Tarubá production process

We wrote in another post about tarubá, a fermented beverage made with cassava.

How it’s done? The process isn’t easy and it’s worth a documentation. We present here how Maria do Socorro Oliveira produces it. Maria is from the Escrivão village, along the great Tapajós river, within the Aveiro municipality, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Maria explained us (me and my daughter Karen) the production process in detail and she consented to record it by pictures. These are taken by Adamor Cardoso.

As long as I know, this is the first comprehensive recording of the tarubá production process.

We tried to understand better also the issue of puçanga, a powder strewed on the cassava paste. This powder is made toasting and crumbling the leaves of a specific plant. The same plant is used to cover the paste, while it rests. This plant popular name is curumim; there aren’t reliable sources that identify it, but we deem that is Trema micrantha (L.) Blum.

Tarubá production process diagram

Tarubá production process diagram

Photographic record of the whole tarubá production process

Cassava in Roero

Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
Tucupi, cassava flour and tarubá. On the background, the farmsted in Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

The cassava (Manihot esculenta) doesn’t grow up in the Roero region (Italy), but for one night was the star in Pocapaglia. Here, a group of student of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, hosted by Konstantin and Karen, could taste the true Amazonian cassava flour, the hot tucupi sauce and the tarubá.

All the three products are so important in the Amazon gastronomy, and so unknown outside this region – in particular, the tucupi and the tarubá.

The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The tasting. Pocapaglia, Cuneo, Piemonte, Italy. October 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli

A visit in Prainha to know the “state of the art” of the piracui production

Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré
Fisherman with acari. Prainha 2015. Picture by Tamara Saré

Since 2008 I have struggled to find ways to support the piracui producers of Prainha, Pará, Brasil. I spent the past August in the Amazon region. So, I decided to visit them. I was absent from the region since 2010 and I wanted to update my information. Beside that, my idea was to record some interviews, in order to tell with the fishermen’s own words their harsh and delicate work.

To organise the visit I counted on my friend Ivonete, who, together with me, is responsible for the piracui in the Slow Food’s Ark of taste. We created a little team, with Revelino e Flodivaldo, da Colônia de Pescadores, Tamara, photographer and friend, Karen, who’s studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and, by the way, is my daughter.

We gathered many and high-quality information, and some great testimonies, I’ll try to put in this blog or elsewhere.

I already was, but I’m now more convinced that for the piracui producers is urgent to produce less with the same income. This means that who now produces an hight-quality piracui would continue to do that; who doesn’t, has to increase the quality. And the quality must be appreciated. Only organisation among the fishermen and the right incentives from the local buyers could do that.

This change is not only important for the fishermen livelihood, but also for the environment, since the over-production of piracui is threatening the very base of it, the fish called acari1.

The proble isn’t demand: piracui has a strong, and maybe growing, regional market (Santarém, Manaus, Belém, maybe Fortaleza): nearly 10 tons of piracui leave Prainha every year; as everyone who already prepared some dish with piracui, this is a huge amount!

But in this market there aren’t incentives to promote quality. The producer who makes a good piracui generally receives some extra money from the local buyer, but his piracui is sold to the consumer mixed with low-quality piracui. And the local consumer couldn’t choose between a “good” or “bad” piracui, or even doesn’t know at all there is a “good” and “bad” piracui.

Beside that, though there are some very clear point about “what process makes a good piracui” , many uncertainties remain, above all regarding preservation. And it’s very important that the issue of food safety comes “from below” and not “top-down”. Today, no sanitary control exists; but, sooner or later, something would come. And if that it is put in place in a way that doesn’t take in account the local specificities, many producers will be hit — and maybe some of the best producers. There is in Brazil a very interesting debate about adapting the sanitary rules to small-producers (see a news about that, in Portuguese), but we still have a long way 2.

You’ll find a more detailed account of the outcome of the visit here (text in Portuguese).

I really hope that some actors could become interested in the matter and engage themselves in supporting local people in the way for a more sustainable production of piracui, that could also help to rise the living standards in the region.

The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
The whole team. From left to right: Revelino, Ivonete, Flodivaldo, Luca, Karen e Tamara. Rio Vira Sebo. Prainha, PA, Brasil. 2015 (c) Luca Fanelli
  1. There are other causes for the decline, but the over-catch is one of the more this is probably very relevant.
  2. Also the 2006 FAO/ WHO document Guidance to governments on the application of HACCP in smalland/or less-developed food businesses points in this direction.

Research and action for development

ricercazioneDuring the XXX International Congress of American Studies, Perugia, Italy, May 6-12, 2008, in the panel Amazonia. State of the Art of the Field Researches was debated the relationship between research, mainly in humanities and social sciences, and specifically anthropological, and development projects, mainly non-governmental.

Briefly, was affirmed the epistemological interdependence between research and action and the necessity of the tie between these two practices; at the same time, was noticed the segregation between research actors (mainly university) and development actors (mainly NGOs).

Read a resume of the debate (in Italian).