New flavors, new views - my visit to Acre.


Well, this is going to be a long post.
What can I do? It's been seven days of getting to know new things, and I have plenty to tell you about.
The ones who are interested only in the recipes and not in the story will have to wait a little longer, since I haven't yet tested in my kitchen the recipes I got there. Some of them will not be tested at all (for example the beans cooked in Brazil nuts milk, considering I don't have access to fresh nuts in São Paulo), but I can write those anyway, as a curiosity. 

In my flickr you can see more tourist-like pictures (here), and in the blog - as you could guess - I will be posting the ones related to food.
Before I get started in here, two questions a few friends have asked when they knew I went to Acre:
1. Does Acre actually exist:
A: Yes it does, I swear. I even took pictures to prove it. haha

2. Geez, Flora, what was the point in visiting such a faraway place?
A: I went there to get to know the place, and to visit my father, who's been living in Rio Branco for about two years now.
I arrived in Rio Branco in time for lunch. Actually, a little past lunch time, at 03pm. So it was not that easy to find a place to eat, and we ended up in a little restaurant in the shopping mall. Even though it was a self service restaurant which is present allover the country, it seemed to me like it had some local accent.
Everywhere I had beans, they came seasoned with green peppers, along with jambu cut into wide strips (about 1,5cm) and always accompanied by cassava meal. The one I saw the most around there was what they called "farinha d'água" (water flour), because it is scalded - different from the ones most common in Southern Brazil, which people call "farinha seca" (dry flour).
Jambu is a leafy green, let's say it is similar to kale, but it's got a very characteristic taste, astringent and which makes the tongue a little numb. I really liked it.
So. Besides the beans with green pepper, jambu and with a side of cassava flour, there is no way a lunch in Acre will go on without river fish.
In another day, having lunch at my father's house, his secretary Dona Francisca cooked us tambaqui. I tried the fish just so I could say I had tried it, but actually i liked it a lot. Even though the fish was cooked, it was not gooey nor falling apart. For me, it seemed like roated fish, except a little softer. Very good indeed.
But I was shy to photograph the meal before Dona Francisca's eyes. I think she already found me funny and urban enough without that. Haha.
What a piece!
She told a little bit about the foods common in Acre, like tacacá.
But it seemed like it was way too unusual for someone not to know what tacacá is, so she explained it to me like something everyone already knows, and I didn't figure it out very clearly.
Anyway, tacacá is a dish made from the tucupi, a kind of stock resulting from raw grated cassava, which's texture is like a soft gum. Generally people add to it fish stock, onions, garlic, pepper, coriander and other green herbs, jambu cut into strips and dried shrimp. It is street food, and people sell it in bowls allover the town. My picture didn't come out wonderful, but take a look:

I did not try it, because I have a serious allergy to shrimp, but I think I would find tucupi's texture quite weird.

Then, another person who I have talked to was Denyse, born and raised in Rio Branco. Then she lived in Belém for a while, and now lives in the US, working in Agricultural Engineering.
Turns out she it the mother of a super friend of my younger brother, that's why we met. So I could talk to her and ask many questions. The recipes I brought from Acre, I got from her.
Denyse told me that Acrean cuisine derives from the mixture of Northeastern Brasil culture, local indigenous culture, and it has a hint of Arab influence, because of the merchants who went to Acre during the rubber boom
Some of the typical foods are: lots of river fish, tucupi with duck, cassava cake, salteña (traditionally filled with chicken - comes from the neighbor country, Bolívia), beans cooked in Brazil nut milk, and spicy chicken - which can be prepared in broth or dry.
There is another typical dish named baixaria (it would translate into something like "wickedness", something that is "low") - which according to a man from Rio de Janeiro who's been living in Rio Branco for a long while, Cazuza, this is the only genuine Acrean food.
Baixaria is a dish people eat at Mercado do Bosque in the dawn. Either people coming back from parties, or laborers who are starting their day. It is a set plate with rice, corn couscous, ground meat, and two fried eggs.

Below are some pictures of the market in the dawn, and of the tapioca with butter I had there; of Maria preparing the tapioca, besides the smiling lady who prepared kibbeh (almost like the regular ones, except in this version they substitute wheat for cassava. It is a local version of the Arab food):

The fruits should be in another chapter. They are very different from the fruits that are common in places I have lived: apples, bananas, pears, grapes, papayas, mangoes, etc.
Of course they have this kinds of fruits too, but Amazonian fruits such as açaí, cajá, buriti, bacaba, graviola, cupuaçu have strong flavors, most of them a bit tangy, tasting a little bit like earth. You know, it's really difficult to explain what does something taste like. Haha.
And I didn't get to see the actual fruits. Mostly, they're pulp is sold in 1l bags in the old market (Mercado Elias Mansour), and people usually use them for juices and sweets - except for açaí, which can be eaten along with granola in the morning like yogurt.

In the picture, from left to right: graviola, passion fruit, [I don't know what's that one], acerola, buriti, two bags of açaí. Besides that, did you notice how funny it is that eggs are sold in bags?
Seems to me like the least practical solution possible.
There is also the banana comprida ("long banana"), which is served fried with beans when unripe, and used in gruel and other foods when ripe.
In the second picture of the post there is a lady prepping the banana to cook, at Mercado do Bosque, and in the third picture there is the mixed banana and tapioca gruel. Below, the banana comprida as it is sold in the old market (Mercado Elias Mansour):

The, some graviolas for sale at the market (they were not at their best. They are the ones that seem like avocados with spikes, nearby the papayas):

In my father's backyard, I got to photograph an açaí tree, with a few sparse fruits:

And at Rio Branco's Forest Garden there was this buriti tree (the one that looks like fireworks):
Still in the Forest Garden, I saw this pupunha tree. In the pictures I show the whole tree, it's flower, and the unripe fruits.
The pupunha fruit is starchy and fibrous, and it's rich.
One person told me people eat warm cooked pupunha fruits with butter, when they are having a coffee in the afternoon. Another person told me people make fritters out of it, to have with coffee as well. This fritters are called bodó, and are very much like the "bolinho de chuva" which is known and prepared allover Brazil.
Below, the cooked pupunha before I peeled it, and in my plate, eaten pure:

Still in the fruit subject, there are the icecreams and popsicles, which I will miss very much.
As I said in the previous post, I brought home some fruit pulp, so I will try a few versions of my own.
At sorveteria Pinguim I had the best icecreams, like this one, cajá flavored:
And at sorveteria Acrebom I had the best popsicles ever, like this one, buriti flavored:

I am pretty sure I did not say all I had to, and something will be missing. But for now, we will settle this way. Besides the days spent in Rio Branco, I've visited Porto Acre, a nearby town, for one day. We intended to take a boat ride into a former seringal (rubber extraction area), but we arrived a little late and lost the boat - which is a shame, but nonetheless another reason for me visit again.
Porto Acre is where we swam in Acre River (in the previous post and in my flickr you can see pictures taken there).
I will come back with a few recipes soon, hope you like this brief travel report, and forgive me for the month-long disappearance. It should not be too long before I bring another "by the way" post, and for sure I will show up on next week!

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