Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

The Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

The Amazon Rainforest

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”Mahatma Gandhi

As humans we tend to blame other people for our environmental problems. Most of the Amazon region is located in Brazil and having spent time there I have to talk about deforestation. Though each of us are responsible for creating the problem in the environment, caring for the Amazon is most critical for our survival.

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The Amazon Rainforest is the largest remaining tropical forest on our planet. It is home to one-third of the world’s species; one-fourth of the world’s fresh water; one fifth  of the world’s forests; forty-eight billion tons of carbon dioxide in its trees and two hundred indigenous and traditional communities.

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The Amazon is also one of the fastest changing ecosystems, largely as a result of human activities, including deforestation, forest fires, and, increasingly, climate change.

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The current deforestation is  driven by industrial activities and large-scale agriculture. By the 2000s more than three-quarters of forest clearing in the Amazon was for cattle-ranching.Vast areas of rainforest were felled for cattle pasture and soy farms, drowned for dams, dug up for minerals, and bulldozed for towns and colonization projects. At the same time, the proliferation of roads opened inaccessible forests to settlement by poor farmers, illegal logging, and land speculators.

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The  Emilio Goeldi  Museum is a research institute related to the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).  It was founded in 1866 in the city of Belém, in the state of Para.

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Since its creation, the museum activities have been divided up between the scientific study of natural and socio-cultural systems in the Amazon area, scientific communication, the diffusion of knowledge and collections from the region and formation. All the results obtained in these fields make the Emilio Goeldi  Museum one of the most important research centers in Brazil.

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The museum is composed of three different places: a zoological and botanical park in the city of Belém, a research campus on the outskirts of the city and a scientific station in the Caxiuanã National Forest.

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The Park has more than two thousand species of plants and around six hundred animals that are native to the Amazon region and seems to be a popular school trip.

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Brazil is taking steps to save the Amazon rainforest.

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Since 2004 there was a seventy per cent decline in deforestation. In 2012 Brazil’s forest code was updated for landowners to protect eighty per cent of the rainforest. Some countries followed but not many. Different Brazilian states had different outcomes. It is not a downward trend. In 2013 Para’s deforestation had doubled and in 2014 it was the lowest of the Brazilian states.

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Greed, economy, state and government regulations seem to play a part in the reversal of the trend. The most obvious explanation was the change in national policy – first to sharply restrict deforestation, then to loosen the restrictions a bit.

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Saving the environment requires all of us. We can’t expect the Brazilians to take care of it for us while we drive our cars or put chemicals in the air. It requires us all to be well informed citizens of the world. What is happening in the Amazon affects all of us  and we should be aware of what is going there. We have one quest and we need to do it with compassion and not blame for each other. I believe that what we do makes a difference. I can only hope the rest of the world feels the same way.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Belem Part 2 – More Food In The Amazon

Belem Part 2 – More Food In The Amazon

“I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food.” Erma Bombeck

We arrive in Belem on a small plane from the island of Marajo at the mouth of the Amazon.

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I thought I was afraid of small planes.

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But the flights were smooth and the scenery was spectacular.

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We started our visit  with lunch at La Em Casa. http://www.laemcasa.com/ It is located in Estacao Das Docas mall a remodeled train station with a beautiful river view.. There is a buffet lunch serving all the traditional dishes.

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The restaurant was started by Anna Marie Martins and it was her son Paulo who brought attention to Brazil, South America and the world about the quality and flavors of regional Amazon cooking. His daughters Joanna and Daniella continued the tradition. Daniella works as a chef in the restaurant and Joanna runs the Paulo Martins Institute and Ver o Peso of Para Food, a festival (Feria Queso)l promoting the flavors and cooking techniques of the Amazon. Joanna is interested in having chefs come from all over the world so any who are reading this should contact her. You won’t be disappointed and you will learn a lot. Its a great time for all foodies to start their visit to the Amazon. contato@institutopaulomartins.org.br  I was lucky to meet both of them and saw how passionate they are about the world getting to know their delicious food. At the rate they are going, we will all soon be eating tucupi and jambu and loving it.

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After that huge lunch we had to try the ice cream at the most famous ice cream parlor in the country,Cairu because there is also a branch in the Estacao Das Docas mall. sorveteriacairu.com.br/ There are Amazonian flavors made from local fruits such as bacuri, muruci, sapoti, graviola, and açai, and“mestiços” (mixed breeds) such as carimbó (cupuaçu and Brazil nut) and maria isabel (bacuri, shortbread, and coconut). The ice creams are so good that five-star restaurants in Rio and São Paulo proudly feature them on their dessert menus.

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Among the many fish we ate in the Amazon region, are filhote and pirarucu. Filhote is the main ingredient in peixada, a stew that includes potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro.  (from La Em Casa)

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Pirarucu is Brazil’s largest fish, measuring up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) and weighing up to 80 kilograms (176 pounds). It is usually dried and salted before being grilled on a hot tile or cooked in coconut milk, and then served with farinha and light, buttery feijão manteguinha,  (from Romanso do Bosque)

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We saw Pirarucu at Ver o Peso market.

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It is an outdoor market selling Amazonian products with about 2000 stalls on the Amazon River.

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The unusual name of the Ver-o-Peso Market dates back to colonial times, when the market housed the offices of the Portuguese colonial tax collector.

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Ver-o-Peso is a shortened form of the Portuguese phrase “Haver-o-Peso” meaning “possess or obtain the weight.” The tax collector was charged with collecting a tariff on all goods coming down the river  based not on monetary value of goods but on their weight. It is now a Unesco World Heritage site. (cleaning off the fish smell as vultures fly overhead)

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There are things you know like acai berries and brazil nuts and wealth of produce from the Amazon that is sold nowhere else in the world. (acerola berries)

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if you’re a fan of large, oily, and irresistibly rich Brazil nuts, you’ll find them all over in Pará, where they’re known as castanhas-do-Pará, and are sold — plain, salted, or caramelized — by vendors on the streets of Belém.

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There are fruits with names like cupuaçu, bacuri, muruci, uxi, taperabá, tucumã, bacaba, and pupunha.

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Wait until you smell and taste them, which you can do in forms that include juices, compotes, jellies, cremes, puddings, liqueurs, and sorvetes.

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There are herbs that cure everything and many types of natural viagra, different cachacas (Brazil’s liquor used in caipirinhas) and all kinds of stuff used for religious and spiritual ceremonies that look fascinating.

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I could have spent a lot of time with the herb ladies and in those questionable spiritual ceremony stores.

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Who knows what I would have brought home if I spoke Portuguese?

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We take a ride through the jungle up the Guama River.

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We are headed to the island of Combu where Dona Nena harvests cacao from trees on the island and makes chocolate wrapped in banana leaves and chocolate drinks with carnation milk (my fav).

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Everything is laboriously and lovingly done by hand – a far cry from the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania I visited as a kid. (cacao)

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While most of the families living on the jungle river make their living harvesting acai and brazil nuts, Dona Nena is bringing back the ancient way of making chocolate and the chefs in Brazil can’t get enough.

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It’s delicious and not too sweet – just the way I like it. Brazilian designer chocolate from the Amazon – why not?

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One of our dinners was at Romanso do Bosque which is an inviting beautifully designed restaurant. http://www.restauranteremanso.com.br   Indigenous ingredients and traditional Brazilian cooking combined with new ideas was the basis for an interesting tasting menu. Chef Thiago Castanho’s modern take on ancient flavors was creative and delicious. By then, I was starting to recognize the flavors of the Amazon. I tasted the jambu in the tucupi and honey sauced pork sausage (not normally being a meat eater, I loved that one)

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There were shrimp covered in tapioca, balls of fresh fish, smoked Pirarucu and filhote.

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There were two desserts. The first was tapioca, tapioca ice cream and brazil nut sauce.

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When I couldn’t eat another bite, they brought this. I didn’t even ask what it was but I finished it.

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The flavors of the Amazon are the flavors of the forest and the river. They are in the mystical ceremonies, potions and celebrations. They are in the lives of the fishermen, farmers, ranchers, healers, cooks, musicians and artists. The flavors of the Amazon are the flavors of the myths and stories of the Amazonian natives who came before. I bite off a piece of my modern chocolate from Combu and read about the origin of cassava, fire and the story of the woman who gathered the brazil nuts.

Bom apetite,

JAZ

Food In The Amazon – Belem Part One or How Did They Figure Out That Tucupi Had To Be Cooked For Seven Days To Not Be Poisonous?

Food In the Amazon – Belem Part One or How Did They Figure Out That Tucupi Had To Be Cooked For Seven Days To Not Be Poisonous?

“I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime “associates,” food, for me, has always been an adventure.” Anthony Bourdain

When you think of eating food in the Amazon, your mind pictures a few scantily clad natives drinking from coconut bowls. That may happen deep in the Amazon but in the city of Belem they are taking the flavors, food and traditions of the Amazon and serving it to locals, Brazilians and tourists like me from all over the world.

Each of the dishes, ingredients, flavors, and aromas invite us to discover the mixture of the Portuguese, European, Hispanic, Indian, and African influences. Among the typical specialties of Belém you can find “Pato no Tucupi”, made with duck cooked in cassava juice and seasoned with “jambu. (restaurant La Em Casa)

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“Vatapá” is a dish made with bread crumbs, ginger, pepper, allspice, peanuts, coconut milk, palm oil, and onion, with a creamy consistency. it is usually served with shrimp, fish, or beef and accompanied with rice. (La Em Casa)

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The region’s rivers and rain forests provide an endless supply of exotic ingredients, and nowhere else in Brazil will you find so much indigenous influence. (Ver O Paso Market)

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Belém is the Amazon’s culinary capital, and the city’s signature dish, tacacá, is a fusion of the region’s key ingredients. When you mention that you have been to Belem (named for Bethlehem) to a Brazilian they always ask if you tried the tacaca. I was glad I knew what it was. Tacacá is is a soup . It mixes shrimp with tucupi, a thick yellow liquid extracted from the roots of the manioc plant, and jambu, a creeping plant whose leaves when covered with tucupi cause a pleasant tingling and numbness of your lips.

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Manioc is also called cassava, yuca ( which is not yucca) or tapioca and is a staple of the Amazonian diet.  The soup is served hot in cuias (hollowed-out gourds) and I brought some of the bowls home.  One of the best places to have it is on the street at the stand of Dona M Do Carmo. It was amazing and one of the most delicious things I have eaten in Brazil.

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Tucupi (which is cooked for some 12 hours to remove poisonous components) shows up in a lot of Amazonian dishes, such as pato no tucupi, an aromatic duck stew, and maniçoba, the Paraense (Belem is in the state of Para) equivalent of feijoada ( Brazilian signature dish). Different portions of pork and sausage are cooked together along with jambu the dark-green leaves from the manioc plant. (La Em Casa)

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The story goes that the manioc plant has to be cooked for seven days to get rid of the toxins. This involved a lot of group discussion of how that came to be. When someone died after eating it the first day, did the natives decide to cook it for two days and when more died did they decide to try for three etc? How many people died before they came up with seven days and why did they keep trying? Were they using it on their enemies and then it did not work? Did someone forget to turn the fire off and got hungry?

The manioc dough  (it’s a tuber) is pushed through a long woven basket like instrument called a tipiti to get the liquid out. You can buy them in Ver o Peso market on the Amazon River along with my bowls. Such dishes are often accompanied by arroz de jambu (rice flavored with jambu leaves) and farinha d’água, manioc flour that, having been left to soak in the river, has a soft, fluffy consistency.

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The man holding the tipiti was our wonderful guide in the Amazon Osvaldo.  I have many photos of Osvaldo’s hands holding something edible he picked up while we were in the  market or rainforest. Unfortunately I was unable to make notes on my photos of what they were. I knew this would happen. I said I was going to include photos of his hands.

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I am happy to say that  all the tucupi i ate  at every meal was cooked correctly. I am grateful to the Amazonian chefs for doing that .But how did they figure out that it took seven days to get the poison out?

Tenha Uma Boa Viagem,

JAZ