“So, what are some things I should do when I arrive in Rio de Janeiro” I asked my airplane seat mate, Clarissa, a local of the city.
“Ipanema beach is my favorite, Sugarloaf Mountain has great views of the city and you must try açai!” she replied excitedly.
I looked at her skeptically. “Açai? We have that in New York, too. That’s not much of a cultural experience.”
Was I ever wrong!
In Brazil, açai cafes, fruit shops and natural food eateries are on every street corner. These serve everything you could imagine – açai juices, bowls of frozen açai with fruit and toppings, açai cheesecake and even açai syrup to use on ice cream. I became addicted to frozen açai with honey and banana slices (shown above).
Açai is an Amazon fruit that is a natural source of iron, healthy fats, B vitamins, calcium and many other nutrients. Depending where you are in Brazil will determine how and why you consume it. In the southeast of Brazil, in places like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, açai is popular among athletes. In fact, some of the locals I asked described it as being “trendy” to eat. Often served cold with guarana, strawberry or banana, the sweet treat gives sports enthusiasts a useful energy boost. Even those who aren’t into working out still enjoy açai as a snack or healthy dessert.If you head into the north of Brazil the way the fruit is eaten begins to change. This is where açai is cultivated, in a state called Pará. Here you can see many boats coming from the area’s Amazon Forest filled with baskets of the fruit in its pure form. The locals in this area eat it differently — served with fish, as a side dish, at its natural temperature. To me this sounded odd but I was explained that it is similar to how many other cultures eat beans as a side dish. They’re full of iron, protein and energy, which laborers in the area need to do physical work. Furthermore, because the area is very humid, people eat açai to pep them up when feeling sluggish from the climate.
Because açai berries are imported to the United States and other parts of the world, the only place you can really get fresh açai is in Brazil. In other words, eating açai in Brazil is very much a worthwhile cultural experience.