My first subject, in spite of what I just told you, is a recounting of my
culinary experiences not in Rio, but in Porto de Galinhas, Pernambuco, just
south of Recife. Porto de Galinhas is a major tourist attraction, thanks to
their excellent beaches. The “tour guides” can be overwhelming (young kids
out to make sure they get a commission off everything you do, from where you
park to where you sleep to where you park your butt on the sand), but it’s
well worth the trip.
I was there a few weeks ago, and in a single day had a two remarkable and
extremely different experiences with Brazilian seafood. Days there are
generally spent on the beach, and odds are that’s where you’ll be having
your lunch. But in our case, it wasn’t the beach, it was the bank of a river
right where it spills out into the ocean (or, at high tide, where the ocean
spills back). And it wasn’t on the banks, but IN the river itself.
I-don’t even know the name of the river we were in. There were “jangadas”,
the Brazilian answer to Venetian gondolas, that could take you across the
river if you wanted. But we just sat ourselves down at a plastic table
planted knee-deep in the river’s edge. There was a shack there that served a
menu full of local seafood (in-)delicacies, and a mobile wooden cart
specializing in every type of caipirinha, caipifruta and caipiroska
(Brazilian cocktails mixing vodka or cachaça with fruit) imaginable. Just
limit your imagination to the fruit, and not to the quality of the liquor.
We ordered a variety of snackable options from the menu, including some
plates of fried, breaded popcorn shrimp, some fried, breaded “agulha” (or
“needle”) fish, fried, breaded calamari (seeing a trend here?) and several
plates of grilled mini-lobsters. To add to that, they brought out a big
white bucket full of ice with the drinks we ordered, and about 8 beers stuck
in the bottom – just in case.
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it really is hard to beat in terms of
atmosphere, as far as dining experiences go. But don’t call the guys at the
Michelin Guide just yet. The natural beauty was marred by a brown foam that
was being washed up from the ocean by the high tide. The food took forever
to come, and when it did, it wasn’t hot. They probably count on you to drink
the extra beer in the meantime so you won’t notice, but we didn’t. That
didn’t stop them from trying to charge us for it, though. The popcorn shrimp
was great, I hear, but I was busy keeping my 2-year-old girl from being
carried away by the uptide, so by the time I got to the food, only the
mini-lobsters were left. Not that I’m complaining – one of our party spent
that night doing their own interpretation of the reverse tide (brown foam
and all) in front of the toilet, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the crayfish.
Well, what can I say? We didn’t go there for the food anyway. But lobster is
lobster, cold or not, and when I finally got to sit down, pour some olive
oil over them, and eat, I was able to take in the beauty of the river, the
palms, the silhouettes of the jangadas lit from behind by the glistening
sun, and find some wisdom… I really should have had those 8 extra beers.
Stay tuned for part 2: The joys of Beijupirá