18 January 2009

So what can I cook for lunch if I don't have water?

How about not cooking at all? I normally find food preparation meditative and a time for me to creatively play, so chopping meat and vegetables and standing over a hot stove is not a chore, but rather a good time. I also am poor at the moment and cooking at home is significantly cheaper than eating out. That being said, I also am living in a place that has a water shortage and I want to conserve what limited supply we have in bottles here at home. It also is super, duper hot and humid (sorry, snow-bound Northeastern US) and I long for something filling yet light. Enter one of Brasil’s most famous natural commodities and, more recently, exports: açaí (a-sah-ee).

This amazingly healthy, little red-purple berry not only could sustain you were you stranded on some desert island (or re-nourish you were you recovering from a bad hangover), but it’s darn tasty too! The colorfully-painted, mostly-naked hunter-gathers of the Amazon region have been consuming açaí far longer than the health-conscious in first world countries have been looking for a way to counteract their polluted, overweight, civilized lifestyles.

Here in Brasil, açaí became all the rage among surfers who wanted to keep up their energy while eating light so as not to sink below the waves. Açaí is so packed with nutrients that they could eat it, surf all day and not lose those irresistible washboard stomachs.

So why is açaí a good choice for me to eat when what little public water we have is tainted and undrinkable without chlorine drops added first? Many açaí shops buy the pulp of the fruit in frozen blocks and then blend them with a little ice and either honey or sweetened with guaraná (gwah-dah-nah) syrup (another Brasilian berry-like fruit that I will get into detail about in a future blog) to get a product with an ice cream-consistency. My favorite açaí shop on the other hand, imports it ready-to-go and therefore mixed with water that does not come from our dirty, yet recuperating, river. And after all, the word açaí itself comes from the Brasilian indigenous Tupian word meaning “fruit that cries or expels water” (thanks Wikipedia), so it is only fitting.

My husband and I sit down at the ever-busy açaí shop and wait for our bowls of yumminess to arrive. We ordered the most popular version which comes drizzled with honey, sliced bananas and granola stacked on top (see photo above, top). There are many other ways to top açaí though, and how one likes their açaí can rival how one prefers their ice cream. Other goodies include sweetened, condensed milk (which Brasilians will put on anything already too sweet); a powdered milk called “Ninho” (that translates as “nest” but really is just a brand name); or ice cream. Açaí is also drunk as just a juice or blended with other fruit like strawberries or oranges. Some northern Brasilian states like their açaí room temperature or even salty. Normally these shops also sell other kinds of fresh-squeezed juices mixed with water (“suco”) or with milk (“vitamina”).

The açaí arrives. It has a slightly gritty consistency that many people find distracting and therefore opt for the more liquefied variety. I however, appreciate a bit of grit because without it, the fiber couldn’t stick as well to the spaces between my teeth and stain them that wine-colored purple. The flavor is pretty unique. It is kind of like a fusion of every dark berry you’ve ever tried, mixed with sugar, and put through an ice cream maker. That is probably why in North America and Europe açaí has become a much-touted health food/weight loss aid and embraced as an alternative type of juice and pressed into tablets to be swallowed with breakfast. Good-for-you ice cream: who can say no to that?

In Brasil, açaí is also more than just a refreshing desert/meal. Ironically, most Brasilians do not consider it necessarily a “health” food as much as a hot weather food. In fact, despite açaí’s healthy nutrient content, it also has a high concentration of good fat, and Brasilians will warn you that too much will make you lumpy around the middle. (I guess those surfers burned off all the excess calories with all that paddling). It is also commonly found as a flavoring in gum, Halls throat drops (does anyone actually eat them as anything other than candy?), toothpaste, in powered form, ready-made juice concentrate and even a scent for shampoo and conditioner (though açaí doesn’t have a strong smell).

Okay, well, since the açaí that I am eating is cold, it is also melting and needs my undivided attention. Até mais! (Until later!)


  1. Hey girl
    looks like your year is going well!!!! Could be a hurricane, you know. OR laced with snow within a 3 inch layer of ice which is what Midwest USA is covered in.

  2. I want some 'ice cream'! Would taste great except that it's cold here. Great in July, though.


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