Among the many awesome learning experiences I had in Brazil there were a several that took place on the Amazon river. For example, when I was exploring the food markets in Manaus, the capital and largest city of the state of Amazonas, I was approached by a young man from the United States who had intended to backpack from the southern tip of South America to as far north as possible in North America, but when he arrived in Brazil he met the love of his life and married. His in-laws ran a boat excursion business on the Amazon, and he wondered if I would be interested in taking a trip with them. My answer was sure, if I could be the only one on the boat (they accommodated fewer 10 people), and if I could have, in addition, an English-speaking guide who could tell me all about the food of the area. I was in luck. The next day I took off in a boat with the man’s father-in-law as pilot and his mother-in-law as cook, who prepared my meals in a lean-to kitchen off the back of the boat, and an English-speaking guide.
Another economically important fish featured on menus is the tasty tambaquí. This amazing fish is equipped with powerful, molar-like teeth for crushing its food—the fruits and seeds, especially the hard seeds of the rubber tree, that fall into the water of the flooded forest. A regional specialty is picadinho de tambaquí, which is a mixture of fish chunks served with rice, jambú leaves and toasted manioc meal. The beautifully colored tucunaré, or peacock bass, is also a prized food fish. It is the coveted catch of fly-fishermen who are beginning to discover the thrills of angling for it in the Amazon basin. A considerable number of catfish, such as surubim, caparari, and filhote, can be sampled. Filhote are juvenile specimens of the largest fish of the Amazon, the giant piraíba, which reaches lengths of 12 feet and weights of 440 pounds. All of these fish must be tried in the restaurants and seen in the markets!
After this fascinating exploration of some of the foods of the area, I experienced an unforgettable night time return to port. Sitting on the boat’s rooftop deck, I was entertained by a spectacular display of firefly pyrotechnics and the stars of the southern skies, unobscured by the pollution of civilization.