Although there are many dishes served in the Amazon region, the main foods are centered around fish and a great many of the 2000 or so species of Amazon fish are eaten. There are also other Amazon foods to find like a range of delicious fruit, Brazilian BBQ, international dishes, and food for the not-so-squeamish like beetle grubs. You will also see a large amount of bush meat. This includes the deceptively abundant turtle eggs, a conservation problem in themselves, and other meat that threatens many animals.
Amazon Food – Peruvian Juane
In the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, you will find juanes being sold at markets or on street corners by local vendors. They are a mixture of rice and meat (usually chicken) and different herbs rolled in banana leaves. These are one of my favorite street foods and its handy parcel makes a great biodegradable packet if you’re on the go. You will especially see these bundles of food on June 24 at the celebration of the patron saint in Peru’s Amazon, San Juan.
Suri Palm Grubs
If you’re perusing Peruvian Amazon markets and street stalls, you will soon be greeted by sticks skewering many large grub-like animals known locally as suri. These are the grubs of the palm weevil (Rhynchophorus palmarum) and are a local delicacy. Entomophagy (the eating of insects) is a suggested idea to aid the world’s hunger problems, and to limit deforestation and habitat loss. Insects are low in fat, high in protein, quick to grow and breed, are cheap to raise and purchase, require little area to live, and, if you’re brave enough to break your familiarity issues, delicious. They can also be farmed in people’s homes. So what’s the issue? Is it simply that we aren’t familiar with eating them and that they look scary?
If you visit Ecuador or Peru, you will hear this dish mentioned or see it in restaurants (in header image), including Amazon towns like Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos. The dish consists of raw fish drizzled with lemon or lime juice and spices. Ceviche usually comes with either salad or plantain chips. Most people seem to have a love or hate relationship with this particular fish dish.
If you’re in the Brazilian Amazon like Manaus or Santarém, you should hunt out Brazilian BBQ. Food includes barbecued pork, beef and chicken served on skewers. As well as being served in usual restaurants and steak houses, there is a special style of restaurant called a rodizio. This is where you pay a fixed price beforehand and waiters bring out various skewers of different meats until you are full.
When the world’s largest container of wildlife mixes with developing countries where people are struggling to make a living, bush meat isn’t far from the dinner table. Bush meat isn’t just for when there is nothing else to eat, and the Amazon bush meat trade is a US$ 175 million per year industry. In the Tahuayo region of Peru, 22 tons of wild meat is harvested each year from a 500 km² area. Animals brought to market include most things hunters can catch like tapir, deer, pigs, peccaries, primates, larger rodents, birds and reptiles. Hunting is a serious threat to Amazon wildlife and conservation efforts in Amazon regions. Tapir have declined in local regions because of hunting. Monkeys are another obvious animal that has disappeared from certain areas in the Amazon due to the bushmeat trade. Woolly monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and capuchin monkeys are more seriously threatened by hunting and over harvesting than by habitat loss. At least in the Tahuayo region, deer seem to be sustainably harvested, but this depends on the abundance of other animals. When other animals become less abundant, deer will follow close behind.
What are your favorite Amazon Rainforest foods? How do you feel about tourists sampling different bush meat from threatened animals? What can be done about it?