Japan meets the Amazon on Avenida Paulista

** By Luciana Constantino, journalist, and fine-food aficionada

"But does it taste good?", asks a young lady sitting a few feet away from me. "Yes, and it's white meat has a nice firm texture," replies the waiter. 

When he reaches my table to hand me a leaflet with today’s specials, I tell him that I can probably guess what the chef's recommendations will be. "You are taking part in the Taste of the Amazon Festival, right?” Have you ever tasted pirarucu?", he asks.

I briefly explain that I  previously wrote a piece about the festival. For me, the taste of pirarucu was still a mystery – although I was aware of its importance for many riverine and Indigenous communities in the Amazon. "You won't regret it," he replied. And he was absolutely right. 

It was a sunny Saturday lunch in late November 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – which had drastically affected the gastronomy sector, and caused an irreparable loss of human life. After months of self-isolation, it was weird to walk again through the semi-deserted streets of Sao Paulo – an area that was once crowded and bustling with activity. 

But it was encouraging to finally get a taste of the Amazon in that Japanese restaurant on Avenida Paulista – where I used to be a regular before the new coronavirus turned our lives upside down.

Chef Telma Shiraishiof Aizomê restaurant, marinated pirarucu in sake and miso (a traditional ingredient of Japanese cuisine made from fermented soy and salt), then grilled it, and served it with mushrooms and tsukemono (pickled burr gherkin). 

Each bite made me wonder how cooking could be both instructive and comforting. That recipe brought together Japanese technique, ingredients from Africa, and the Amazon rainforest. 

It paid tribute to the life and efforts of wild pirarucu managers and their families, who work year round to monitor Amazon rivers, protect the pirarucu, and transform it into a sustainable source of income.

More than a gastronomic experience, the Taste of the Amazon Festival is an opportunity for pleasant moments in the midst of the difficulties we face during pandemic times.