March 25, 2007

Amazon River Snacks
Rio Amazonas, Brazil

Vendors flood the decks every time our boat docks, selling everything from food to jewelry to ridiculous souvenirs. Occasionally a wooden canoe will skillfully paddle or motor up to our briskly moving vessel and tie up, the occupant(s) jumping aboard to sell the natural snacks harvested from the jungle.

Interestingly, the snacks for sale are changing the further upriver I travel. Some are odd, some familiar, and some fantastic. I'd like to share a few of the most popular items encountered.

Spongy Seeds

I've only seen these huge green pea pods sold by the canoe vendors. They're forcefully ripped open to reveal a spongy white seed. The white stuff is sucked off and the seed (and pod) are subsequently tossed into the river.

I'm told the Portuguese name for this item is Ingá.

Salty Shoot

A very popular snack near the mouth of the Amazon River are plant shoot, sitting in a salty brine. These too seemed only to be sold by the canoe paddling riverbank inhabitants.

One of the girls on board pulled me aside and insisted I sample some. It was salty and pulled apart like string cheese. I knew I had eaten this stuff before, but for the life of me I just couldn't place it.

The name in Portuguese jarred my memory—Palmito—palm heart.

Potato Fruit

Further upriver, towards Manaus, I was exposed to a my favorite natural snack of all those encountered on the river. Plastic bags full of this item were being sold by dock vendors, varying in color from red to green (the difference, if any, was not made clear to me).

I was given a few to sample, several hours after I had let a middle-aged Brazilian gent listen to my music for a few songs (I don't have much to offer people, and sharing music is one way to break the ice).

You slowly pick and peel away the skin of this fruit (teeth and fingers are the best combination, used by the Brazilians) until the pale yellow contents are fully exposed.

A smile grew on my face after I peeled and tasted the first bite. It had the texture and taste of a mostly boiled potato, and was absolutely delicious.

The Portuguese name for this tasty little fruit is Tucumã.

Other Indulgences

There are lots of other goodies that are for sale on the river, just as they are in the cities. Vendors hang from the sides of neighboring boats or make their way through the tangle of hammocks, pushing items into peoples faces—maximum temptation.

Sales include cold sugar drinks, salty cheese, fried plantain chips, empanadas, and patties of solidified manioc flour (a food item unique to Brazil). I'd stare in amazement as the occasional person would buy the stupidest of handmade souvenirs, witnessing with my own eyes why the vendors sold the stuff in the first place—because someone will actually buy it.

Comments:

The United States

jonathan

November 4th, 2010

I have had the fruit/potato thing which you call Tucuma on the east coast of Nicaragua. I loved it too. I don't know if you noticed the similarity, but they have a perfect miniature coconut the size of a marble in the center. If you suck on it for a while, it gets soft enough to crack with your teeth. Inside is a bit of white coconut meat– it tastes exactly the same. My wife who knows Portugese used the name pupunha, and the Rama Indians called them sopa.

I also really love your picture of the small dragonfly eating an ant.

The United States

jonathan

November 4th, 2010

I am sorry, I guess pupunha is not the same…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrocaryum_vulgare -Tucuma
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bactris_gasipaes -Pupunha

When I read about Tucuma, I was interested to see that that's where the little black wooden rings come from- Tucum rings. My wife's grandfather passes them out everywhere. He lived outside of Manaus.

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