lumpier than the rolled one and has small fragments of raw nuts.” The researcher continues: “an indigenous dish called macapatá is also made from cassava: a cake made with soft manioc dough, which after being squeezed into a tipiti [a braided straw squeezer used by the Indians], is kneaded with turtle lard and pieces of raw chestnut, then spread into small, elongated portions, wrapped in banana leaves, to be roasted later.”
In addition to the use of cassava, the Indians also cultivate and use corn and manioc in their food, extract palm hearts from palm trees, fish in rivers and streams, and hunt in the forests.
They also produce quya (dried or crushed peppers with cassava flour), cauim (fermented drink made with cashew, which is hallucinogenic), and consume various foods like turu, a worm that lives inside roots in the mangroves which can be considered disgusting to some and exotic to others. The absence of food taboos is part of their survival strategy. In this sense, they are compelled to eat what they fish, hunt, collect or farm.
It is worth noting that many of the fruits that existed at the time of Colonial Brazil have either become extinct or are today almost unknown to the population. Only the people who live in the woods have heard of them. These include: guti, caiuia, pajurá, mundururu, bacupari, curuiri, mucujé, umari, amaitim, azamboa, penão, araticum, guapuronga, grumixama, among others.
With the migration of the Northeasterners to the North thanks to the Rubber Cycle, dishes that had never before been consumed in the Region appeared, such as roasted goat, pork sarapatel [a traditional Pernambuco dish made with stewed pork entrails], goat buchada [dish made with stewed goat entrails], sarrabulho [stew made with pig and goat entrails and blood], pirão de mar [soft manioc polenta with seafood] and caldeirada de Tucunare [stew made with tucunaré fish].
In the menu of the North it is possible to choose the following dishes: paçoca (ground fish meat mixed with manioc flour); Piracuí (or areia de peixe [fish sand]), fish roasted in the oven and sifted; moquém (meat or fish roasted on embers, wrapped in banana leaf); fried tanajura [a type of ant]; arabu (turtle egg yolk with flour); abunã (stunted turtle egg, stewed); mujanguê (turtle egg yolk and manioc flour); moqueca de tucunare [an amazon fish stew with palm oil]; ox tail with tucupi; paxicá (minced turtle liver with salt, lemon and chili pepper); tambaqui on the coals; pirarucu in Brazil nut milk; surubim on the tile; turtle stew and turtle egg farofa; juquitaia (seasoning based on chili pepper and salt); mutum [local bird] and stewed palm sprig with tocari sauce and black pepper; monkey cooked with banana, or roasted on the skewer or in the oven; fried, baked or sauteed snake, lizard and alligator with plenty of pepper; roasted hummingbird; grilled alligator tail; braised skunk and roasted jacu [Marail Guan].
With regard to desserts, the Portuguese influence that combined sugar with the region’s fruits – açaí, cupuaçu, guaraná, maná cubiu, piqui, pupunha, murici – and transformed them into exotic juices, ice cream, puddings, sweets, cakes, mousses and jams.
Here are some recipes from the northern menu. Recorded first, however, are the tucupi and tacacá sauces of indigenous origin, which are indispensable to the regional cuisine.
3 kg wild cassava,
4 garlic cloves (crushed),
2 packets chicory,
Salt and pepper to the taste.
Preparation: Peel cassava, grate and squeeze until a yellow liquid is extracted. This liquid is the tucupi. Let it rest for 12 hours for the gum to separate from the tucupi (liquid). Put the gum aside to be used later to prepare tacacá. In a large saucepan, boil the tucupi with garlic, salt and chicory for 1½ hours. After cooking, leave to cool and store bottled.
4 cups water,
½ cup manioc gum (left over from the tucupi),
500 g shrimp (dry and salty)
5 chicory leaves,
4 cloves garlic (crushed),
4 sweet peppers,
2 bundles of jambu,
2 L tucupi.
Preparation: In a pan, combine tucupi with crushed garlic, salt, chicory, peppers and heat. When boiling, reduce heat, cover pan and cook for 30 minutes. Separately, cook the jambu until tender. Remove from heat, drain and put aside. Wash shrimp and bring heat in a pan with 4 cups of water. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove heads and shells. In another pan, mix the gum with the shrimp water, heat and stir until you get a porridge-like consistency. Serve a little of the porridge, some jambu leaves and the shrimp in a gourd, with a soup spoon of tucupi. This dish is a kind of soup and can be accompanied (or not) with chili pepper sauce.
1 large duck,
6 large cloves garlic (crushed),
⅓ cup vinegar,
Salt and pepper to taste,
1 cup oil,
1 bunch jambu (or watercress),
1 L tucupi sauce.
Preparation: Clean duck thoroughly, skewer with a fork and season with salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaves and vinegar. Leave to season for a few hours. Pour oil over it and place in a hot oven. When well-done, brush duck and set aside. Boil tucupi with 2 cloves of garlic and jambu (or watercress) and add pieces of the duck. Let cook for 20 minutes on low heat. Put 2 tablespoons of manioc flour and boiled rice on each plate, arrange a few pieces of duck on top and pour in plenty of sauce. This sauce mixed with the flour will form a kind of polenta.
Tucunaré Fish Stew
1 3-4 kg tucunaré,
½ kg potato,
6 boiled eggs,
½ kg tomato,
½ kg onion,
1 bunch chives,
250 g green peppers,
aromatic chili pepper
1 dozen lemons,
100 ml olive oil,
1 bunch chicory (chopped),
1 bunch alfavaca (chopped),
1 bunch cilantro (chopped),
1 clove garlic (crushed),
Salt to taste,
½ kg uarini flour,
½ kg cooked rice
Preparation: Clean the fish and cut it into slices, then season with garlic, salt and lemon. Cut the onion and brown in olive oil, add the tomatoes, green pepper (diced), pepper and salt and sauté everything. Add chopped green seasonings (except coriander) and tomatoes, sauté well, add hot water and boil for 5 minutes. Add fish slices and cook for another 5 minutes. Add cooked potatoes cut into circular slices and boiled eggs. Remove from heat and sprinkle with chopped coriander. Served with white rice, uarini flour and murupi pepper.
Roasted Tambaqui Fish
1 2kg tambaqui,
1 kg potatoes,
2 large onions,
1 green pepper,
Chopped coriander and spring onion,
4 garlic cloves (crushed),
Salt and pepper to taste,
Juice of 4 lemons,
1 cup olive oil,
½ kg cooked white rice.
Preparation: Cut the fish into two strips, make small cross-sections so that the seasonings can penetrate and season with salt, garlic and lemon. Place in a baking dish, sprinkle with green seasonings and cover with aluminum foil. Let marinate for 2 hours. Next, roast in oven for 30 minutes. Cook potatoes (in large pieces) in water and salt, and place them around the fish. Cut onions and green pepper (in slices) and place on the fish. Pour olive oil over and return to oven for another 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with white rice.
Pirarucu de Casaca
500 g salted pirarucu fillets,
500 ml coconut milk,
5 ripe bananas (peeled),
500 g potatoes (peeled),
200 g peas (fresh and boiled),
4 eggs (cooked and finely chopped),
200 ml olive oil,
300 g tomatoes (diced into cubes),
50 g green olives (pitted),
50 g black olives (pitted),
200 g onions (chopped),
4 garlic cloves (crushed),
1 packet coriander and spring onion (chopped),
500 g batata palha [very tiny potato chippings]
200 g manioc flour.
Preparation: Cut pirarucu into pieces, wash well and let it soak for a few hours, changing the water several times to remove the salt. Fry in olive oil, remove skin and put aside. Cut the potatoes into 2cm cubes, cook and drain. In a frying pan, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil and sauté onion and garlic. When golden, add the potatoes and stir without letting them brown. Add peas, tomatoes, coriander and spring onion. Make a farofa using coconut milk, boiled eggs, salt, remaining coriander, spring onion and oil. Assemble the dish by dividing it into four parts: fried banana, farofa, pirarucu and potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
In the Northern menu, among the sweet desserts is the delicious tiramisu. But the classic Italian dessert is elaborated with some regional ingredients, such as maná cubiu, mascarpone, coffee, cachaça, and tucupi syrup with jambu. According to people who have eaten the dessert, the combination of these ingredients is very pleasing to the palate.
Regarding regional meats, it is important to note that ecological awareness is gradually reducing the consumption of some traditional dishes, particularly those made with turtle eggs, turtles, monkeys, certain birds (hummingbirds, jacus, nambus, jacutingas) and others.
Recife, 22 May 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.
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