Ceará: Songs to the Jandaia

The name Ceará means “sings the jandaia“, a type of parakeet. According to José de Alencar, one of the most important writers of Brazil and an authority in native languages, Ceará is composed of cemo — to sing aloud, to claim — , and ara — little parakeet in a native language. Traditionally, one of the poorer states of the country, the state is best known for its extensive coastline, with 573 kilometers of sand. There are also mountains and valleys producing tropical fruits, cashews and Cachaça

An energetic breakfast here (and the rest of Brazil) includes the Açaí berry. It has recently become a craze in the United States due to the variety of health benefits it brings to the human body. But açaí is part of a way of life here. It can be consumed different ways, but certainly not raw as it has no taste and needs to be washed several times. One way is to consume it cold as açaí na tigela (“açaí in the bowl”) with banana (or other fruits to your liking) and granola. It is sweet, energetic, filling and is much better than coffee in my personal opinion. My new favorite breakfast!

Since Ceará’s capital city, Fortaleza, boasts some of the best beaches, I decided to try out Praia do Futuro. Here, I found more vendors roaming the beach, with seafood, fish, tropical fruits and other goodies at hand, ready to cook it front of you right away.

Lobster for 4 euros?

Fortaleza also boasts an expansive 4-storey market, the Mercado Central.

Among artisanal carvings and bags, a handful of products (also artisanal) stood out.

Rapadura; Portuguese name for Sugarcane juice, but here hardened and dried into a form of a brick and used as a sweetener or candy.

Castanha de Caju; Cashew nuts. Doesn’t seem interesting at first, but I saw/tried first hand cashew nuts that just came out of the fruit, something I’ve never tried. It’s much lighter than the mass-produced roasted/salted kind; it retained flavor and crunch. I like this much more now.

Caju (Cashew) fruit. The orange part is the fruit, it is an accessory fruit/fake fruit. When you bite into it, it has the same consistency as a durian but has no smell. The fresh juice is irritating to the throat and has subtle flavors of a cashew nut. Not my favorite thing in the world.

The main feature, and what most people are familiar with is the cashew nut which sits atop the fruit. The green shell is naturally poisonous, so it is not advised to touch it then touch your eyes or drink the liquid that comes out. However, afterward you are rewarded with the cashew nut.


If you’re in the mood for something lighter, why not corn? At this stand, the corn is boiled until soft.


It is served in 2 ways:

Espiga de milho is served in its leaf which is hydrated in water to become soft and served with butter. Milho no Prato, the corn is sliced off the cob and served in a bowl with butter.

Here, Espiga de milho. It was creamy yet light and crunchy. Just what I was looking for to start off the night.

The next day, an excursion to Morro Branco was in the books. Nothing spectacular in terms of gastronomy but the views of the ocean from the sea cliffs are beautiful. The buggy ride is definitely worth it!

Day trip at Morro Branco - sedimentary rock layers on the beach

A refreshing lemonade during a hot day

I went to dinner to one restaurant which blew me away. Named, Colher de Pau, meaning ‘wooden spoon’, the restaurant was voted the best restaurant featuring regional cuisine of the state. Obviously, had to try it out for myself, right? And boy, was it a good choice.

Among the dishes that were tried out (there were plenty)

Torresmo – fried pork rinds; I wasn’t a fan of this, I guess I was expecting something more meaty and consistent, they tasted like chips.

Batata assada com requeijão e carne seca – Baked potato with cheese and shredded dried meat. The potato was not dry, rather soft and moist and with the cream, the potato was buttery and soft. The dried meat gave it a little salty kick. 

Casquinha Camarão – Shrimp bisque with coconut milk and cream topped with cheese gratin. One of the restaurant’s best dishes, it was nice and creamy and surprinsgly not heavy as expected. With a dash of lime, the taste of the dish changed completely. Beautiful. 

Tulipa de Frango – literally “chicken tulips”, just grilled chicken thighs, but they were juicy and smokey.

Dadinho de Tapioca, Rapadura e Calabresa – Fried tapioca cube with sugarcane and lady finger pepper sauce. To die for! I could see this as a dessert but it is served as an appetizer. 

Carne de Sol e Baião de Dois – Sun-dried meat, onions with Beans and Rice. This rice is different as it is more dense due to mixture with pepper and cream. “Baião de Dois” is a popular dance in Brazil; in gastronomy it is the ‘dance’ between the rice and the bean. 


Galinha Cabidela (Chicken stew with chicken stock and blood). It sounds scary but it didn’t taste earthy at all, rather like a beef bourguignon but lighter. It arrive in a clay pot.

Both came with a lot of side dishes:

Rice with peas

Pirão de Cabidela (sauce of chicken stock, blood and Paçoca – mixture of sun-dried meat, onions, manioc flour mixed in a mortar)

Paçoca

One of the main features of Ceará, is the small fishing village cum beach hippie/surfer mecca, 300 km west of Fortaleza, Jericoacoara, or Jeri as it is affectionally known. It is the kind of idyllic place where many travelers end up deciding to stay for longer than they had originally planned. The pearl on the Ceará coast, Jericoacoara’s attraction is partially its isolation. Visitors can only arrive by 4WD, preferably driven by someone who knows what he or she is doing. The payoff ? Miles and miles of unspoiled and deserted beaches, rock formations, lagoons, mangroves, palm trees, and a Sahara desert landscape of beautiful dunes, some over 30m tall.

In recent years though, this sleepy town has been much more visited and is considered the 5th (out of 10) best beaches in the world by The Washington Post. The region is now an environmental protection zone, with laws forbidding the construction of new hotels and pousadas within the protected area and guidelines for garbage and recycling. However, the main attraction (in addition to the isolation) is the wind; Jeri is one of those places with the kind of consistent near-gale beloved by top-notch windsurfers and kite surfers. 

Despite its isolation, Jericoacoara hosts a large number of restaurants on its main streets (in total 4 – that’s the size of the town) that run parallel to each other. I decided to try out a couple here and there to check out what was good. In between restaurants, there are also lots of shops selling artisanal clothing, accessories, gifts and beautiful jewelry. The town is small, it seems most people know each other and help each other out in every way. The town is so isolated, there’s no street lights in dark areas and navigation is done with the full moon (as was my experience last night). Don’t count on bringing nice shoes here, all you need is flip flops as the whole town is built on sand; all the way from the beach to the mountains. 

Cevicheria – selling just raw marinated seafood.

Ceviche of Shrimp in Martini glass – sweet, sour, just right.

Next up was Pimente Verde (Green Pepper) where I tried the shrimp curry with mango and provincial marinated octopus. Both divine and tasteful.

                         

Shrimp with coconut milk and mango

Marinated octopus with tomato

The next day, after a day of buggy-riding and sand boarding, a sunset snack involving meat/cheese on a stick was craved. Mr. Anthony Bourdain always said it’s the best.

Another joint on the beach (as if there wasn’t enough) was Natural Menthe. The owner and chef was a woman wearing jean shorts and crocs with her kitchen vest – loved it- who served thin and crispy crepes alongside freshly made juices.

Here, surprisingly sweet and tasty beetroot-carrot and orange juice

Obviously had to try the crepe. It was light and fluffy and had shrimp and cheese

On a tropical beach, one of the best ways to enjoy your time is to have a drink at hand while listening to samba rock, Na Casa Dellas erved awesome Caipirinhas of all sorts (despite the fact it was the only place I got bitten) and had a very good atmosphere. 

 

Aceroska (Acerola – sour cherry and vodka) 

Right next door, Casa da Pedra served some awesome artisanal ice-creams with different local fruits (some unheard of!) from cashew nut, to guava, even Cupuaçu, a Brazlian super fruit.

Here Cupuaçu and Passas ao Rum (Rum Raisin)

In terms of its gastronomy, I found Ceará’s food to be a mix between that of Pernambuco and Bahia, serving staple food such as feijoada and rice as well as fish and seafood. There wasn’t such a diversity; to be honest, I had not expected any. Ceará was actually a resting spot before the culinary trip continued but I couldn’t help myself and had to update you on some things I tried whilst here. It was nice and relaxing and life is much slower here than in other states. As my journey to the tip of Brasil ends, I find myself faced with real work now; the reason why I came to Brasil in the first place; to try out the local foods, to trace their origin and catalogue/document them. The final leg of my trip is the most important part of my trip: The Amazon. As my first stop, I move on to Belém, a city on the banks of the Amazon estuary – the gateway to the Amazon, in the state of Pará.

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