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Making our way to the edge of the Amazon

March 5, 2010
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View of the city of Belém

The time has come to leave Sobral and carry on our journey looking for interesting tropical ingredients. We boarded a bus to Belém do Pará, a 20 hour ride leaving the state of Ceará and going through Piauí and Maranhão before arriving in Pará. After the first few hours of our journey, we noticed during one of the rest stops that another passenger on our bus was clearly foreigner and feeling very out of place. He was pointing at items in the rest stop and speaking in a mixture of English and broken Spanish. After exchanging a few words, we decided to help him out. We quickly became friends with him. Bernie Pociask is a very friendly traveler from Connecticut. He was a little lost in Brazil because his trip was re-routed last minute. His original vacation plan was to go to Chile, but when the earthquake happened he had to change plans on the last minute. After talking with Bernie we found out that of all things he is also a graduate from The Culinary Institute of America, class of 1962, way back when the school was still located in New Haven. For the remainder of the trip we exchanged anecdotes about working in kitchens, traveling and culture. I think it was very insightful to meet someone like Bernie, who is almost 70 years old and is still enjoying life and exploring new places on his own and without any plan. After finishing our 1300km journey arriving in Belém we helped Bernie find a hostel for the night and get directions to carry on to Marajó island the next day.

Northern Coast of Brazil

Bus route from Sobral to Belém

The main reason why I wanted to come to Belém is because I wanted to see all the unique tropical products that are used regionally, and also the ones that are imported from here to the world. I first became enthralled with this city when I met a chef from Belém at the Terra Madre Slow Food conference in 2008. In São Paulo we also learned a lot of things about Belém while working at D.O.M.. The state of Pará actually has the most unique cuisine in all of Brazil in the sense that it is to date the only regional cuisine that has kept a predominant root based on the native indigenous cultures — little European or African influence is present in the local cuisine.

Our host in Belém is Maria de Lourdes da Costa (she is my good friend Valério Fiel da Costa’s mother). On our very first night in town, she took us on a quick drive to show us all the spots of interest so we could figure out how to get around and explore in more depth on our own.

The main places for us to see in Belém are:

Estação das Docas, which is part of the old boat docks that were converted into a gastronomic and craft shopping center.

Ver-o-peso is the main market where we will further explore all the tropical fruit and produce as well as Amazon fish and pretty much anything else locals buy for their kitchens.

In addition there are several museums and nature preserves within the city. The thing with the city of Belém is that it is the main capital city in the whole area. It is the last beacon of modern civilization before you go deep in the Amazon jungle — any travels further into the Amazon must be done through the waterways on very slow boats. I believe that Belém has a unique Amazonian-metropolitan culture and it will be the perfect introduction to the cuisine and the ingredients that chefs from all over are starting to focus all their attention towards.

We said our goodbyes to Bernie at the end of the night and from tomorrow on we will carry on with our crash course in Amazon culture.

improptu CIA alumni gathering

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