Monday, February 12, 2007
The foodstuff I ate in Brazil most deserving of attention was a fruit called Açaí (pronounced, "assai"), which grows in clusters of hundreds on a palm-like tree in the Amazon. Remembering having tried it once at the Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz during my college days, I thought I would give it a try instead of the beer I was craving on the beach in Paraty. We ordered a bowl from the tall Rasta working as a waiter in the beachfront tiki shack under whose umbrellas I was hiding from the sun.
The dish arrived in a square white bowl, and Che and I had to play nice with sharing it, because it was so delicious. Passing the iced bowl back and forth from hand to hand, we dug through layers of sweet sliced banana (and let me tell you how much better bananas taste when they are picked from the tree and sliced at your table), thick honey, and toasted granola, arriving at a hard-frozen mass that was as delicious in its thick, slivered, frozen state as it was as it melted into a custardy-textured berry shake.
Açaí is wild-harvested from Amazonian Açaí palms, and then pureed, frozen, and shipped countrywide. To reconstitute the blueberry-like fruit, it is mixed with a concentrated Guarana syrup (Guarana is another Amazonian fruit, whose energy-giving properties have popularized it on the shelves of hippy food-stores in the USA) and whizzed about in an industrial blender (the fruit is so hard it will break a normal blender after a few uses). It's then either eaten plain, topped with strawberries or bananas, or mixed with granola. Sold from açaí-huts (like smoothie shacks, these little kiosks vend fresh juices, pastries, and plastic cups of açaí), bus station snack shops, or restaurants as breakfast, dessert, or a snack.
I ate it ALL THE TIME on vacation, and it's the food I'll most miss from Brazil. Like a healthy ice-cream subsitute, it's sweet, full of antioxidants and fiber, and gives you energy while filling you up for hours.