Trying out pupunha (the fruit), and saying goodbye to Belém.
After coming back from Marajó we had to tend our excessively tanned skins and try and make the best out of our last days in the area. We kept going to Ver-o-peso market almost everyday in order to get our fresh açaí fix. The city of Belém also has great attractions for seeing nature. The urban zoobotanical park Emilio Goeldi has a great sample of local fauna in display amidst a vast botanical garden. Mangal das Garças is another ecological park, located in a swampy-marsh section of the Guamá river. Visitors can go up on the modern tower built for a lighthouse and enjoy great views of the jungle on the other side of the water as well as the old city with its colonial churches and fortress to the north. Inside the park there is an upscale restaurant called Manjar das Garças (we decided to not spend the money to eat there since a few of our chef friends said it was not worth the hefty price to eat simple, traditional local food). Raised boardwalks all around the park allow you to enjoy a stroll right over the marshland. There are several exhibits within the park: orchids and other native flowers, butterflies and birds. The entire marsh area is home to about one hundred herons who fly back into the park around dusk time.
On our last night in Belém our gracious host Maria de Lourdes invited us to a feast that she prepared for a group of friends from the area. She presented us with a great spread of local dishes and some of her specialties. We sampled her famous Pork in Tucupi, two types of moqueca (a traditional Brazilian fish stew): the Baiana which uses coconut milk, and the Paraense which uses tucupi. Maria de Lourdes also offered a lot of fresh local fruits for us to sample as appetizers. We happily munched on some fresh bacuri and on some steamed pupunha (the fruit collected from the pupunha palm).
The pupunha fruit is considered a stone fruit – in English the pupunha tree is referred to as peach-palm and the fruit is sometimes called a peach-nut. In order to eat pupunha it always has to be cooked, then it can be eaten by itself or as a side dish or used as an ingredient in savory or sweet preparation. By itself the taste of the fruit is similar to that of a chestnut with a slight hint of artichoke. After you peel the fruit you can take the flesh that surrounds a small pit. The pit has two halfs, one of which can be eaten as a nut the other is too bitter and is discarded. The flesh is nicely tender after the whole fruit is steamed. By cooking it further the flesh can also be made into a puree. Chef Fabio Sicilia has included pupunha gnocchi in some of his past menus. Traditional recipes in the region also include, pupunha cakes, as well as appetizers made by combining pupunha and cheese. The pupunha fruit is very nutritious with a high content of vitamin A. It also contain protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins B1 and C.
After spending almost ten days in Belém we made several friends and were fortunate to experience great foods from the Amazon. This city was a great introduction to the region; it made me want to stay and learn more while delighting myself in the beautiful landscape and delicious food. This is definitely the place that I recommend for anyone wanting to go on a cultural and gastronomic adventure. We will deeply miss the friends we made and the fresh food we ate.
See you soon Belém!