Brazil… From the sea to the river, from Recife to Santarem.

Recife is the easternmost point of Brazil. Capital of the state of Pernambuco, is the fourth biggest city in the country, with a history that starts with the arrival of the Portuguese to these shores, it was a major exporter of sugar cane, what started about 450 years ago. With its unique blend of Portuguese, indigenous, African and even Dutch, Recife is a real melting pot.

One of the most renowned restaurants in the city is Leite. Just around the block from the Casa da Cultura. The first thing that caught my attention was that it was opened in 1882. Just because of that, it deserved to be visited. I went with an open mind, without knowing to expect (and ready to go to my plan B, there is always a plan B) then I learnt it might easily be the oldest and one of the most aristocratic restaurant in the country.

I was happily surprised since before they opened the front door. There was a doorman waiting, and a smiling hostess straight after the door, and shining 16th century armour welcoming you. We were kindly escorted to a table at the window and the waiter came with the menu. The dark wood walls, the waiters in impecable white jackets and piano being played live from the back of the dining room gave the place such a classic atmosphere, that you could feel you were transported in time.

It was lunch time. Beer was the beverage of choice, and the small bottles were put in an ice bucket while served. This is something great in Brazil in general: beer will always be ice-cold, either put in an ice-bucket or in styrofoam containers.

The appetizer was sautéed shrimps with garlic and olive oil with a little touch of mustard, what gave the dish a fresh and unexpected touch. They were so tasty that we honored the chef sending the plate back, squishy clean after a very meticulous scarpetta.

As a main, and being in a historic restaurant, wanted to taste the most traditional recipe of the place, and ordered the bacalhau à Amadeu Días: filet of cod from Porto Imperial, grilled with onions, garlic, bell peppers and olives and potatoes.

The dessert, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, was tempting from the description: “The recipe combines ripe banana, butter cheese, cinnamon and sugar. It was born from the mixture of ingredients, techniques, experiences and cultural habits of Portuguese, Indian and African and is considered Cultural and Intangible Heritage of Pernambuco by Law 13.751”.

The second most important city in the Amazon river is Santarem. A very spread out city, where everything is far from everything, always very hot and very humid. Wait… is the Amazon! Is the lungs of the planet, the largest rainforest in the world, and where most of the oxygen we breath is being created by the photosynthesis all the trees and flora that inhabits here. Is also home to about half of the animal and insect species that we have in Earth. Also some amazing animals in the waters of the river itself.

The Amazon river is home to several aquatic species that are unseen anywhere else. The pink dolphins are one of them. The only fresh water dolphin we have on earth. It is not uncommon to navigate the waters and have this playful pink animals jumping next to the ship. One unique characteristic they have, is that when they jump out of the water to breath, they do a flip over their back in the air. Another inhabitant of the river is the dreadful piranha, that the legend states that if you are one of their victims, they can leave your skeleton nicely dressed after eating you… just a legend… or may be there were not enough in the waters I stepped on.

Another swimmer you can find in these waters is the pirarucú. Ugly fish if you look at eat, but as tasty in the palate, as if you to look at. Suggestion? Only look at the filets once they are in your plate, but I’ll talk more about the Pirarucú later. Because in Santarem, I had another fish.

In my research prior to come to the Amazon I came across Peixaria Piracatú, in downtown Santarem, discussing logistics and transportation with a local tour guide, who emphatically suggested Peixaria Rayana (Peixeria = fish house) which was, based on his opinion, better, and walking distance… walking distance ended up being 1.5 kilometers, or a mile, as you prefer. Did I mention that we were in the Amazon? We were at latitud 0, walking a mile, at noon, right over the line of the Equator. Scorching hot…

We made it to Peixeria Rayana, at Av. Rui Barbosa 3596, between Raimundo Fona and Campos Sáles. First thing that caught my attention was how clean and organized the place is. Noisy, but in the good way. It was 24th of December at noon. Lots of families, three and four generations feasting at the same table, sharing joy and happiness. The menu is simple. The place is a fish house. You eat fish. The fish will be fresh. The fish will be tasty. You choose if you want it grilled, or baked or fried. We went for the house recipe. A small fish called tucunaré “Rayana Style”, the gourmet version of this one-foot long grilled fish served deboned and stuffed with local fresh water shrimps in a garlic and tomato sauce. On the side, the mandatory white rice, farofa and fried manioc.

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