• Explore one of thirteen classic Amazonian ingredients in each episode of ‘Amazon Taste’. (SBS)Source: SBS
In the new series Amazon Taste, the Brazilian chef travels rivers, islands, forests and farms learning about much-loved local ingredients.
13 Aug 2021 - 10:30 AM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2021 - 8:17 PM

--- Watch double episodes of Amazon Taste Sundays 6.00 pm on SBS Food from August 15 and then at SBS On Demand --- 


From a tiny fruit with a big reputation to liquid gold drawn from poison, the stories Brazilian chef, restaurateur and author Thiago Castanho discovers and shares in Amazon Taste are fascinating. Most of us have heard of that tiny fruit, the acai berry; but possibly not of an island in the centre of the Amazon known for its buffalo herds and special cheese, or of the traditional techniques needed to produce a special kind of cassava flour, or of tucupi, a broth made from a poisonous wild root.

“I've been researching for 15 years the region’s cuisine, always seeking to discover the flavours of the forest,” says Castanho. “To talk about food in the Amazon is to exchange knowledge with our people.”

And talk to people he does, from 92-year-old Hajime Yamada, the oldest resident of Tomé-Açu, a city with the largest Japanese community in northern Brazil (which Castanho visits during a trip to learn more about cupuaçu, a popular local fruit) to Eva Abufaiad, a resident of Marajó Island, who explains how an Amazonian archipelago became home to more than 700,000 buffalo.

Across 13 episodes, the series takes to forests, fields, markets and rivers. Here’s what happens:

Ep 1 - Cassava Flour

Castanho goes to the city of Bragança in the Northeast of Pará State to see the production process of the cassava flour, considered Pará's best flour. It’s a process with many important steps, creating a product that’s a source of much local pride.

Ep 2 - Cocoa

Cocoa, the base ingredient of chocolate, has its origin in the Amazon Forest. To find out this story,  Castanho goes to the Ver-o-Peso Market in Belém, and the community plantation at Combu Island. “When we talk about cacao …there's no way to not talk about theVer-o-Peso Market in Belém, one of the biggest outdoor markets in the world,” he says, on his way to meet Carmelita, owner of one of the most traditional stands in the market, which sells more than 500 varieties of fruit, including cacao. With another local, Luciana, he talks chocolate making and cocoa varieties, before taking a boat to Combu Island, to visit a plantation and to discover how cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate. Finally, Thiago and his friend Taiana Lauin cook a dual-chocolate dessert: a pâté à choux ring with chocolate in the pastry dough and filled with chocolate cream.

Ep 3 - Cupuaçu

Next, Castanho goes to the city of Tomé-Açú, home of one of the oldest Japanese communities in the Amazon.  Here, the Cupuaçu plantation unites the Japanese and Brazilian culture with the production of one of the most-used fruits in the region's cuisine, the Cupuaçu. “And if there's a tradition that we love in the Amazonia, it's making recipes with cupuaçu,” he says of the fruit, which grows in the northern parts of Brazil, including Pará and Amazonas, and has a complex sweet-sour flavour.  

Ep 4 - Crab

In Bragança, crab is one of the most appreciated ingredients in the local cuisine. In the mangroves, Castanho learns about the extraction of the crabs and its importance in the region's economy and ecosystem.

Ep 5 - Marajó Cheese

Besides the beautiful landscapes, the Marajó archipelago is also known for making cheese from buffalo milk. Castanho travels to Marajó Island to experience this 200-year-old tradition in an area where the buffalo outnumber the people!

Ep 6 - Acaí

This time, our chef travels to the Tacajós community and talks to harvesters to discover the origin of the delicious purple fruit from the palm tree that became known worldwide, the açaí.

Ep 7 - Oyster

In a visit to the Pereru de Fátima community, we learn more about the oysters of the "São de Caetano de Odivelas" village and the oyster harvesting process.

Ep 8 - Tucumã

From breakfast to dinner, tucumã is a fruit that is part of the routine of the inhabitants of Manaus (Amazona’s State Capital). In this visit, he meets a family who earn their living selling tucumã pulp; tries freshly harvested and peeled tucumã for the first time; and finds out about a favourite local sandwich, made with tucumã, cheese and fried banana. 

Ep 9 - Tambaqui

Castanho visits Manaus to learn about and taste the tambaqui, one of the most appreciated fish in the Amazon due to its fat, tender meat. “With over two million inhabitants, this great metropolis of the Amazon keeps one of the greatest traditions of the Ribeirinhos: Eat fish!” he explains. “And in the city, the champion of consumption is the tambaqui.” To find out more about this fish that’s so important in the region’s cuisine, he meets a local fisherman, visits a restaurant that specialises in local fish, and then cooks with a local, Juciane, who shows him one of the traditional ways of cooking tambaqui.

Ep 10 - Tucupi

Extracted from the cassava root and used in many Amazonian recipes, tucupi- “out liquid gold,” he calls it -  draws Castanho to the community of Espírito Santo do Itá, in Santa Izabel do Pará.  “Born of a poison, it has become a key ingredient in the Amazon's cuisine,” he says. “This yellow liquid is a product of wild manioc and has large amounts of cyanhydric acid. In other words, the poisonous cyanide. But the wisdom of the region has turned tucupi into a broth that seasons our best recipes.”

Ep 11 - Pirarucu

One of the largest freshwater fish in Brazil, the remarkable flavour of the pirarucu makes it one of the most consumed ingredients in the North. Castanho travels to Santarém in search of this giant.

Ep 12 - Maniva

Next, our flavour-chasing chef travels to Santo Antônio do Tauá to learn about the ground manioc leaf called maniva, the main ingredient in a dish of indigenous origin, maniçoba.

Ep 13 Acari

Despite its frightening appearance and hard shell, the Acari is a delicious fish. In the final episode of the series, Castanho learns more about this Amazonian delicacy on a trip to the cities of Santarém and Prainha.

And if you want to explore even more of the Amazon, see the documentary series Unknown Amazon, on SBS and at SBS On Demand.

Delve into the conflicts and communities of the ‘Unknown Amazon’
While the beauty of its natural environment is undeniable, it is the people of the modern-day Amazon that are its cultural heart.

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